International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2009 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law

Carlos Saavedra Lamas

Carlos Saavedra LamasDr. Carlos Saavedra Lamas, an Argentine academic, scholar, and politician, is probably most well-known for being the first Latin American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Prize in 1936. However, it is his work and scholarship in the fields of labor law, immigration, international peace, arbitration, and mediation that set him apart from as a leading and influential figure within the international rule of law community.

Dr. Saavedra Lamas was born in Buenos Aires in 1878 into one of Argentina’s most distinguished families. In 1903 he received his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Buenos Aires Law School. Nearly forty years later, after an extensive career in pubic service, he returned to the University of Buenos Aires, serving as its president from 1941-1943 and then as a professor of political economy and constitutional law at the Law School until 1946. Dr. Saavedra Lamas also founded the sociology department in the School of Liberal Arts at the University.

Soon after his graduation from law school, Dr. Saavedra Lamas received a professorship in public provincial law and constitutional history in the School of Legal and Social Sciences at the University of La Plata. During that time he began to distinguish himself as a specialist in both labor law and international law. In 1908 he was elected to the first of two terms in the Argentine parliament. His successes while in parliament included drafting legislation on coastal water rights, government finances, and colonization, among others. Dr. Saavedra Lamas always maintained a deep interest in foreign affairs; his efforts in working to reach a labor and immigration agreement between Argentina and Italy ultimately led to a position as the unofficial adviser on foreign treaties to the Argentine legislature and foreign ministry.

He expanded his political resume in 1915 when he was appointed Minister of Justice and Public Education. One of his noteworthy achievements was the creation of a curriculum for vocational and technical training, which sought to help Argentina develop as an industrial country. As the Nobel Foundation notes, he was “a pioneer in the field of labor legislation” and produced several important treatises on issues related to labor law. They include the Center of Social and Labor Legislation (1927) and the three-volume National Code of Labor Law (1933). He presented one of the volumes of his National Code of Labor Law at the 1928 International Labor Organization Conference in Geneva over which he presided. Dr. Saavedra Lamas also produced important works on international law, including The Crisis of Argentine Doctrine and Codification of International Law (1931), considered by many to be his most important academic work.

Dr. Saavedra Lamas was thus a well known and widely respected political figure when General Agustín P. Justo, the new president of Argentina, appointed him Foreign Minister in February, 1932, a post he held until his retirement from the foreign ministry in 1938. From the moment he entered the foreign ministry, Dr. Saavedra Lamas was a tireless advocate of diplomacy, international law, and peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Most of his efforts focused on trying to end the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay that began a few months after he took the post of Foreign Minister. He was instrumental in helping to bring a peaceful end to the bloody conflict over the Chaco Boreal region that claimed roughly 100,000 lives.

Dr. Saavedra Lamas began work on an Antiwar Pact during his first year as Foreign Minister as a way to express his ideas on international law. In his own words, Dr. Saavedra Lamas worked to forge “an antiwar pact, that once ratified and accepted as is … will make another war impossible.” The Antiwar Pact was viewed as a combination of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Stimson Doctrine, interwoven with new ideas from Dr. Saavedra Lamas.i The Pact condemned aggressive war (Kellogg-Briand) and refused to recognize any territorial change brought about by force (Stimson). It also went a step further and stated that if a war were to break out among signatories, the remaining signatories were required to create mediation committees to bring about a ceasefire and to take diplomatic, legal, and economic actions to end the conflict. Six Latin American states signed the pact on October 10, 1933. At the 7th Pan-American Conference at Montevideo in December, 1933, the Pact was signed by all of the other South American states. One month later, the Antiwar Pact was presented to the League of Nations, which Dr. Saavedra Lamas convinced Argentina to rejoin after a thirteen-year absence. In addition to being ratified by most of the Latin American countries, the Antiwar Pact was signed by eleven other countries.

One of Dr. Saavedra Lamas’ greatest diplomatic achievements came on June 12, 1935 when Bolivia and Paraguay agreed to a ceasefire in the Chaco War. He was responsible for organizing the conciliation commission and subsequent mediation sessions led by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay that led to the cessation of hostilities. Soon after, in 1936, he was elected president of the Assembly of the League of Nations. As a result of his steadfast efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Chaco War conflict and draft the Antiwar Pact, Dr. Saavedra Lamas was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10, 1936. One his last diplomatic successes as Foreign Minister was negotiating a treaty between Bolivia and Paraguay that established a lasting peace and signified a formal end to the Chaco War. The countries signed the treaty on July 21, 1938.

Dr. Saavedra Lamas passed away in May, 1959 from the effects of a brain hemorrhage. As the Nobel Foundation notes, “Saavedra Lamas was known as a disciplinarian in his office, a logician at the conference table, a charming host in his home or art gallery, a man of sartorial elegance.” Dr. Carlos Saavedra Lamas remains a leading figure in international law because his academic and diplomatic achievements have had a lasting effect not only on Argentina, but also on the international community as a whole and the international rule of law.

By: Christine E. White, Staff Reporter, International Judicial Monitor and Executive Assistant to the President, International Judicial Academy.

[i] Presentation Speech by Christian Lous Lange, member of the Nobel Committee, on December 10, 1936.

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© 2009 – The International Judicial Academy with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

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