The Legal Concept of Slavery in the Modern European Legal Sphere

Kärt Pormeister


The article explores the development of the concept of slavery in the European legal sphere. By means of an evolutionary approach, the author provides introduction to the first implementations of the prohibition of slavery in instruments of international law. Starting out as an economic measure protecting the colonial interests of the great European powers in the 19th century, the prohibition of slavery then developed, over the course of the 20th century, into a matter of human rights, with the prohibition aimed at protecting people subject to slavery. However, the practical scope of the slavery prohibition has always been subject to disagreements, not just to do with the first legal definition of slavery as incorporated into the Slavery Convention of 1926 but also extending to the contemporary approach. The author introduces the scholarly debate regarding the substantial meaning of the prohibition of slavery and the discrepancies among the approaches taken by international institutions.


slavery; servitude; 1926 Slavery Convention; 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery; the European Court of Human Rights; the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

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Journal DOI:
ISSN 1406-1082 (printed matter)
ISSN 1406-5509 (online)