Rights to Natural Resources – with Petra Gümplová

From Congo to Afghanistan, natural resources are at the center of many contemporary political conflicts. Yet the mostly arbitrary rights to extract and use these resources are rarely reflected upon in depth. There is a lack of understanding of the historical origins as well as a critical analysis of our current global system of natural resource rights.

Our guest Petra Gümplová attempts to do both. In her research, she approaches the topic with a historical genealogy of international law and with a normative theory of justice. For her, international law is simultaneously a historical cause of current injustices and the key to their moral critique.

In her historical genealogy, she identifies three central legal principles that have shaped the modern resource regime. The Right of Conquest, the Right of Discovery and Occupation, and the Right of the Freedom of the Seas: all were invented and justified to secure valuable access to resources in distant parts of the world. Like military force and violence, legal considerations formed the basis of colonial practice.

Paradoxically, the postwar development of international law then provides the tools for a comprehensive critique of resource injustice. Gümplová advocates a practice-oriented method of normative theory building. Rather than developing principles from an abstract and ideal standpoint, she seeks to draw out the moral implications of current international law standards. For her, a just postcolonial system of control over natural resources must be based on the principle of self-determination and on the comprehensive catalog of human rights.


Petra Gümplová

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