The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft,
commonly called the Tokyo Convention, is an international treaty, concluded at
Tokyo on 14 September 1963. It entered into force on 4 December 1969, and as of
2013 has been ratified by 185 parties.
The Convention is applicable to offences against penal law and to any acts
jeopardizing the safety of persons or property on board civilian aircraft while
in-flight and engaged in international air navigation. Coverage includes the
commission of or the intention to commit offences and certain other acts on
board aircraft registered in a Contracting State in-flight over the high seas
and any other areas beyond the territory of any State in addition to the
airspace belonging to any Contracting State.
Criminal jurisdiction may be
exercised by Contracting States other than the State of Registry under limited
conditions, when the exercise of jurisdiction is required under multilateral
international obligations, in the interest of national security, and so forth.
The Convention, for the first time in the history of international aviation law,
recognizes certain powers and immunities of the aircraft commander who on
international flights may restrain any person(s) he has reasonable cause to
believe is committing or is about to commit an offence liable to interfere with
the safety of persons or property on board or who is jeopardizing good order and
In strictly domestic cases the Convention does not have application
and acts and offences committed in the airspace of the State of Registry are
excluded except when the point of departure or intended landing lies outside
that State, or the aircraft enters into the airspace of a State other than the
State of Registry as for example on a domestic flight which traverses the
boundary of another State.
Definition of the offences:
Although each convention requires the parties to legislate for the offences
defined in it, many will already be crimes under existing law, such as murder,
causing explosions, Kidnapping. (For extra clarity, the offences will sometimes
be referred to in this publication as Convention offences
Background of Convention:
The International Civil Aviation Organization was
established in 1944 by the Chicago Convention to insure the safe and orderly
growth of international civil aviation. The ICAO accomplishes this primarily
through the development and promulgation of standards and recommended practices
(SARPS). The ICAO has also developed a number of international conventions to
address specific security concerns.
Although the first hijack attempt on a
commercial aircraft occurred in 1931, the first real wave of hijackings began
around 1958 when individuals hijacked aircraft as a means to divert them from
Cuba to the United States. After 1961, the direction of the hijackings reversed
and there was a wave of diversions of aircraft from the United States to Cuba.
To prevent aircraft diversions, the Legal Committee of the ICAO met in Rome in
1962 to draft a convention on the subject of crimes committed on board an
air-craft in international flight. This draft was submitted to the States of the
world for comment and diplomatic conference was convened in 1963 for final
Provisions of Convention:
This Convention applies to offenses against penal law and to acts which, whether
offenses or not, affect in-flight safety of persons or property or jeopardize
the discipline on board civilian aircraft. It covers offenses or acts committed
on board any civilian aircraft registered in a State Party, while the aircraft
is in flight or on the surface of the high seas or any other area outside the
territory of any State.
A State Party, other than the State of registration of
the aircraft, may not exercise criminal jurisdiction except when the offense has
a direct impact on its territory, citizens, or residents; security; flight rules
and regulations; or when the exercise of jurisdiction is called for under a
multilateral international agreement. This Convention does not apply in strictly
domestic cases and excludes acts or offenses committed in the airspace of the
State where the aircraft is registered, unless the point of take- off or
intended landing point is outside that State.
Compliance and Enforcement:
The Convention authorizes the aircraft commander to impose reason-able
measures, including restraint, on any person he or she has reason to believe has
committed or is about to commit such an act, when necessary to protect the
safety of the aircraft and for related reasons; requires contracting States to
take custody of offenders and to return control of the aircraft to the lawful
Main Aim and Objective of Convention:
The Convention aims to provide safety to aircraft, protection of life and
property on board aircraft and generally to promote the security of civil
aviation. A wide range of powers are granted to the aircraft commander, members
of the crew and passengers with the sole aim to constitute international unified
rules which would give the commander of every aircraft in the world the power to
preserve good order and discipline on board the aircraft and to take all
preventive measures or measures of restraint necessary to that end.
can be considered as a means to secure the maintenance of law and order on board
the aircraft: the power to arrest, disembark and deliver to competent
authorities of contracting states, any person committing or attempting to commit
an offence or any act which jeopardizes the safety of aircraft, persons or goods
on board, or threatens to create disorder on board. As a corollary, the
Convention grants a limited measure of immunity to the persons acting under the
circumstances and conditions described in the Convention.
Requirements of jurisdiction of Convention:
The jurisdiction of a court refers to its capacity to take valid legal action.
All governments claim territorial jurisdiction over crimes committed wholly or
partly within their territory, including flag vessels (i.e., vessels registered
in that country) and embassies.
The Tokyo Convention on Offences and Certain
Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft (1963) and the Hague Convention for the
Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (1970) recognize that states have
the right and even the duty of jurisdiction with respect to any crime committed
upon aircraft registered in that state.
Most nation-states also claim
nationality jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by their nationals, even
when they were committed in other countries.
A third jurisdictional basis is known as protective-principal jurisdiction,
which gives criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed against national
interests. For example, persons who forge currency of a country may commit a
crime against that country even if the forgeries are executed beyond the borders
by persons who are not citizens. A fourth jurisdictional basis of late
20th-century origin and with less universal acceptance is similar to the third
and is known as passive-personality jurisdiction.
In certain circumstances, violent crimes against nationals may give rise to
jurisdiction even if the crimes occur beyond the borders and the offenders are
not nationals. For example, when in 1985 the United States attempted to arrest
the hijackers on the Italian cruise ship MS Achille Lauro because of the brutal
shipboard murder of American citizen Leon Klinghoffer, the claimed jurisdiction
of the U.S. over the hijackers may have been based on passive personality.
Finally, international law recognizes that there are universal jurisdiction
crimes that may be tried by any country, regardless of where the crimes occurred
or the nationality of the offenders or the victims. A long-accepted example of
universal crimes giving jurisdiction to all national courts is piracy on the
high seas; all countries have jurisdiction to try pirates. In the 20th century,
war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and torture were added to the
list of crimes giving rise to universal jurisdiction.
Crimes against aircraft:
Their territory, including flag vessels (i.e., vessels registered in that
country) and embassies. The Tokyo Convention on Offences and Certain Other
Acts Committed on Board Aircraft (1963) and the Hague Convention for the
Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (1970) recognize that states
have the right and even the duty of jurisdiction with respect to any crime
committed upon aircraft.
- Airport security:
crimes on board aircraft, particularly any crime that jeopardizes the safety
of the aircraft and its passengers; Convention for the Suppression of
Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, commonly called The Hague Convention, was
signed on Dec. 16, 1970, and went into force on Oct. 14, 1971 concerned
the passengers and crew to continue their journey, and to return the
aircraft and its cargo to those lawfully entitled to possession. In response
to a wave of hijackings that began in 1968, the 1970 Hague Convention for
the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft was concluded in an effort
to prevent hijackers from finding immunity in any of the contracting states.
Declaratory of general international law when it defines the offense of piracy
principally as any illegal acts of violence, detention or any act of
depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a
private [i.e., nongovernmental and not noncommercial] ship or a private
aircraft, and directed:
Jurisdiction-Article 3 of the Tokyo convention, 1963:
- on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons
or property on board such ship or aircraft;
- against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the
jurisdiction of any State.
- The State of registration of the aircraft is competent to exercise
jurisdiction over offenses and acts committed on board.
- Each Contracting State shall take such measures as may be necessary
to establish its jurisdiction as die State of registration over offenses
committed on board aircraft registered in such State.
- This Convention does not exclude any criminal jurisdiction exercised
in accordance with national law.
Article 4 A Connecting States which is not the State of Registration may not
interfere with an aircraft in flight in order to exercise its criminal
jurisdiction over an offense committed on board except in the following cases:
- the offense has effect on the territory of such State;
- the offense has been committed by or against a national or permanent
resident of such State;
- the offense is against the security of such State;
- the offense consists of a breach of any rules or regulations relating to
the flight or maneuverings of aircraft in force in such State;
- the exercise of jurisdiction is necessarily to ensure the observance of
any obligation of such State under a multilateral international agreement.
The increasing threat to safety of an aircraft and its crew and passengers has
led to concern throughout the industry. Changes in society have seen a more
violent culture develop and this, combined with mass air travel has resulted in
a 4-fold increase in reports of disruptive behavior. The laws to deal with
problems on aircraft stem from the Tokyo Convention of 1963 which was designed
to combat terrorist hijackings and, consequently, they do not cover cases of
assault or disorderly behaviour.
The 1963 Tokyo Convention was designed
primarily to combat terrorism. The hijacking and destruction of aircraft was
countered by most, but by no means all, countries agreeing a common policy for
dealing with terrorists. The Convention outlined the laws which countries needed
to pass to enable the courts to deal effectively with offenders. Not all nation
states signed the Convention and not all signatories passed the necessary
legislation to make the Convention effective and, as we know, this left safe
havens for terrorists to escape from international justice.
Written by: Sandeep Rana,
BA+LLB, (5th-year student) at Chandigarh
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