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This article critiques the “legal at the time” argument used by states and companies which historically practised slavery to defend themselves against claims for restitution, examining the Mauritian case. Although slavery was largely legal there before its abolition by the British, torts were common under slavery and, during the years of historic rupture, 1794–1839, when the local élite defied first French and then English law, generated systemic unlawful activity. Most types of legal action for restitution for slavery face formidable difficulties; pursuing reparations supported by broad legal arguments may therefore be a more viable route. Slavery may be argued to have been an illegitimate endeavour in itself. While sympathetic to that view, this article does not pursue it but rather seeks to demonstrate that the “legal at the time” argument against reparations contains significant lacunae even within its restricted terms. It also shows that French constitutional law offers possibilities in the form of rights that are not time-bound.

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Journal Article

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