Essex Public International Law Lecture: From Sacred Trust to Common Heritage: The Uncommons History of the Common Heritage of Mankind

From Sacred Trust to Common Heritage: The Uncommons History of the Common Heritage of Mankind

  • Mon 31 Jan 22

    09:00 - 10:30

  • Online


  • Event speaker

    Dr Cait Storr University of Technology Sydney UTS

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Public International Law Lecture

  • Event organiser

    Essex Law School

Please join us for the latest instalment of the Essex Public International Law Lecture Series.

The Essex Public International Law Lecture Series welcomes you to to the latest instalment presented by Dr Cait Storr and chaired by Emily Jones from the School of Law at the University of Essex.

Essex Public International Law Lecture: From Sacred Trust to Common Heritage: The Uncommons History of the Common Heritage of Mankind

Geophysical domains beyond national jurisdiction are often described as ‘global commons’. This status is said to derive from the 1979 Moon Agreement and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which declared space and seabed resources respectively to be the common heritage of mankind (CHM). This paper makes two arguments. The first is that, despite their chronic conflation in contemporary times, CHM, commons, and res communis omnium are historically, legally, and functionally distinct. The conflation of the three follows from two mistaken presumptions: first, that CHM juridifies the Grotian reconstruction of res communis omnium; and second, that res communis omnium is synonymous with ‘global commons’. The second argument the paper makes is that CHM emerged not from an attempt to institutionalise res communis omnium but from an evolution of the existing principle of international trusteeship. Trusteeship was itself a post-war reworking of the concept of the sacred trust of civilization that, as TWAIL and Marxist scholarship has comprehensively established, was used to justify European colonial and imperial domination over non-European peoples. The paper concludes that regaining clarity on the legal and historical distinctions between commons, CHM and res communis omnium is urgent as geopolitical tensions resurface over the basic treaty principles that should govern space. The conflation of the three perpetuates a decades-old gridlock in negotiations over the legal status of space resources, a gridlock exploited by private actors with likely far-reaching consequences; and trusteeship is increasingly invoked as a novel solution, without regard for its paternalist history. Clarifying the historical origins, uses and risks of these concepts will assist in generating equitable, sustainable and creative ways forward.

About the speaker:

Cait Storr is Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research addresses the relationship between property, territory and jurisdiction in international law, with a particular focus on decolonial struggles for legal control over natural resources. She has published on the history of international administration, the concept of territory in international law, Australian imperialism in the Pacific, decolonisation, and international environmental law. Her current project, 'Regulating 'New' Mining in the International Seabed and Space', examines the history and politics of the law governing resource extraction in domains beyond national jurisdiction. She has held positions as Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and at the University of Glasgow, and her monograph, International Status in the Shadow of Empire: Nauru and the Histories of International Law, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2020. 

About the Essex Public International Law Lecture Series

The Essex Public International Law lecture series is founded, hosted and co-chaired by Dr Meagan Wong and Dr Emily Jones based in the School of Law. This is a weekly lecture series featuring judges of international courts and tribunals, leading academics, and practitioners of international law from governmental service, international organizations, and private practice from across the globe. The series prides itself on building on two important intellectual traditions of international law: formalism and international legal practice, and international legal theory including postcolonial and feminist perspectives. 

We welcome all students, academics, practitioners and legal advisors to join us.

How to register

You can register here for the event which will be held on zoom.

For further information

Please contact Dr Meagan Wong, meagan.wong@essex.ac.uk and Dr Emily Jones, e.jones@essex.ac.uk.


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