Part of the Annual Kirby Lecture on International Law series
Based in Montevideo, and most recently valued at US$5 billion, the payments platform DLocal enables companies such as Booking.com, Amazon and Uber to transact in local currencies in 29 countries. It specializes in the “emerging economies” of Latin America, the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa. Among international lawyers, however, Montevideo is best known for another form of international infrastructure. That is the 1933 Montevideo Convention, or at least its first article, standardising the template of modern statehood. At the time, as scholars of international legal history have shown, this amounted to a radical reformatting of the fundamentals of international law, driven by semi-peripheral states, as part of a widespread effort of reconstructive codification after the Great War. Today, DLocal’s Montevideo is emblematic of a very different kind of international legal reformatting now underway. A digital logic, and associated circuits of value and aggregations of power, are becoming embedded – even predominant – in many of international law’s most routine operations.
To shed light on this phenomenon, this talk will revisit each component of the Montevideo Convention’s well-known formula for statehood – permanent population; defined territory; government; and the conduct of international relations. Taking efforts of so-called digital humanitarianism as illustrative, it will examine how each of these Montevideo properties is being rerouted and recomposed digitally, often in tension with an analog logic characteristic of law. And in the ensuing dislocations sometimes in evidence between analog and digital aspects of international legal work, it will identify some possibilities for collective reworking.