From sovereignty to self-determination: emergence of collective rights of indigenous peoples in natural resources management

Shawkat Alam, Abdullah Al Faruque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources (‘PSNR’) is now widely recognized as an important principle of international law. However, since its inception in the second half of the twentieth century it has undergone significant transformations. One of the practical implications of the changing notion of PSNR is that this principle is now viewed not only as state sovereignty over resources but also as a synonym for the right of peoples. Indeed, there is a discernible trend of extending the principle of PSNR to the interests of indigenous peoples so that they can exercise control over their traditional lands and territories. Indigenous peoples are receiving increasing attention in international instruments, in the sense that states are under an obligation to exercise permanent sovereignty on behalf of their indigenous communities, as well as for the benefit of their citizens as a whole. Therefore, other rights held by indigenous peoples such as their right to self-determination, their right to traditionally owned land and resources, and their right to prior informed consent are important tools for helping indigenous peoples exercise their right to permanent sovereignty within the nation state. This article considers indigenous peoples’ rights to and control over natural resources as a significant departure from and radical extension of traditional state sovereignty over natural resources. This transformation has been observed through recent regional human rights courts decisions, through the operation of international conventions and within legal scholarship. From analyzing these sources this paper demonstrates that PSNR has gradually evolved from a state-centric natural resources agreement to recognition of the collective rights of indigenous people over their resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-84
Number of pages26
JournalGeorgetown international environmental law review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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