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Principle of Common Heritage of Mankind

What is meant by the principle of the ‘common heritage of mankind’? To what resources does this principle apply under the international law of the sea, and how does the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea give effect to it?


The essay will consider the principle of the ‘common heritage of mankind’ in the context of the 1982 UNCLOS.

Common Heritage of Mankind: Meaning of the Principle

The principle of ‘common heritage of mankind’ began to emerge in the 1960s, with the purpose to define certain areas of territory as being outside the exclusive jurisdiction of any one state (Holmila, 2005). The principle of ‘common heritage of mankind’ has been evolved by the international community as response to jurisdictional claims by states over terra nullius areas in the world (Noyes, 2011). Until the passage of the UNCLOS in 1982, there were many other resolutions, particularly by the UN General Assembly, which called for the recognising of the deep sea bed and ocean floor as the common heritage of mankind (Rothwell & Stephens, 2016).

Application of the principle ‘Common heritage of mankind’ to the 1982 UNCLOS

Part XI of the 1982 UNCLOS is relevant for giving effect to the principle of ‘common heritage of mankind’. The International Seabed Authority is established to regulate the provisions of the Convention (Lodge, 2012).

In the context of deep sea bed, the principal components of common heritage of mankind are: non-appropriation of sea bed areas and sea bed resources by states and private entities; peaceful use of sea bed; sharing of benefits from deep sea bed mining; system of management of deep sea bed mining by the International Seabed Authority (Rothwell & Stephens, 2016).


This part will conclude the essay by restating the principal points in the essay.


  • Holmila, E., 2005. Common heritage of mankind in the Law of the Sea. Acta Societatis Martensis, Volume 1, p. 187.
  • Lodge, M., 2012. The common heritage of mankind. The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, 27(4), pp. 733-742.
  • Noyes, J., 2011. The common heritage of mankind: Past, present, and future. Denv. J. Int'l L. & Pol'y, Volume 40, p. 447.
  • Rothwell, D. & Stephens, T., 2016. The international law of the sea. s.l.:Bloomsbury Publishing.

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