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In the early years of the Cold War, important debates took place on the nature and scope of both slavery and forced labour. The adoption of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery in 1956 and the vote on the Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour in 1957 were preceded by long and heated discussions within key international bodies such as the United Nations Social and Economic Council (‘ECOSOC’) and the International Labour Organization (‘ILO’). Yet, conventional legal histories tend to minimise these debates on the ground that they relate to the ‘political context’ of the Cold War. What is more, they tend to present the adoption of the two conventions as building blocks of the abolitionary project pursued by modern international law. My aim in this chapter is to destabilise such linear narratives. Focusing on the issue of forced labour, I will make five points.
This article is part of the ongoing efforts to write a critical history of international arbitration in commercial and investment matters. It examines the ways in which the Spanish crown and its concessionaries set up a mechanism to settle legal disputes pertaining to the transatlantic slave trade. The transformation of asientos de negros from limited royal contracts to large-scale monopolies awarded to foreign chartered companies during the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was accompanied by the creation of an international commercial arbitration system. Why was this system set up, how did it work, and what was its faith? The overall aim of the article is to invite international lawyers to rethink the history of international arbitration and pay closer attention to the ‘private’ dimensions of formal and informal imperialism. It also attempts to bridge the historical investigation and contemporary commentary. In the conclusion, I argue that this study allows us, in a mirroring effect, to question the idea that today's dispute settlement mechanism was conceived as a means to ‘depoliticize’ international investment law. What the introduction of arbitration achieves is to place some fundamental questions out of sight. Today, as in the past, arbitrators work from within the system; their work rests on a series of unspoken – and yet highly political – premises about the organization of economic life and the distribution of values.
This article examines the debate on the use of force ‘from the periphery’, both in the geographical sense and outside the mainstream discourse. It offers an alternative reading of the evolution of the law on the use of force, starting not with the end of the Cold War, but with the process of decolonization. My argument is that this reading is missing from the debate framed as an opposition between a restrictivist and an expansionist camp. Yet it is crucial if one wants to understand the normative pull that is left of legal concepts such as non-intervention, aggression, and self-determination.
Over the last decade international lawyers have been increasingly concerned with the ‘fragmentation’ of international law. However, given that this expression has been repeatedly used by the profession since the mid-nineteenth century to depict the state of international law, one may wonder about its recent revival in the international legal discourse. Why has it re-emerged? What can we learn from previous invocations? An answer may be sought by contextualizing the fragmentation debate in a historical perspective. This brings out the repetitive and relatively stylized modes in which the profession has narrated legal developments. This essay suggests a correlation between periods of crisis in general and a critical view of fragmentation on the one hand, and periods of scholarly enthusiasm and the prevalence of positive views about fragmentation on the other. This analysis sheds critical light on both the implicit assumptions and political implications of the current debate on fragmentation.
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