The role of international law in intrastate natural resource allocation.

Author:Miranda, Lillian Aponte

State natural resource development projects have become sites of intense political, social, and cultural contestation among a diversity of actors. In particular, such projects often lead to detrimental consequences for the empowerment, livelihood, and cultural and economic development of historically marginalized communities.

In the period of colonial dissolution, international doctrines of natural resource allocation were developed, interpreted, and applied with respect to interstate disputes between colonizing states and newly independent colonies. Specifically, the doctrine of permanent sovereignty over natural resources developed, in part, with the aim of protecting newly independent states from economic re-colonization resulting from the appropriation of their natural resource base by foreign actors. (1) In more recent debates, the doctrine of permanent sovereignty over natural resources has been alluded to in the context of interstate disputes between developed and developing states pursuant to the same rationale: protecting a developing state's ability to seek economic growth through the economic benefits gained from an entitlement to commercialize its natural resource base. (2) Nevertheless, natural resource development projects have given rise to complex intrastate disputes involving the interests of multiple marginalized communities, including indigenous peoples, racial and ethnic minorities, and the rural poor. At the core of intrastate struggles for land and natural resources is a distributional concern regarding the potentially legitimate interests of multiple marginalized communities vis-a-vis each other, the broader national polity, and the state.

How has international law evolved to address the allocation of land and natural resources to historically marginalized communities in the context of natural resource development projects? What are the consequences of this evolution? It appears that international law has infiltrated what has been deemed a sacred prerogative of states--sovereignty over their natural resources--and thereby ultimate decisionmaking authority regarding the course of development. Specifically, there are three emerging approaches under international law that impact the intrastate allocation of land and natural resources to historically marginalized communities, and thus, carve away at states' top-down decisionmaking authority over development. Each of the three emerging approaches--grounded in distinct...

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