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Message to the Senate Transmitting Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft.

September 25, 1968

To the Senate of the United States:

With a view to receiving the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification, I transmit herewith a copy of the Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, signed at Tokyo on September 14, 1963. I transmit also, for the information of the Senate, the report of the Secretary of State with respect to the Convention.

For several years the United States has supported the development of a multilateral convention dealing with crimes and other acts jeopardizing safety, committed on board aircraft engaged in international aviation. Since aircraft in international air transportation may traverse sovereign airspace at great speeds, and in some cases travel between national borders in a matter of a few minutes, continuity of jurisdiction with respect to crimes and offenses committed on such aircraft is particularly necessary. Presently, there is no widely accepted rule establishing such continuity of jurisdiction.

The Legal Committee of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), at its Sixth Session in June 1950, initiated a study of the possibility of negotiating a treaty which would establish jurisdictional rules in respect of treatment of crimes committed on board aircraft, and related matters. During the ensuing 13 years the attendant problems were discussed fully and their resolutions negotiated. The United States of America was a major supporter of this Convention. To date, the Convention has been signed by 29 States, including the United States, and has been ratified by six.

Several features make the Tokyo Convention a desirable international agreement. First, a positive rule of international law is established between contracting States which provides that the State in which an aircraft is registered is competent to exercise jurisdiction over offenses committed aboard that aircraft when it is in flight, or on the surface of the high seas or any other area outside the territory of any State. The Tokyo Convention does not establish a rule of exclusive jurisdiction; rather, it assures that at least the State of registration will have the competence to exercise its jurisdiction while permitting the exercise of concurrent jurisdiction by other countries, depending upon their respective interests in the offense and the applicability of the traditional rules of international law regarding assertion of jurisdiction.

Second, the Convention provides for an element of certainty in the powers and authority of the aircraft commander. Without the applicable provisions, the actions of the commander in apprehending or "off-loading" an offender are subject to the laws of the country in which he lands; the correctness of his decisions also may be judged in accordance with the national law of the country overflown. If the commander's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances, the Tokyo Convention protects him against possible civil liability or criminal prosecution. Additionally, any other member of the crew, any passenger, the owner or operator of the aircraft and the person on whose behalf the flight was performed, will be immunized legally if their actions are reasonable and in accordance with the provisions of the Convention. Such immunity will create attitudes and actions, where necessary, that will significantly contribute to maintaining the safety of flight in international aviation.

Third, the Convention provides for rules and procedures for the disembarkation of an offender which may be utilized by the commander in the territory of any State in which the aircraft lands. Provision is also made in the Convention for the right of the aircraft commander to deliver certain persons to the competent authorities of a contracting State in which he lands. Further, the receiving State is obliged to take delivery of an offender and, upon being satisfied that the circumstances so warrant, to take custody or other measures to ensure the presence of such a suspected offender. The Convention contains several provisions designed to protect the rights of an alleged offender and to ensure expeditious legal disposition of the case.

Finally, and of particular importance, in the context of recent events, the Convention contains specific provisions relating to the hijacking of aircraft. These provisions require that a contracting State in which a hijacked aircraft lands "shall permit its passengers and crew to continue their journey as soon as practicable, and shall return the aircraft and its cargo to the persons lawfully entitled to possession." (Art. 11)

This Convention is important to the passengers, aircraft commanders and their crews engaged in international flights, the owners and operators of aircraft and the persons on whose behalf the flights are performed. It represents a significant development in international law. I recommend that the Convention be given favorable consideration by the Senate.

Submission of this treaty to the Senate has been delayed because of the need to assure that implementing legislation could be drafted which is fully consistent with the national interest. This has now been confirmed by all pertinent agencies of the Executive Branch. Although it is now late in the session, I believe that the current importance of problems in the area covered by the treaty indicate the desirability of early ratification. I therefore hope that the Senate may find time to consider it before adjournment.

The recommended legislation necessary to implement the provisions of this Convention will be submitted separately to the Congress.


The White House

September 25, 1968

Note: The text of the Convention and the report of the Secretary of State are printed in Senate Executive L (90th Cong., 2d sess.).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Message to the Senate Transmitting Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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