Theoretical question: Murder in neutral waters by person without citizenship? Will person be prosecuted? What if victim is also a person without citizenship?

  • 3
    Assuming the murder took place on a ship, the country of registration will have jurisdiction. Aug 11, 2018 at 14:36
  • 1
    @timLymington presumably the murder could take place on an unregistered vessel, even on one that was never registered (a home-made raft, perhaps). Would any law apply in that case?
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2018 at 15:32
  • What if not on a ship?
    – chupvl
    Aug 11, 2018 at 15:44
  • 2
    @chupvl: If not on a ship, you need to say how the murderer and victim (and presumably at least one witness) reached international waters. If you edit that into the question, it might be interesting to answer. Aug 11, 2018 at 15:52
  • 3
    Various nations claim jurisdiction over crimes against their citizens, on the high seas or even in other nations. Also, the murder might be construed to fall under piracy, which would give any concerned navy the right to act.
    – o.m.
    Aug 11, 2018 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


Most seafaring nations, including the United States, by express constitutional grant, reserve the right to regulate conduct on the "high seas" (an archaic concept synonymous with what we would now call "international waters"), and could intervene according to naval rules of engagement and admiralty.

This jurisdiction is not limited to crimes against citizens of a state seeking to intervene.

Also, in practice, it is virtually impossible not to have citizenship, or at least, nationality. The fact patterns that can give rise to that are very extreme and arcane. It is quite common not to be able to discern a person's citizenship, but it is very rare for someone to actually not be a citizen of any country.

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