The Concept of 'Odious Debts': A Historical Survey

59 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2007

Date Written: December 2007


The debate about odious debts enjoys a revival in these days after the Iraq war and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The majority of writers take it for granted thereby that public international law offers a legal concept of odious debts. They seem to assume (or to postulate) that this concept is applicable in a court like the concept of, e.g., offer and acceptance for the conclusion of a contract or like the concept of recovery of damages in cases of tort. This assumption, however, can be verified only by examining the preconditions as set out in art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. This, in turn, requires to investigate into the history or development of all those cases, discussions, and instances that are nowadays collectively bundled together under the term odious debts. The present article addresses itself exactly to this task and comes to the conclusion that the remarkable inconsistencies within this historical development in addition with the almost complete lack of any explicit case material lead to the result that there is no such legal concept of odious debts.

Suggested Citation

Paulus, Christoph G., The Concept of 'Odious Debts': A Historical Survey (December 2007). Duke Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 179, Available at SSRN: or

Christoph G. Paulus (Contact Author)

Humboldt University of Berlin ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
Berlin, AK Berlin 10099

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