Status of Forces Agreement

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Following world war ii, as a consequence of entering into a series of mutual defense pacts, the United States established a continuing military presence in a number of foreign countries. To deal with the legal questions that inevitably arose because of this presence, the United States entered into a number of agreements—known as "status of forces agreements"—with the receiving (that is, host) countries involved.

Typically, status of forces agreements exempt visiting forces from the receiving state's passport and immigration regulations, and from its customs duties and taxes on personal property also. Further, the sending state is permitted to issue driving permits and licenses to members of its forces, to purchase goods locally for local consumption, and to employ indigenous civilian labor. In addition, provision usually is made for the settlement of claims for property damage allegedly caused by the visiting forces.

The heart of a status of forces agreement, however, is its allocation of jurisdiction in respect of criminal offenses putatively committed by the members and accompanying civilians of the visiting forces. In general, the sending state and the receiving state retain exclusive jurisdiction over offenses not punishable by the laws of the other. Where an offense is punishable by the laws of both states, concurrent jurisdiction prevails, with either the sending state or the receiving state retaining the primary right to exercise criminal jurisdiction, depending on the nature of the offense and the circumstances of its occurrence. Where the receiving state exercises jurisdiction, it ordinarily guarantees a prompt and speedy trial, timely notice of charges, the right to confront hostile witnesses, satisfactory legal representation, and a competent interpreter. The accused is usually guaranteed the right to communicate with her or his governmental representatives and to have them present at trial, if possible.

Burns H. Weston

(see also: North Atlantic Treaty; Treaty Power.)


Lazareff, S. 1971 Status of Military Forces under Current International Law. Leyden, Netherlands: A. W. Sijthoff.

Snee, J. and Pye, A.K. 1957 Status of Forces Agreements and Criminal Jurisdiction. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications.