The Concept of Natural Rights

Duration: 2017-2020
Funder: Finnish Cultural Foundation, Osk.

Huttunen Foundation
(Individual Grant, Experienced Researcher, Adjunct Professor Level)

The Concept of Natural Rights, is a study on the intellectual history of international law. The research analyses the perennial importance of subjective natural rights to any understanding of how the distribution of food, natural resources, land and property has taken place globally, at least within the last five centuries. Radical changes occurred in Europe in the fields of epistemology, economics and politics that prompted the first uses of the concept of natural rights during the late European Middle Ages, well into the 19th century globally. The outcome of these changes was a new form of natural law and then, in early modernity, the transformation of ius gentium, while material redistribution became sometimes divorced from actual equality and the justice of practical morality. The research arose from questions prompted by the Academy of Finland project, International Law: between Religion and Empire (2012-2016).

This topic of the global history on natural rights has suddenly risen to prominence in the international political sphere after the Secretary of State of the U.S., Mike Pompeo decided to establish a ‘Commission on Unalienable Rights’ (8th July 2019) (‘Secretary of State Establishes Commission on Unalienable Rights’, 113 American Journal of International Law (2019), 842-844). According to Pompeo the main aim of the commission is to establish the core meaning of the so-called natural rights or rights inherent in the nature of human beings.


1. ‘The Impasse of Human Rights: A Note on Human Rights, Natural Rights and Continuities in International Law’, 21 Journal of the History of International Law, (2019) pp. 518-562

2. ’The Disorder of Economy? The first Relectio de Indis in a Theological Perspective’, in Stefan Kadelbach, Thomas Kleinlein & David Roth-Isigkeit eds. System, Order and International Law – The Early History of International Legal Thought (Oxford University Press, 2017)

3. ‘Beyond Subjective and Objective Divides: Albert the Great on Natural Rights’ in Martti Koskenniemi, Mónica García-Salmones Rovira & Paolo Amorosa International Law and Religion: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2017)

4. ‘Francisco de Vitoria on the Theology of Dominion and Secular Natural Rights’ in José Maria Beneyto & Carmen Román Vaca eds. Peace or Just War? The influence of Francisco de Vitoria and Erasmus on Charles V and the Law of Nations (forthcoming 2020)


‘Making Property Rights, John Locke and International Law’, The University of Melbourne, 21.11.2019

Commentator at the John Lock Conference, University of Helsinki, 29-31.7.2019

Workshop ‘Sovereignty and Property’, University of Frankfurt, ‘John Locke, Making Property Rights and International Law’, 15.7.2019

Congreso Internacional sobre la Casa de Austria, Universidad de Valladolid/ Universidad San Pablo CEU, ‘El pensamiento de Francisco de Vitoria’, 21-23.2019

Institut für Rechts und Verfassungsgeschichte, Universität Wien, ‘Human Rights, Natural Rights and International Law’, 25.6.2018

Palermo, Italy, Human Rights Summer School, ‘Human Rights and History’, Università degli Studi di Palermo, ‘The Impasse of Human Rights’, 18-22.6.2018

Conference: ‘Carlos V, Vitoria y Erasmo en Yuste’,Instituto Universitario de Estudios Europeos, Universidad San Pablo CEU, Madrid, Francisco de Vitoria: Theologian of Secular Natural Rights?’, 6-8.6.2018

Lauterpacht Center of International Law, University of Cambridge, ‘Human Rights, Natural Rights and the Ordering of Conquest’, 27.4.2018

Manchester International Law Center, ‘Natural Rights in the History of International Law: Moral, Religious or Political?’ 28.2.2018

Law and Global Justice Center, Durham University, ‘Do Natural Rights Exist? A Historical Perspective’, 6.12.2017

Project leader: Mónica García-Salmones, Adjunct Professor of International Law, University of Helsinki,