The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law

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9780195391626: The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law

There is a broad consensus among scholars that the idea of human rights was a product of the Enlightenment but that a self-conscious and broad-based human rights movement focused on international law only began after World War II. In this narrative, the nineteenth century's absence is conspicuous--few have considered that era seriously, much less written books on it. But as Jenny Martinez shows in this novel interpretation of the roots of human rights law, the foundation of the movement that we know today was a product of one of the nineteenth century's central moral causes: the movement to ban the international slave trade. Originating in England in the late eighteenth century, abolitionism achieved remarkable success over the course of the nineteenth century. Martinez focuses in particular on the international admiralty courts, which tried the crews of captured slave ships. The courts, which were based in the Caribbean, West Africa, Cape Town, and Brazil, helped free at least 80,000 Africans from captured slavers between 1807 and 1871. Here then, buried in the dusty archives of admiralty courts, ships' logs, and the British foreign office, are the foundations of contemporary human rights law: international courts targeting states and non-state transnational actors while working on behalf the world's most persecuted peoples--captured West Africans bound for the slave plantations of the Americas. Fueled by a powerful thesis and novel evidence, Martinez's work will reshape the fields of human rights history and international human rights law.

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Advance Praise for The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law"Scholars and citizens alike should be sure to read Jenny Martinez's compelling and memorable account of the roots of human rights law in struggles over the slave trade.  Reaching across Africa, the European colonial nations, and North and South America, Professor Martinez recovers a truly global accomplishment and demonstrates the roots of contemporary international human rights courts were no recent invention and instead vital demonstrations of the power of states and nongovernmental actors in advancing human security and dignity." -- Martha Minow, Author of Between Vengeance and Forgiveness and Dean of Harvard Law School  "A fascinating and highly educational account of attempts in the 1800s to end slavery and to free slaves found illegally on ships crossing the high seas.  It often reads more like a good mystery novel than a scholarly work and is impossible to put down." -- Kelly Dawn Askin, Senior Legal Officer, International Justice, Open Society Justice Initiative  "We sail alongside the myriad frauds adopted by slave traders to evade detection by the British Navy.  We watch as villainous captains put on and slip off an array of national flags to navigate the hidden shoals of the salve treaties.  With Martinez at the helm, the promise and the challenges of changing the world through international law come into view." -- John Fabian Witt, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor Law and Professor of History, Yale Law School  "Not only a fascinating account of a secret pocket of history but also a thought-provoking analysis of the powerful interplay of international morality, national might and individual human persistence in furtherance of a just cause.  Martinez's study is meticulously researched, sprightly written, and not to be missed by those who prefer to remember the past rather than to repeat it." -- Patricia M. Wald, former chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals and former Judge, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia  "A marvelous book that is a model of scholarship on history and international law.  It is thoroughly and impressively researched, written in a thoughtful and engaging style that does not lose sight of real people in the midst of complex international developments, argued clearly and persuasively, and highly original in its ability to look back on history and at the same time to look forward into contemporary challenges of our own time and the future."  Paul Gordon Lauren, author of The Evolution of International Human Rights

About the Author:


Jenny S. Martinez is Professor of Law and the Warren Christopher Professor in the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy at Stanford Law School.  She previously worked on trials of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague.  A leading expert on international law, she is also an experienced human rights litigator who argued the 2004 case Rumsfeld v. Padilla before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Martinez was named to the National Law Journal's list of "Top 40 Lawyers Under 40."

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