In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Common Heritage of Mankind

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

International Law Common Heritage of Mankind
Edwin Egede
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0109


The “common heritage of mankind” (CHM), sometimes also called the common heritage of humankind or humanity, compared with age-old concepts such as res nullius and res communis, is of relatively recent origin. It represents the notion that certain global commons or elements regarded as beneficial to humanity as a whole should not be unilaterally exploited by individual states or their nationals, nor by corporations or other entities, but rather should be exploited under some sort of international arrangement or regime for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Although there is some debate as to the actual origin of the concept of CHM, there is no doubt that the concept actually assumed prominence after the speech of Arvid Pardo, the Maltese ambassador to the United Nations, delivered at the United Nations General Assembly in November 1967, calling for the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction and the resources contained therein to be declared the common heritage of mankind. This speech, which provided the most comprehensive and properly articulated proposal on the concept, was motivated by reports of rich resources in this part of the sea, and by the possibility that the rich states with the technology to do so would unilaterally exploit the resources to the exclusion of poorer states. There have been debates on whether this concept is a legal one or merely a political or moral idea. Further, there have been disputes as to whether it connotes communal ownership or merely joint management of global commons that are held to be CHM. Initially, the concept was associated solely with the law of the sea, but it has since been expanded to other domains, such as outer space and the Moon, Antarctica, human rights, human genomes, and plant genetic resources.

General Overviews

As the concept of CHM is a rather nebulous one, there has been a copious amount of scholarship devoted to exploring the nature of the concept. In addition, from the initial and rather wide-ranging formulation of the concept in relation to the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction (the Area) under the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC, 1982), there has been a trend toward seeking to extend the application of the concept to other spheres. Consequently, there are works that explore the application of the CHM concept not only in relation to the Area, but also in respect of other domains. Baslar 1998, Cancado Trindade 2005, and Noyes 2011 provide interesting general overviews of the concept, covering different domains where the concept may apply. Dupuy and Vignes 1991 and Poyoyo 1997, on the other hand, limit their exploration of this important concept to the law of the sea.

  • Baslar, Kemal. The Concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind in International Law. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1998.

    Comprehensive and one of the most authoritative books on the subject. A thorough evaluation of the meaning of the concept, its philosophical bases, legal status, and application in different domains.

  • Cancado Trindade, Antonio Augusto. “International Law for Humankind towards a New Jus Gentium.” Recueil Des Cours 316 (2005): 365–396.

    In this General Course on Public International Law delivered at the prestigious Hague Academy of International Law summer program, the author, an eminent scholar of international law and the former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as part of the lecture, explores the content and significance of the CHM and its application in different domains.

  • Dupuy, Rene Jean, and Daniel Vignes, eds. A Handbook on the New Law of the Sea. Vol. 1. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1991.

    A book edited by two French scholars which contains, in chapters 12–16, a detailed exploration of the concept in relation to the regime of the Area, as well as the institutional arrangement provided by the LOSC. Particularly interesting is the exploration of whether “mankind” under this concept may be regarded as a subject of contemporary international law.

  • Noyes, John. “The Common Heritage of Mankind: Past, Present, and Future.” Denver Journal of International Law & Policy 40 (2011): 447–471.

    The author, a distinguished American professor of international law, reflects on the evolution of the CHM, the recent developments affecting the implementation of the concept, and its possible future as a concept in international law.

  • Poyoyo, Peter Bautista. Cries of the Sea: World Inequality, Sustainable Development and the Common Heritage of Humanity. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1997.

    This book, which received the first Arvid Pardo Prize for outstanding scholarship on the law of the sea, explores the concept, which the author labels the “common heritage of humanity,” from the perspective of the law of the sea. He emphasizes the crucial role the concept may play in dealing with world inequality and promoting sustainable development.

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