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How has smuggling been dealt with in international treaties since the late 19th century? Surprisingly in similar ways over the years, concludes PhD student Jackson Oldfield. He will receive his PhD on 17 February for the thesis 'Smuggling in International Law'. Supervisors are Yvonne Donders and Harmen van der Wilt.

International law has been concerned with smuggling since at least the late 19th century. Treaties have been created that seek to address the illicit movement of goods and people across international borders since that time period in a range of fields. These include the movement of people, weapons, 'obscenities', cultural artefacts and wildlife.

Oldfield: 'Given the number of treaties and the attention paid to smuggling both internationally and domestically, I thought it was important to explore whether there was a relationship between treaties addressing smuggling in international law and the reasons for any relationship that might exist.'

Smuggling provisions advance other aims

'Looking at treaties between 1890 and 2012, I conclude in my research that the approach to smuggling shows remarkably commonalities. Whether the treaties look at slavery, drugs or pornography smuggling, amongst others, the focus has been predominantly on measures to combat the smuggler, often leaving the wider circumstances that lead to a “smuggling situation” unaddressed.

This focus, I argue, enables states to use smuggling treaties as a way to advance other social and political aims through the introduction of measures targeting the smuggler. Measure to combat smuggling do therefore advance other agendas.’

Brussels Conference Act

A good example is the Brussels Conference Act of 1890. Oldfield: 'Although framed as a way to address the harm caused by smuggling in slavery, firearms and liquor in certain areas of the African continent, its provisions targeting smugglers were used to extend European control over the interior and seas around Africa.

For example, there was a demand to establish stations in the interior of Africa to combat the slave trade, but this of course meant that signatory governments had to extend their control to the interior.'