'The Ghosts of Colonialism in Africa': Silences and Shortcomings in the ICJS 2005 Armed Activities Decision

25 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2015

See all articles by Guy Fiti Sinclair

Guy Fiti Sinclair

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law

Date Written: 2007


This article challenges the depiction of international law as having entirely detached itself from the racist worldview and theories that shaped its genesis. In considering the history of Western contact and influence in the Congo, it becomes apparent that international law has repeatedly excused or obscured the human suffering caused by the actions of Western powers in relation to the Congo and its peoples. In two key moments in that history — at the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885 and again in 1960 when United Nations (UN) peacekeepers forcibly intervened in the newly-independent state — international law and international lawyers provided ready justifications for Western interference in the Congo. In both instances, events central to the development of international law and institutions resulted in lasting calamity for the Congo. After reviewing the colonial and post-colonial history of the Congo, the article argues that the events surrounding the 2005 Armed Activities case, and the judgment of the International Court of Justice in that case, replicate and compound the historical connections between Western interests and international law in that country. Conspicuously absent from the Armed Activities judgment is any consideration of the complex events leading up to the particular conflict that was the subject of the Court’s inquiry. In particular, the judgment makes no mention of the role of Western countries in creating the conditions for and sustaining that conflict. Going a step further, the article shows that international law and institutions are themselves to a degree culpable in the most recent series of catastrophes afflicted upon the Congo.

Keywords: International law, Congo, International Court of Justice, imperialism

Suggested Citation

Sinclair, Guy Fiti, 'The Ghosts of Colonialism in Africa': Silences and Shortcomings in the ICJS 2005 Armed Activities Decision (2007). ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2556077

Guy Fiti Sinclair (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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