UCL Faculty of Laws


Debt, International Law and Reparations

25 October 2021, 3:00 pm–4:00 pm

decolonising law

Prof. Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)

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Debt, International Law and Reparations
by Professor Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)

About this talk

This talk proposes that the concept of ‘odious debt’ provides an especially fruitful legal framework for the Haitian and CARICOM demands for reparations and debt severance. The concept renders visible different dimensions of the background economic order that have been constitutive of postcolonial sovereignty, and the histories of trade and aid that have engendered debt. I have found it useful to think with the world of Wakanda in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther in analysing the work of different regimes of visibility and the stakes of recognition and refusal in the society of nations. Visibility – both as a metaphor for what is explicit and an account of what is before our eyes – is central to the politics of reparations. In this context, the doctrine of odious debt and the cinematic considerations that frame, advance and interrupt the narrative worlds of Wakanda provide an interpretive lens through which to make visible the background structural arrangements linking globalisation’s winners and losers, and concomitantly, to contribute to situating reparations in a politics of refusal. The reparation claims of Haiti and CARICOM can be understood as stories entailing law and economics, visibility, and witnessing of the world; stories with a performative function where the telling itself seeks to interrupt how the world functions.

About the speaker

Vasuki Nesiah is Professor of Human Rights and International Law at the Gallatin School, NYU. Her current projects include International Conflict Feminism (under contract with UPenn. Press) and Reading the Ruins: Slavery, Colonialism and International Law (in progress!). She is a founding member of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and is co-editing TWAIL: A Handbook with Anthony Anghie, Bhupinder Chimni, Michael Fakhri and Karin Mickelson (under contract with Elgar). Her talk draws from “A Double Take on Debt: Reparations Claims and Regimes of Visibility in a Politics of Refusal” which is scheduled for publication with the Osgoode Hall Law Journal. This is a revised and extended version of the book chapter that was published in the Routledge Handbook on International Law and the Humanities (2021). Recent publications on themes related to her talk include “A Mad and Melancholy Record”: The Crisis of International Law Histories, Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law, Volume 11, Issue 2 (2021) and “Freedom at Sea”, London Review of International Law, Vol. 7, No. 2 (July 2019).


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