The common heritage of mankind concept is relatively new in international law. The author recalls that fairly similar concepts exist in certain municipal law systems, in particular in Roman law. He then attempts to analyse the legal bases of this concept in international law. For this purpose he examines in turn the opinions of lawyers, the practice of states - especially at the time of the first Conference on the Law of the Sea - as well as a series of international treaties relating in particular to the Law of the Sea, to the use of outer space and to human rights.
Having identified the essential elements of such a definition, the author queries the future of this concept in the international law of tomorrow. He notes that this future depends on the capacity of the human race as an institution to adapt itself and to learn how to balance the different interests involved.
The author concludes by drawing up a list of the assets, resources, rights and interests which, in his opinion, form part of the common heritage of mankind. He includes the universe, the cosmos, the sun, the moon, the stars and all the other celestial bodies, outer space, the territories of the Polar regions, the sea-bed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, the high seas and the air space above them. To this celestial and terrestrial heritage he adds a spiritual heritage composed of the fundamental human rights which mankind may invoke as well as a cultural heritage comprising intellectual and industrial possessions and certain cultural assets which bear witness to the history of the civilization of the human race.