UCL Faculty of Laws


Online | Empire Comes Home: Three Phases in the Struggle to Decolonise International Law

03 March 2022, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

Image of the continents

This lecture is part of the Current Legal Problems Lecture Series 2021-22

Event Information

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Speaker: Prof. Sundhya Pahuja (The University of Melbourne)
Chair: Dr Megan Donaldson (University College London)

About the Lecture

Calls to ‘decolonise’ have become widespread, if not commonplace. For international jurists of every kind, it is no longer feasible to be unaware of the relationship between imperialism and international law. This can be read as a victory, a reflection of the tenacity of the struggle of the colonised and their allies to challenge empire, as enlightened or marginal, or as over and done with...

But it can also be read as a sign that the Empire has ‘come home’, to borrow Drayton’s phrase. This homecoming is palpable in the widening application of techniques of imperial governance in the Global North. It can be felt in the way that the social, distributional, and environmental dislocations of imperial practices are intensifying in the Metropole. Indigenous peoples in settler colonies and the putatively postcolonial subjects of ‘developing’ and ‘post-Apartheid’ states are realising that too much is (still)shared. And so, for most, empire must fall. The challenge is to come up with strategies equal to the task of dismantling empire today.

In this lecture, I will schematise the historical urge to ‘decolonise’ international law in the post-war period. I will argue that it can be understood in three phases. From that schematic account, I will generalize from the three approaches to describe a repertoire of strategies crafted to decolonize (International) Law. Attending to the similarities, differences, and transitions between them is instructive for how to think about international law. It may help us understand the implications of the choices we make when we ‘do’ international law in particular ways today, in the face of the social, environmental and distributional crises we face.

About the Speaker

Sundhya Pahuja is Australian Research Council Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Professor, and Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at the Melbourne Law School. She is known for her work on the encounter between plural forms of international law, the legal, historical, political and economic dimensions of the relations between Global South and North, and for her work on research methods and supervisory practice in international law. Sundhya is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, and in 2021 was awarded the Max-Planck-Cambridge Prize in International Law.

She has been the Lauterpacht Lecturer at Cambridge, the Newman Lecturer at Yale, the Genest lecturer at Osgoode Hall, and the Douglas McK Brown lecturer at UBC. She has been twice a fellow at Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies in South Africa, and a Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore and at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Her current projects include an interdisciplinary project on Populism and International Law with Richard Joyce, James Martel, Andrew Benjamin and Rose Parfitt; Cold War Histories of International Law with Gerry Simpson and Matthew Craven; and her Laureate Program on Global Corporations and International Law. Sundhya is the author of the prize-winning book, Decolonising International Law: Development, Economic Growth and the Politics of Universality (Cambridge 2011). Her other books include The Routledge Handbook of International Law and the Humanities (2021) edited with Shane Chalmers, International Law and the Cold War (2019) edited with Gerry Simpson and Matt Craven and The Oxford Handbook on International Law and Development (forthcoming) edited with Luis Eslava and Ruth Buchanan. Sundhya has served as the Director of Studies in Public International Law at the Hague Academy of International Law and as an advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Watch the video directly on our YouTube Channel or view it below

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About Current Legal Problems

The Current Legal Problems (CLP) lecture series and annual volume was established over fifty five years ago at the Faculty of Laws, University College London and is recognised as a major reference point for legal scholarship.

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