UCL Faculty of Laws


Decolonizing Law (LAWS0335)

This module looks at whether and how law can be ‘decolonized’, with a particular focus on international law.

This module considers whether and how law can be ‘decolonized’, with a particular focus on international law, 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 return of artefacts from museums, art galleries and universities; and various historical and ongoing situations around the world, from the German genocide of the Herero/Nama people and South Africa’s unlawful occupation of South West Africa/Namibia and the Mau Mau rebellion against the British in Kenya, to the situation of the Palestinian people, and the Sahrawi (the people of Western Sahara) today.   


  • 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.


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. 

Module Syllabus 

This module is subject to change.

The course will cover the following general topics: 

  • liberal/modern and post-modern theoretical ideas relevant to the subject, including, in the case of the latter ideas, theories of decoloniality/postcoloniality and critical race theory generally, post-colonial/third world approaches to international law 
  • particular relevant concepts such as 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 

The course will cover the following case studies, and where relevant, associated cases and ‘apologies’ (subject to change): 

  • Reparations for slavery and the trade in enslaved people, e.g. the CARICOM initiative 
  • The question of the return of artefacts in museums, art galleries and universities 
  • University endowments linked to colonialism and slavery
  • Indigenous/first nation peoples
  • Migration and decolonization
  • South-West Africa/Namibia: a) The Herero Massacre and associated German apology, b) South Africa’s refusal to provide for self-determination, and introduction of apartheid in the territory
  • UK policies during colonialism and in decolonization with ongoing legacies: a) the Palestine Mandate including the Balfour Declaration and the conduct of Mandate administration; b) the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya – abuses, concentration camps (cases and apology); c) The dispossession of the Chagos people by the UK (various cases including Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice)
  • Current ongoing colonial situations (subject to change): a) Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara; b) Israel and Palestine, c) remaining European and US colonies and sovereign ‘overseas’ territories 

Recommended Materials 

Module reading lists and other materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have selected the course on 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:45 credits (450 learning hours)
Convenor:Ralph Wilde
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour weekly lectures, Term One and Two 
Who may enrol:LLM students only
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
LLM in Public Law 

Practice Assessment:TBC
Final Assessment:Controlled Condition Exam (100%)