Fighting the Resources Curse: The Rights of Citizens over Natural Resources

Jérémie Gilbert, Leif Wenar

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Many resource-rich states suffer the ‘resource curses’ of repressive governance, civil war, grand corruption, and slow development. A major driver of these pathologies is international trade in natural resources, which assumes that resource exports are licit even when they are neither accountable to citizens nor benefit them. This trade in fact violates citizens’ rights over natural resources, and empowers authoritarian regimes, corrupt officials, and armed groups with hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
The rights of citizens over natural resources are affirmed in both of the main human rights treaties. Yet these rights are poorly understood and rarely enforced. This article traces the historical development of citizens’ rights over resources in international law, which has solidified the procedural, substantive, and remedial entitlements of both national peoples and indigenous groups. The article then explores how resource-exporting states, resource-importing states, corporate home states, and investment tribunals can enforce citizens’ rights and lift today’s resource curse.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNorthwestern Journal of Human Rights
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2021

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