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A Deal with the Devil: French Extortion and Haitian Debt Recovery in International Law

By: Christine Jiha

In 1825, France pulled off the most discreet heist in history against its newly independent colony Haiti. Haiti’s independence debt, which took 122 years to pay off, was the result of French intimidation tactics and strong-arming that ultimately cost Haiti at least $21 billion. Given such menacing tactics and disproportionate bargaining power, was the initial repayment contract between both countries a valid document?

Using Haitian, French, and international contract and customary law principles, this Note argues that the original repayment contract was void ab initio and post-adoption of international agreements like the League of Nations Covenant and United Nations Charter. Furthermore, this Note introduces restorative and reparative approaches for Haitian recourse and analyzes several successful country–country reparation cases over the last century for comparison. Finally, after finding each case study fundamentally incompatible with this case, this Note proposes a novel two-part solution: first, the solicitation of an International Court of Justice advisory opinion; and second, the utilization of the private arbitral system to raise the aforementioned novel legal arguments.

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