asylum (əsĪˈləm) [key], extension of hospitality and protection to a fugitive and the place where such protection is offered. The use of temples and churches for this purpose in ancient and medieval times was known as sanctuary. In modern international law, the granting of asylum to refugees from other lands is the right of a state by virtue of its territorial sovereignty. A fugitive, however, has no right to demand asylum from the state to which he flees; that state makes its own determination in each case. Between most nations there are treaties of extradition providing for the mutual surrender of fugitives from justice, and there is a tendency to confine the granting of asylum to political refugees and victims of apparent discrimination and intolerance. Asylum has sometimes been granted more broadly; some Third World women have successfully sought asylum for themselves or their daughters in the United States or other Western nations to avoid forced genital mutilation, a traditional practice in a number of societies (see circumcision). A situation causing many international disputes is the use of embassies and legations, by virtue of their status of extraterritoriality, as places of refuge in times of disorder and conflict. Most countries do not offer this type of asylum except when it seems necessary for the preservation of human life.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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