A few months ago, one of the pillars of international water law – Professor Julio A. Barberis of Argentina – passed away. María Querol, an international law consultant and colleague of Professor Barberis, offered the following memorial.
On March 7th of this year, the international legal community lost one of its greatest contributors. Julio Barberis was singular for his deep knowledge of international legal theory. This knowledge, together with his extensive professional expertise enabled him to address any topic of International Law with ease. International water law was no exception.
Professor Barberis has indeed made a significant contribution to the development of international water law and to the protection of international natural resources. Whether it was at the academic or the professional level, in every capacity he acted, he left an indelible mark.
Both Africa and Latin America witnessed his legacy to the international cooperation among states sharing international watercourses. Professor Barberis took part in the drafting of the 1973 Treaty of the Rio de la Plata and its Maritime Boundary, the Legal Statute of the River Uruguay, and the Treaty of Yaciretá. Furthermore, he had a key role in the conclusion of the treaty between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay regarding their shared part of the Parana River, also known as the Tripartite Agreement. In addition, as legal adviser for UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Professor Barberis actively collaborated to the development of the Gambia River Basin. In every case, he took into special consideration the different uses made by states of the rivers in question, which enriched the further specification of the concept of equitable utilization of transboundary water resources.
Those who were privileged to attend the 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm and the 1977 UN Water Conference held in Mar del Plata would attest to his unforgettable participation as an Argentine representative.
As the Permanent Representative to the Joint Commission of the Parana River, he adopted an interdisciplinary approach to international water law. This is certainly a trait that is present in all of his work. Professor Barberis was convinced that in order to identify the legal norms applicable to water resources, it is crucial to first understand the technical and scientific aspects of their hydrological specificity. He believed that the legal order cannot disregard reality. For this reason, he always worked in close collaboration with engineers and geologists.
Professor Barberis published profusely on different topics of international law in Spanish, English, French, and German. His constant curiosity urged him never to stop researching. His book Shared Natural Resources and International Law, which he published in Spanish as early as 1979, advanced a legal notion of natural resources in general and of international watercourses in particular, that took into special account their specificity as provided by nature. The same proposition is found in his definition of international aquifers introduced in his study, International Groundwater Resources Law, published in 1986 as part of FAO Legislative Series.
His work in many international tribunals is also noteworthy. His activity as judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, of the International Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization, as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration or as arbitrator of the Yaciretá and Salto Grande international arbitral tribunals is characterized above all by his acute legal argumentation and moral integrity. In this regard, his separate opinion on the arbitration concerning the Maritime Delimitation between Guinea Bissau and Senegal reveals his coherency and highly developed logical reasoning.
From an academic standpoint, Professor Barberis was co-director with Professor Robert Hayton of the 1990 session of the Research Centre of the Hague Academy of International Law on the “Rights and Duties of Riparian States in International Rivers.” He taught international law at the University of Buenos Aires, the Catholic University of Argentina, and Austral University, and later was named Emeritus Professor at Austral University. As a teacher, he patiently tried to foster the understanding of legal norms in general and those regulating the management and environmental protection of shared natural resources in particular. In so doing, he sought to provide examples from everyday life to explain legal concepts. Professor Barberis’ passion for international law was contagious. So much so, that it was gratifying to see his students’ transformation during the academic year: from utter indifference to eager passion for this field. Above all, Professor Barberis was always willing to listen to reasoned arguments and new ideas regardless of the speaker.
Apart from his more than forty years of exemplary accomplishments in the field of international water law, what characterized Professor Barberis most was his humanity. His untiring perseverance, his generous heart and his enormous humility gained him the respect and admiration of all those who had the chance to know him. It is above all, for these qualities – virtues seldom found in individuals of similar greatness – that he is all the more missed.