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The British Navy and the Slave Trade

Via Lawfare:

In the early 19th century the British government, responding to strong domestic pressure, undertook to suppress the transatlantic slave trade. Although the Royal Navy dominated ocean travel, Britain faced important legal obstacles. The slave trade was conducted on the high seas by vessels sailing under the protection of other sovereigns and was not itself unlawful. Principles of equal sovereignty, private property, and free navigation meant that seizing a slaver and releasing its human cargo was unlawful and could give rise to personal liability for British naval personnel.

Its great naval power constrained by law, the British government pursued its goal along two tracks.

What follows is a discussion of how Britain worked within international law to get other nations to cooperate when possible, and coerce and cajole their cooperation when necessary. ¬†Given our own desire to work within international law – something the Bush Administration pursued just as ardently as the Obama Administration – maybe we at least shouldn’t be giving terrorists free advantages, like cover under the Geneva Conventions for those who deliberately forfeit that protection by violating them.

Posted in Law, Military.