France's Overdue Debt to Haiti
12 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 5, 2021
In 1825, in exchange for formal recognition of statehood, Haiti agreed to pay a 150 million “indemnity” to France to compensate former plantation owners for the loss of their slaves. Although this Haitian Independence Debt has long been viewed as a grave injustice against the Haitian people, the exact laws violated by the French and the legal claims stemming from those violations have not been precisely defined. In this paper, the authors argue that France breached customary international law by (1) violating the good faith requirements under pacta sunt servanda, and (2) demanding unacceptable compensation in exchange for State recognition. Both of these claims could be brought in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has jurisdiction over breaches of customary international law – although procedural obstacles still exist in this venue in the form of France’s consent (or lack thereof) to ICJ jurisdiction and the common law concept of laches. Despite these legal challenges, the authors argue that bringing a suit in the ICJ is valuable because it affords Haiti an opportunity to both hold France legally liable for its actions and to lay out the facts and arguments for its case in the public arena.
Keywords: Haiti, Independence Debt, Customary international Law, recognition, ICJ, International Court of Justice
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