Lecture: Contested authority: public power and the exploitation of natural resources, Prof. Dr. Phoebe Okawa (University of London), Finley Library, Lauterpacht Centre, 10. November 2017, 12.30-15.00
Who has the right to exploit Libya’s oil reserves ? Since the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 there has been no identifiable source of political authority and loosely allied militia groups have been competing for legitimacy and with it authority to exploit Libya’s natural resources. Similarly, of the many startling revelations to come out of the Syrian conflict was the suggestion that both the Assad regime and Isis had funded the war by selling Syria’s oil reserves not just to each other but also to third states such as Turkey. This brought to core the question of authority to exercise public power in conflict situations; For what purposes and on whose behalf may the power be exercised where the legitimacy of an incumbent government is under challenge? Under what circumstances may rebels be entitled to exploit natural resources in conflict zones? What consequences attach to rights conferred on third parties, such as foreign corporations, in the absence of authority to do so? The situations in Syria and Libya are the latest manifestation of a recurrent problem in modern conflicts. The conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone and Congo profoundly underlined the importance of international oversight, in particular whether the existing international mechanisms placed appropriate constraints on the use of natural resources for the purposes of funding or perpetuating an unpopular war not in the interest of the population. The paper examines whether there is a modern law of ‘belligerency’ and its implications for the exploitation of natural resources.
Phoebe Okowa is Professor of Public International Law at Queen Mary, University of London. In 2011 and 2015, she was a Global Visiting Professor at New York University, School of Law. She has published extensively on a wide range of topics including the law of State Responsibility, the Use of Force and the Protection Natural Resources. Her current research explores unilateral and collective responses to the exploitation of natural resources in conflict zones.
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