Let's imagine a guy Bob.

  • Bob has no citizenship (stateless).
  • Bob ended up on a land that doesn't belong to any country (Bir Tawil).
  • Bob commited a particular crime (let's say, he murdered another stateless person) in Bir Tawil.
  • The world beyond Bir Tawil knows about this crime, and now Bob is considered a murderer.
  • Bob is still situated in Bir Tawil.

P.S. This is a theoretical question, thus it doesn't matter how Bob ended up in Bir Tawil, or why he killed another stateless person, etc.

Here are my questions:

  1. Can Bob be arrested by Egyptian, Sudanese, or any other countries' police/special forces, while he resides in Bir Tawil?
  2. Can Bob be arrested by Egyptian, Sudanese, or any other countries' police/special forces, while he resides in one of recognized countries (Egypt, Sudan, or any other)?
  3. Which country takes the responsibility of bringing Bob to the court and sentencing him to punishment?

4 Answers 4


Many countries have ratified or at least signed the statute of the International Criminal Court, also called the Rome Statute. It defines Universal Jurisdiction for a set of severe crimes. Suspects of any such crime can be charged in any country, whereas normally a court only acts on crimes done within its jurisdiction or by a citizen of its own country (expecting a request for extradition otherwise).

There are some requirements for this to become a problem for Bob: He needs to be in a country that has put the Rome Statute into law, so he can be arrested. These countries won't send someone to arrest him in Bir Tawil. And he must have committed a crime of the Universal Jurisdiction, namely Genocide, attacks on shipping or air traffic, dangerous acts involving radioactive substances, trafficking with humans or drugs, and a bunch of others. Murder alone is not normally an universal crime, as it is normally directed at a certain person for a certain reason, and not an act of violence against random people.

  • So if Bob stays in Bir Tawil after commiting a simple murder of a stateless person, then technically nobody will come after him? Meanwhile, if it's a genocide, let's say, then a particular country will have a right to send forces to arrest Bob? Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 7:06
  • 2
    Mostly, but technically it's not "somebody needs to come after him" but first, it's "somebody must start an investigation". In international law, an investigation is normally only started by a country that has an interest in the investigation. This may be because Bob is already in their custody or because the crime was against that country or one of it's citizens. The Rome statute does not include the possibility to arrest somebody abroad, though.
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 7:46
  • 1
    If Bob committed genocide, the International Criminal Court may start an investigation on itself and file a warrant ("Wanted! Bob!") , but it has no means of arresting him either.
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 7:47
  • Wow Looks like you can do funny things in Bir Tawil :) Thanks a lot, this answers my questions! Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 7:50
  • 2
    @OleksandrNovik Don't forget that these "funny" things can also be done to you! So committing a murder there may result in lynching the suspect...
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 13:46

Bir Tawil has no settled population, but members of the Ababda and Bishari tribes pass through the region. Both are nomadic Sunni Muslim people with very traditional worldviews. Their de facto control of the region makes them the arbiters of justice there.

Rather than pursuing this murder through the courts of a nearby country (each of which is likely to ignore the murder), as a practical matter, the people present in Bir Tawil are very likely to treat the matter as one governed by Sunni Islamic law (which they view as universal in application) and to take justice into their own hands in accordance with the means prescribed by Islamic law (i.e. tribal leaders are likely to capture and behead him after a summary Islamic law proceeding).

In the alternative, to the extent that our stateless person's victim has come within the protection of a local clan, that clan may seek vengeance upon the murderer in order to protect the clan's honor.


Unfortunately, this is an impractically humongous research task, since it involves researching the legal systems of hundreds of jurisdictions, many of which are very difficult to research (for example, Sudan, also Western Sahara). As a start, we can conclude that under US law, Bob cannot be arrested, tried or punished. Extraterritorial jurisdiction under US law is limited to statutorily-specified circumstances. There is a term "special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States" which governs situations where he US has jurisdiction outside of the US – for example on a guano-containing rock that the president has declared to be "pertaining to the US" (not the case in Bir Tawil). Under 18 USC 1116, if you murder an internationally protected person and if Bob the murder is then found in the US, he could be prosecuted. Then it matters who he murdered. If he murdered the Speaker of the US House, he could be prosecuted. If he murdered Ted, another stateless person, then he cannot be arrested etc. under US law (Ted is not an internationally protected person). An important limit on such prosecutions is that the criminal act be recognized by the community of nations as of universal concern, thus smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol would not be a trigger crime.

It is possible that the law of Egypt or of Sudan addresses the matter with respect to the victim, e.g if the victim was from Egypt or Sudan (from, not necessarily a citizen) perhaps Egyptian / Sudanese law already provides for prosecution. Or, especially in the case of a crime of universal concern, perhaps under the law of Norway or Brunei, there could be extraterritorial jurisdiction.

  • First of all, thanks for a long answer :) Sad to see no straight answers, but good to know how this work in other countries. I only have one question about the last sentence of your answer: why do exactly Norway and Brunei have jurisdiction in Bir Tawil? What's up with other countries, if Bob commited a crime of universal concern? Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 20:42
  • "Ted is not an internationally protected person": are you saying that Ted is not internationally protected because he is stateless or that Bob is only safe from arrest under US law if Ted is not internationally protected?
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 21:34
  • 2
    I didn't say that Norway and Brunei have jurisdiction, I said that it is a possibility that they do. The first think I said is that it is an impractically huge research question. We can make a determination for the US fairly easily; dunno how much you know about Sudanese law but we can't tell what their law is regarding extraterritorial jurisdiction. The answer in the general case is "only if a country asserts extraterritorial jurisdiction in such-and-such circumstance".
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 21:41
  • Just for a record, I am not a "law enthusiast", I was fooling around with this Bir Tawil thing and making up scenarios when people can get away with crimes :D So I don't study law or something. So to sum everything up, technically, there might exist a country which in its law has permissions to bring its forces to Bir Tawil and arrest Bob, if this country is interested in punishing him for his crime? Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 6:01

Make a list of all countries in alphabetical order, then check for each country if according to their laws they’d want to prosecute this crime. If you find one or more countries where the answer is “yes”, those countries could prosecute.

Many countries would say “no prosecution” if the crime didn’t happen in that country. Some countries might. Other countries might have a different set of rules.

  • 1
    Thanks for the tip! But anyways, I was hoping to see a direct answer, not a recommendation on research :) Your answer should be a comment, in my opinion. Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 6:28
  • Some time in 1987, an Austrian man killed his Austrian wife in this area and got away with murder. Everyone in Austria was understandably very upset, so Austria added a law that you can be prosecuted in Austria if you seriously assault or murder someone in a place that does not fall under the laws of any country. I've made that up, but it's possible, and you could only find out by checking the laws of each single country.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:48

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