The Human Right of Property


The Human Right of Property

Melbourne Law School

Parkville campus

185 Pelham Street

Booking not required

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T: (03) 8344 4799

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Melbourne Law School

Despite the absence of a comprehensive global pact on the subject, the human right to property protection – a right of property but only rarely to specific property – exists and is recognised in 21 human rights instruments, including some of the most widely ratified multilateral treaties ever adopted. The Cold War’s omission of property rights in the two principal treaties on human rights, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has been overtaken by events. But that reality continues to be resisted by legal scholars, including human rights advocates, as well as by many across the political spectrum from many on the left (who associate property rights with misguided 'Western' models for economic development) to some on the right (who see it as yet another intrusion on sovereign discretion sought by global elites). It is also resisted by US courts which continue to assert that international law regulates the treatment of foreign property but not of 'domestic takings' involving actions directed at a state’s own citizens.

This talk, based on a recent article, surveys the reality of internationalised property rights protections outside the usual context in which it is addressed, namely to protect the property of foreign investors in the host states in which they operate. It canvasses the policy and jurisprudential objections to the idea of a treaty-based human right of property, addresses how human rights treaties respond to these objections, and advances a non-instrumentalist defense of the human right to property protection based on 'moral intuitions' of what human dignity requires.

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