UCL Faculty of Laws


Decolonizing Law (LAWS0224)

This module looks at whether and how law can be ‘decolonized’

This module considers whether and how law can be ‘decolonized’, through a detailed consideration of, a) colonial and post-colonial history and theory, b) the application of post-colonial ideas to international law in particular, c) the substantive issues of redress and reparation for colonialism and other equivalent forms of domination, both in and of themselves, and the abuse and exploitation associated with them. Case studies considered include the ‘Rhodes must fall’ movement; the Caribbean campaign for reparations for slavery and the slave trade; the restitution of Nazi-appropriated art; and the return of artefacts from museums, art galleries and universities.


  • To provide students with an informed, accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive treatment of the course topic.
  • To address the topic in an interdisciplinary fashion that draws on ideas from cognate fields to law.
  • To link and apply academic ideas to practical situations, and to their representation in popular culture and to the general public.
  • To follow and integrate treatment of contemporary developments on the topic.
  • To deliver the course in a manner that is highly innovative and interactive in terms of teaching methods and assessment modalities.  In particular:
    • to integrate representations of different aspects of the course topic in popular culture and public media, and insights from those working on such aspects, throughout the course;
    • to engage in occasional field visits in London to sites and events relevant to the topic, and to integrate insights from these visits into the classroom discussions;
    • to provide a range of formative and summative assessments that enable accurate and fair treatment across students while incorporating a range of diverse options including activities that involve public engagement.
  • To contribute to UCL’s initiative to ‘liberate the curriculum’ as part of the broader globalmovement to ‘decolonize the curriculum’ (see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/research-based-education/liberating-curriculum) 


A student who has successfully completed the module should:

  • be proficient, at a sophisticated level, in understanding and applying the relevant areas of international law, notably third world approaches to international law, and relevant cognate disciplinary approaches including political theory, notably post-colonial theory, and the history of colonialism and imperialism;
  • have a greater appreciation of the underlying issues of policy at stake on the topic, such as the question of intergenerational responsibilities, anti-racism and anti-imperialism, and how they mediate, and are mediated by, the legal framework;
  • have a more advanced ability to engage in critical analysis generally and critical analysis of law in particular, notably when it comes to the role of law in undergirding oppression and its emancipatory potential;
  • have a more sophisticated understanding of, and aptitude for, the law and relevant cognate disciplines in general;
  • be able to recall, and write in a sophisticated, informed, lucid and concise manner about, the ideas covered in the course;
  • be more ready to play a responsible and ethical role in society in general and the workplace in particular, by being equipped with relevant ideas, notably concerning combatting inequality, racism, and imperialism, and the ability to apply these ideas to practical situations and social interactions, and more generally being better able to engage in critical 

Module syllabus

This module is subject to change.

The course will cover the following general topics:

  • Decolonizing the curriculum, ‘Rhodes must Fall’, theories of decoloniality and modernity
  • Post-colonial theory generally, and post-colonial/third world approaches to international law
  • Other relevant legal and political theory: critical theory generally; critical race theory; feminist theory; transitional justice; theories of redress, restitution, reparation and ‘apologies’; inter-generational justice; inter-temporal law.
  • Colonial and post-colonial history
  • The central relevant features and legal regimes of the international legal and institutional system, including colonial law, the law of self-determination, human rights law
  • Central relevant features of domestic/municipal law (e.g. public law, human rights law, tort, criminal law)

The course will cover the following case studies, and where relevant, associated cases and ‘apologies’

  • Reparations for slavery and the slave trade, e.g. the CARICOM initiative
  • The question of the return of artefacts in museums, art galleries and universities
  • Restitution and reparation for art stolen during periods of war and occupation (e.g. Nazi-appropriated art from Jewish owners)
  • University endowments linked to colonialism and slavery
  • The Herero Massacre and associated German apology
  • UK policies during colonialism and in decolonization with ongoing legacies: 
    • The Palestine Mandate – Balfour Declaration; conduct of Mandate administration
    • India – massacres and famine; partition
    • Southern Africa – concentration camps
    • Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya – abuses, concentration camps (cases and apology)
    • The dispossession of the Chagos people by the UK (various cases including Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice)
  • Current colonial situations
    • Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara
    • Israel occupation of the Palestinian Territories
    • Remaining European and US colonies and sovereign ‘overseas’ territories
    • Economic imperialism and land- and resource- grabbing
    • Power and domination in cyberspace and relating to big data

Recommended materials

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have made their module selections upon enrolment.

Preliminary reading

There is no preliminary reading required, but students who wish to get a taste of some of the ideas that will be covered in the course can dip into the following:

Key information

Module details
Credit value:30 credits (15 ECTS, 300 learning hours)
Convenor:Ralph Wilde
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour seminars overall; 10 in Term 1 and 10 in Term 2. 
Who may enrol:Any UCL Master’s student
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in Human Rights Law;
LLM in International Law
LLM in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory
LLM in Law and Social Justice
LLM in Legal History
Practice Assessment:Opportunity for feedback on one output for an audience and associated reflective essay
Final Assessment:Output for an audience (30%); essay (70%)