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Invested in Whiteness: Zimbabwe, thevon PezoldArbitration, and the Question of Race in International Law

Author(s): Ntina Tzouvala

Using the 2015 arbitral award in von Pezold v. Zimbabwe as its starting point, thispiece reflects on the relationship between racial capitalism and international law. Stressingthe particularities both of this specific case and of the field of investment arbitration, I nevertheless argue that the tribunal’s finding that Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programhad been racially discriminatory against white commercial farmers is symptomatic of broader argumentative structures in international law. In particular, I suggest that it wasthree argumentative moves that led to this perverse outcome: a temporal fencing of racism,a spatial containment of racism and, finally, a strict conceptualization of racism as prejudicepertaining to “skin color.” The combination of these three moves allowed the arbitratorsto artificially separate the question of race/ism from questions of property and wealthdistribution, capitalist accumulation, and exploitation. Far from being aberrational, thesethree moves are commonplace in (neo)liberal domestic and international legal systems and contribute to the invisibilization of racial capitalism as a structure of dispossession,exploitation, and abandonment.

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Centre: CIPL

Research theme: International Law

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