Common Heritage, Common Concern and Common Areas: The Changing Role of States and International Organizations

Esil Conference 2017 > Theme > Common Heritage, Common Concern and Common Areas: The Changing Role of States and International Organizations

When the concept of the common human heritage was first conceived in the 1960s, States were mainly concerned with negative international obligations, such as refuting claims of exclusive sovereignty over certain spaces, the unilateral exploitation of common economic resources or the use of these spaces for military purposes. But things have begun to change. In particular, the more recent concept of the common concern of humanity has moved from a strict spatial dimension to include goods such as genetic resources and the human genome, cultural and natural heritage of outstanding value, and the environment. The need to protect global commons from over-exploitation or deterioration is increasingly a major factor impacting upon the traditional understanding of sovereignty as unfettered power over natural resources within the jurisdiction of states. States could be entrusted by general principles and specific treaty regimes with a right to intervene and, according to some scholars, even by the use of armed force, to protect global commons situated within the territory of other states or in areas beyond national jurisdiction. States may be obliged to safeguard resources and interests whose protection is a common concern of humanity, even though they are located in areas within their exclusive jurisdiction and control. Global or regional commons can also be managed by international regimes and international organizations. .

On the one hand, traditional international organizations are setting out specific rules and guidelines to ensure respect for global commons. On the other hand, semi-institutionalized bodies have been put in place to accomplish tasks such as monitoring compliance with international standards, imposing reparation (or compensation), and mediating between states and local populations.

The forum will address both theoretical aspects, such as the historical and political evolution of state sovereignty, the changing notion of international personality, and the definition of international justice, and practical legal questions relating to, for example, the limits of unilateral intervention by “third states” for the protection of global commons, the obligation to accept international supervision carried out by international organisations, and the international responsibility of international organisations.



Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Queen Mary, University of London


Usha Natarajan, The American University in Cairo

Nilufer Oral, Istanbul Bilgi University

Ana Filipa Vrdoljak, University of Technology Sydney