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Estonian Neutrality Law of December lst, 1938

On November 18, 1938, in Riga, at the Conference of Baltic Foreign Ministers (of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) which convened periodically according to the stipulations of the treaty of the Baltic Entente, the Ministers decided the time had come to adopt neutrality laws. A respective protocol was signed to that effect. It was also agreed upon that the adopted neutrality rules would not be altered unilaterally by one of the Baltic Governments, but only after previous consultation. The best pattern was considered to be the Scandinavian neutrality law, adopted by the Scandinavian declaration at Stockholm of May 29, 1938.

In result of this decision the Committee of Baltic Jurists prepared the draft of the basic Baltic neutrality law, which was approved by the Baltic Foreign Ministers. Estonia was the first to proclaim its Neutrality Law on December lst, 1938 (published in the "Riigi Teataja" [State Gazette], 1938, No. 99). Latvia published its Neutrality Law on December 21, 1938 ("Valdibas Vestnesis" [Government Gazette], No. 290, 1938), and Lithuania on January 25, 1939 ("VyriausibÚs Zinios" [Governmental News], No.632, 1939).

Estonian Neutrality Law of December lst, 1938

[Editor's Note: Latvian and Lithuanian Neutrality Laws are mutatis mutandis identical.] [Translation]


1. Belligerent warships shall be granted admission to the ports and other territorial waters of the Estonian Republic, subject to the following exceptions, restrictions and conditions.

2. Belligerent warships shall not be allowed access to the ports and maritime areas declared to be naval ports or to form part of the protection zones of coastal defence works.

Belligerent warships shall, further, not be allowed access to interior territorial waters the entrance to which is closed by submarine mines or other means of defence.

For the purposes of this law, "Estonian interior waters" shall be deemed to include ports, entrances to ports, gulfs and bays and the waters between Estonian islands, islets and reefs which are not constantly submerged.

Belligerent submarines armed for war purposes shall be prohibited from navigating or sojourning in Estonian territorial waters.

However, this prohibition shall not apply to submarines forced to enter prohibited waters by stress of weather or by damage, provided that they indicate by means of an international signal the reason for their presence in such waters. Such submarines shall be required to leave the prohibited waters as soon as the circumstances which are the cause of their entrance have ceased. While in Estonian territorial waters, submarines shall constantly fly their national flag and shall navigate on the surface.

The President of the Republic reserves the right to prohibit, in special circumstances, for the purpose of safeguarding she sovereign rights and maintaining the neutrality of the Republic, while at the same time observing the general principles of international law, access to Estonian ports and other defined zones of Estonian territorial waters, other than these to which access is prohibited by the preceding provisions.

The President of the Republic further reserves the right to prohibit access to Estonian ports and anchorages of such belligerent warships as may have failed to comply with regulations laid down by competent Estonian authorities, or have violated the neutrality of the Republic.

3. Privateers shall not be allowed to enter Estonian ports or to sojourn in Estonian territorial waters.

Armed belligerent merchant vessels shall, if their armament is intended for purposes other than their own defence, likewise be forbidden access to Estonian ports or to sojourn in Estonian territorial waters.

4. Belligerent warships shall not be allowed to remain in Estonian ports and anchorages or in other Estonian territorial waters for more than 24 hours, save in the event of their having suffered damage or run aground, by reason of stress or weather, or in the cases foreseen hereafter in paragraphs 3. and 4. In such cases, they shall leave as seen as the cause of the delay has ceased. In the case of damage or running aground, the competent Estonian authority shall fix such time-limit as may be deemed sufficient to repair the damage or refloat the vessel. However, no vessel shall be allowed a prolongation of stay ever 24 hours, if it is clear that the vessel cannot be rendered seaworthy within a reasonable time, or if the damage was caused by an act of war of its enemy.

The above restrictions on the length of sojourn shall not apply to warships used exclusively for religious, scientific, or humanitarian purposes, or to hospital ships.

The maximum number of warships of a belligerent power or several allied belligerent powers admitted to sojourn at one time in an Estonian port or anchorage, or in the ports or anchorages of the same coastal district of Estonia, the coast having been divided into districts for that purpose, shall be two.

In the event of warships of both belligerent parties sojourning at the same time in an Estonian port or anchorage, a period of at least 24 hours shall elapse between the departure of a ship of one belligerent party and that of a ship belonging to the other; the order of departure being determined by the order of arrival unless the ship which arrived first is so circumstanced that an extension of its stay is permitted.

No belligerent warship shall leave an Estonian port or anchorage in which there is a merchant vessel flying an enemy flag within less than 24 hours after the departure of such merchant vessel.

The competent authorities shall regulate the departure of merchant vessels in such a manner that the sojourn of warships is not unnecessarily prolonged.

5. In Estonian ports and anchorages, belligerent warships shall only be permitted to effect such repairs as are essential for their seaworthiness and they shall not increase their fighting strength in any manner whatsoever. In repairing damage manifestly caused by acts of war of their enemy, the damaged vessels shall not be permitted to avail themselves of any assistance which has been procured in Estonian territory. The competent Estonian authorities shall determine the nature of the repairs to be made. Such repairs shall be effected as rapidly as possible within the time-limit provided for in Section 4, paragraph 1.

Belligerent warships shall not be allowed to make use of Estonian ports or other Estonian territorial waters to replace or augment their military stores or armament or complete their crews.

Belligerent warships shall only be permitted to revictual in Estonian ports or anchorages to the extent necessary to bring their supplies up to the normal peace time standard.

As regards refuelling, belligerent warships shall be subject in the Estonian ports and anchorages to the same provisions as other foreign vessels. Nevertheless, they shall only be permitted to load sufficient fuel to enable them to reach the nearest port in their own country, and in no case shall they load more than necessary to fill their coal bunkers, strictly so-called, or their liquid fuel bunkers. After having taken on fuel in any port or anchorage of the Republic, they shall not be permitted to obtain further supplies in such ports or anchorages within a period of three months.

6. Belligerent warships shall be required to employ la Estonian interior waters licensed pilots of the Republic according to the regulations applicable to warships in time of peace; otherwise they shall only be permitted to make use of the services of such pilots in case of distress in order to escape the perils of the sea.

7. Prizes of foreign nationality shall not be brought into Estonian ports or anchorages except in case of unseaworthiness, under stress of weather, or for lack of fuel or provisions. Prizes brought into an Estonian port or anchorage for one of the above reasons shall depart as soon as the special circumstances are at an end.

No prize court shall be set up by a belligerent in Estonian territory or on any vessel in Estonian territorial waters. The sale of prizes in an Estonian port or anchorage shall likewise be prohibited.

8. Belligerent military aircraft, with the exception of aerial ambulances and aircraft carried on board warships, shall not be admitted to Estonian territory.

Aircraft carried on board belligerent warships shall not leave such vessels during their sojourn in Estonian territorial waters.

9. Belligerent warships and military aircraft shall be required to respect the sovereign rights of the Republic and to refrain from all acts which would infringe its neutrality.

Within the limits of Estonian territory, all acts of war including visit, search, and capture of vessels and aircraft, whether neutral or of enemy nationality, shall be prohibited. Any vessel or aircraft captured within such limits shall be immediately released, together with its officers, crew, and cargo.

10. Sanitary, pilot, customs, traffic, aerial navigation, harbour, and police regulations shall be strictly observed.

11. Belligerents shall not use Estonian territory as a base for military operations against their enemy.

12. Belligerents and persons in their service shall not install or operate in Estonian territory wireless telegraph stations or any other apparatus designed for the purpose of communication with belligerent military, naval, or air forces.

Belligerents shall not use their mobile wireless telegraph stations, whether or not belonging to the combatant forces, in Estonian territory for the transmission of messages except in case of distress or for the purpose of communicating with Estonian authorities through an Estonian inland or coastal wireless telegraph station, or a wireless telegraph station installed on board a vessel belonging to the Estonian navy.

13. Observation from aircraft in Estonian territory or the collection therein by any other means of information concerning the movements or operations or defence works of one belligerent with a view to the information of the other belligerent shall be prohibited.

14. Belligerents shall not establish fuel stations within Estonian territory or on vessels stationed in its territorial waters.

Vessels and aircraft cruising with the manifest purpose of furnishing fuel or other supplies to the combatant forces of the belligerents shall not load such fuel or other supplies in Estonian territory in a quantity exceeding their own requirements.

15. No vessel intended for cruising or taking part in hostile operations against either of the belligerents shall be equipped or armed in Estonian territory nor shall any vessel intended for such acts and which has been wholly or in part fitted out in Estonian territory for warlike purposes be permitted to leave such territory. Aircraft equipped to carry out an attack on a belligerent or carrying apparatus or material, the mounting or use of which would enable it to carry out such an attack, shall not be permitted to leave Estonian territory if there are grounds to presume that it is intended for use against a belligerent power. Any work on aircraft to prepare it for departure for the above-mentioned purpose is likewise prohibited.


The present law does not affect the rights and obligations arising out of international treaties.


The provisions of the present law shall be put in force by decision of the President of the Republic from the time and to the extent determined by him.

The extent of Estonian territorial waters is four miles (Law of January 21, 1938, concerning navigable waterways).

citÚ p.41 dans Dr.Alfreds Bilmanis, Baltic States and World Security Organisation, Washington, DC, 1945,


  • Ansis Reinhards, Suisse Romande, 05 février 2001 Mise à jour: 05 février 2001
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