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Land, Property and Sovereignty in International Law

Lorenzo Cotula

Journal article

This journal article charts the relationship between land and international law. Tracing evolutions since the very origins of international legal ordering, the article identifies sovereignty and property as the two key concepts that have traditionally framed claims to land in international law. For centuries, international jurists primarily considered sovereignty and property claims in the context of changes in, and disputes over, territorial control. However, developments in international human rights, investment and environmental law have reconfigured the internal dimensions of the land-property-sovereignty nexus, redefining space for states lawfully to exercise their sovereign powers vis-à-vis property within their jurisdiction. These developments have set the scene for new tensions within international law: sovereign acts to award commercial concessions over ancestral lands, or to support the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in the face of commercial investments, can expose states to the risk of competing legal claims that mobilize different international norms relevant to the protection of property. This situation requires refining the tools to promote cohesive application of international law, and to arbitrate between multiple rights and interests at the interface between land, property and sovereignty.

Publication information

  • External: X00182
  • Published: Aug 2017 - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York
  • Themes: Land acquisitions and rights, Law
  • Source pub: Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law
  • Journal ref: 25, 2
  • Language: English

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Cotula, L (2017) “Land, Property and Sovereignty in International Law”, Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, 25(2), 219-286.
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