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

Winter 2013 Issue

Leading Figures in International Law


Carlos Calvo (Argentine)
(1824 – 1906)

Carlos Calvo

By: Lucia Druetta, Assistant Editor, International Judicial Monitor and Director, Academic Programs, International Judicial Academy

Carlos Calvo was a prominent figure in international law of the late 19th century. The legal doctrine that he developed and that is named for him for its time had a great influence on the development of the international law rules of diplomatic protection, treatment of foreign people and goods, and state responsibility in Latin American countries.          

Calvo was born in Montevideo (Uruguay) in 1824 and studied law in Buenos Aires, where he eventually received Argentine citizenship. During his diplomatic career, he represented Argentina and Paraguay before several European countries. It is said that his ideas were influenced by the United States jurist Henry Wheaton, and by a dispute between Paraguay and Great Britain in the 1860s. This event took place when a Uruguayan-British citizen was accused of being involved in a conspiracy to kill Francisco Solano Lopez, the son of a Paraguayan leader and Vice-President of the country at the time. Following Paraguay’s refusal to free the prisoner, Great Britain broke diplomatic relations with the country. On behalf of Paraguay, Carlos Calvo became the diplomat in charge of rebuilding the relations between the two countries, an endeavor in which he was successful.

Carlos Calvo stood out as a grand legal scholar and historian. He authored many books on international law, such as an International Law Handbook, Complete Collection of Treaties, Conventions, etc. of Latin American States from 1493 until the then present (1862-1869); the Dictionary of International Public and Private Law (2 vol. 1885); and the Dictionary Handbook of Diplomacy and International Public and Private Law (1885). However, his ‘Derecho Internacional Teorico y Practico’ (International Law Theory and Practice - Buenos Aires edition, 1868 and French edition, 1896) became his most influential work and forms the basis of the so-called ‘Calvo Doctrine’.

The Calvo Doctrine was originally seen as a reaction from ‘weak’ states to the actions of ‘strong’ states. It


was considered an attempt to curb abusive political or military European government interference in Latin American states. In the late 1860s European powers were expanding their businesses overseas and required a minimum international standard of protection for their citizens and goods. On the other hand, Latin American states that had become recently independent on many occasions found themselves unable to comply with their financial obligations and hence had to cope with European aggression in their territories.

The Calvo Doctrine tried to stop what Latin American states considered an assault on the sovereignty, independence and equality of states and on nationals by aliens. As Calvo stated in his original work ‘aliens were not entitle to a higher degree of protection than domestic creditors and therefore, foreign citizens had to submit their claims to local courts’. The doctrine was further perfected in the French edition of his ‘Derecho Internacional Teorico y Practico’ setting forth the following tenets: (1) equality, sovereignty and independence of governments are paramount rights of the States; (2) States, being equal, sovereign and independent, have the right to expect non-interference from other States; and finally (3) aliens have to abide by the local law of the state wherein they reside without invoking diplomatic protection of their governments in the prosecution of claims arising out of contracts, insurrection, civil war or mob violence’.

The Calvo Doctrine gained several adversaries in Europe. European states viewed this theory as a limitation to their diplomatic rights and distrusted that justice could be achieved towards their subjects in Latin America. On the other hand, Calvo’s ideas won many adherents in Latin American countries, which began to incorporate his ideas and concepts into their constitutions, domestic legislation and international agreements.

The career of Carlos Calvo was recognized internationally. Calvo was the only Latin American founder of the l'Institut de Droit International (Belgium). He was a member of the Political and Moral Sciences Assembly of the Royal Academy of History of Madrid and one of the few Americans members of the Institut de France along with Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, among other renowned personalities. He died in 1906 in France and his remains were later repatriated to the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2013 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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