An Equitable International Legal Framework: The Grotian Heritage

Dublin Core


An Equitable International Legal Framework: The Grotian Heritage


Session 11
Diversity in approaches to maritime archaeology, underwater cultural heritage and related areas


The conservation of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) requires not only an understanding of the physical environment in which an object is located but also its legal environment needs to be considered. For example, what is the legal position with regard to claims on submerged wrecks and what are the guiding philosophical principles underpinning modern international sea law and UCH law? The doctrine of ‘freedom of the seas’, encompassing the natural law principles of consensus, equality, equity, reason and fairness, was advocated by the Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius, at the beginning of the 17th century. During this period, Europe was plagued by war and religious schisms as well as economic division arising from the rivalry between dominant maritime powers for the right to establish exclusive overseas trading empires in East Asia and the Americas. The volatile economic and political environments, along with the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire hegemony, created the need for rules of conduct between a large international community. The scholarly debates of the 17th century, often referred to as the ‘battle of the books’, provided a wealth of jurisprudence on international law, including settling ocean governance in favour of an ‘open sea’ policy as opposed to a ‘closed sea’ policy in respect to trade and navigation. Grotius’ writings on ‘consensus’ and the ‘social interdependence’ of nations are relevant in the 21st century as his writings expound the modern idea of State ‘cooperation’ whilst advocating navigational freedom. In promoting cooperation among States, the Grotian doctrine represents an effective means to combat transnational crime and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural resources. This paper concludes that the writings of Grotius on ‘consensus’ in decision making and interdependence of States are of increasing relevance, given that the global community is entering a period when questions are being raised over the role of international law concerning the conservation of UCH and the philosophical frameworks which shape ocean governance polices.

The soul of the past is in deep water
Phillipe Diole.


Kim Browne


November 2011



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