Archive for the ‘International Water Law’ Category

The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement: The Impasse is Breakable!

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The following post is by Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, an academic researcher and consultant on water law and policy and Editor-in-Chief of Brill Research Perspectives, International Water Law. Until 2009, Dr. Salman served as Lead Council and Water Law Adviser for the World Bank. He can be reached at SalmanMASalman [at]

A summit of the head of states of the Nile Basin countries is planned for June 22, 2017, in Entebbe, Uganda, to discuss the impasse over the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). The summit is to be preceded by a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Nile countries on June 20 – 21, 2017. The purpose of this Note is to clarify the differences over the CFA, and to propose a roadmap for resolving these differences.

The CFA and the Differences Thereon

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was born on February 22, 1999, in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania, following the signing of the minutes of the meeting by nine of the Nile ministers of water resources in attendance. The NBI was facilitated by a number of donors led by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The NBI was established as a transitional arrangement to foster cooperation and sustainable development of the Nile River for the benefit of the inhabitants of those countries. The NBI is guided by a shared vision “to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”

Work started immediately on the CFA, and lasted ten years. However, by 2009, major differences over some basic issues erupted, and could not be resolved, neither at the technical, nor at the political levels, leading to the impasse on the CFA. These major differences persisted as a result of the resurfacing and hardening of the respective positions of the Nile riparians over the colonial treaties, as well as the Egyptian and Sudanese claims to what they see as their acquired uses and rights of the Nile waters, and the rejection of these claims by the upper riparians.

Nile_Map_UpdatedThe first difference related to water security. Article 14 of the CFA required the Basin states to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security. However, this paragraph did not satisfy Egypt and Sudan who wanted to ensure, through an additional clause, that their existing uses and rights are fully protected under the CFA. Consequently, Egypt and Sudan demanded and insisted that Article 14 of the CFA should include a specific provision, to be added at the end of the Article, that would oblige the Basin states “not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin State.” This demand was rejected by the upper riparains who saw it as a denial of the basic principle of equitable and reasonable utilization, and a breach of the vision of the NBI itself.

The second major difference related to the concept of notification, demanded by Egypt and Sudan and rejected by the upper riparians. The upper riparians saw it as a means for Egypt and Sudan to invoke the colonial treaties and their claim of veto power.

While the impasse persisted, on May 14, 2010, four of the Nile riparians (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) signed the CFA in Entebbe, Uganda. They were joined five days later by Kenya, and by Burundi on February 28, 2011. The CFA has thus far been ratified by Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. It needs a total of six instruments of ratification/accession to enter into force. Egypt and Sudan continue to vehemently reject the CFA.

Developments Since Conclusion of the CFA

The upper riparians continued with their projects on the Nile notwithstanding the impasse over the CFA, and the erosion of the NBI. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which commenced in 2011, has proven a major challenge to, and a source of a bitter dispute between Ethiopia on the one hand, and Egypt and Sudan on the other. However, by December 2013, Sudan broke ranks with Egypt, and declared its full support of the GERD.

Egypt followed, albeit reluctantly, fifteen months later. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia concluded in March 2015, through their head of states the Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the GERD (DoP). Egypt and Sudan basically accepted, through the DoP, the GERD and declared for the first time ever “the significance of the River Nile as a source of livelihood and the significant resource to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.” The three countries agreed further “to cooperate based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win, and the principles of international law, (as well as) in understanding upstream and downstream needs in its various aspects.” The DoP went on to state explicitly that “the purpose of the GERD is for power generation to contribute to economic development, promotion of transboundary cooperation and regional integration…”

The DoP included other provisions on equitable and reasonable utilization, the obligation not to cause significant harm, as well as peaceful settlement of disputes. It also contained explicit provisions on the GERD, including cooperation on filling its reservoir, as well as its safety. The DoP was confirmed nine months later through the signature by the three countries of the Khartoum Document in December 2015 at their 4th tripartite meeting.

Breaking the Impasse

These developments clearly annulled Egypt and Sudan previously held position of securing all the Nile waters for their exclusive use through existing uses and rights, and the veto power over other Nile countries’ projects. Equality of all the riparians, as pronounced by the Permanent Court of International Justice in the 1929 River Oder case, and reconfirmed by the International Court of Justice in the 1997 Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project case, is now fully accepted by Egypt and Sudan. Similarly, Egypt and Sudan have confirmed their acceptance of the basic and cardinal principle of international water law of equitable and reasonable utilization.

The consequent and logical step for Egypt and Sudan is to drop their demand for recognition of their existing uses and rights as a part of the water security paragraph of the CFA. Indeed, the whole section of the CFA on water security is no longer needed, given that the CFA includes the same provisions of the United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC) on equitable and reasonable utilization, as well as on the obligation not to cause significant harm. It is worth mentioning that the UNWC includes no provisions on water security, as this is not a legal concept – merely a political pronouncement.

The quid pro quo for Egypt and Sudan agreeing to drop their demand for recognition of their existing uses and rights is to include provisions in the CFA similar to those of the UNWC on notification. This should cause no alarm to the upper riparians as the basis of Egypt and Sudan of their veto power in case of notification – the colonial treaties – is no longer on the table since the two countries have accepted the principle of equality of all the riparians. Besides, notification could take place through the Commission to be established under the CFA, or through the ministerial council of the Nile Basin States as happened in the latter years of the NBI before the differences erupted over the CFA.

This compromise would address the concerns of both Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and those of the upper riparians on the other. Its details can be successfully worked out through good faith negotiations, if the political will among the Nile riparians exist. Indeed, this political will is urgently needed to resolve the differences over the CFA and conclude an agreement that is inclusive of all the Nile riparians, so as to pull the 250 million inhabitants of the Nile Basin out of their poverty, underdevelopment, hunger and darkness.


The Greening of Water Law: Why and How We should Modernize Legislation to Account for the Environment

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

The following essay by Ariella D’Andrea is an introduction to the training course on “The Greening of Water Law: Implementing environment-friendly principles in contemporary water law,” which she designed and coordinated. The course is available on UN Environment’s InforMEA E-Learning Platform. Ms D’Andrea is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Water Law (AIDA). She can be reached at ariella.dandrea [at]


In the past century, water management focused primarily on developing the resource to satisfy human needs: irrigation, hydropower, industrial and municipal uses, and so on. National governments around the world put in place a broad range of infrastructure and mechanisms for the abstraction and use of water resources to implement their development policies.

This display of engineering skills for dam construction, diversion of watercourses, groundwater pumping and, more recently, desalination has not always been mindful of environmental concerns that may result from technological advances. More often than not, efficient water abstraction was the main objective with little thought given to the long-term availability or quality maintenance of the resource. This approach was based on the conception of water as a renewable rather than finite resource. Although water quantity and quality regenerate through the hydrologic cycle, we now know that the amount of water on Earth is constant. Of this water, only about 2.5% is freshwater and, of that volume, around 0.3% is readily accessible being found in rivers and lakes; the rest is stored in glaciers and ice caps or in aquifers underground.

All life forms need clean and sufficient water to thrive, which is produced by healthy ecosystems.  Time has shown that inconsiderate economic development may critically affect the rate at which freshwater is generated in the natural environment, thus compromising the crucial ecosystem-support function of water resources in a vicious cycle of progressive water salinization and biodiversity loss, at least in a local context.

Inspired by traditional knowledge, some countries have declared the environment or specific waterbodies as right holders. In Ecuador, Mother Nature or Pacha Mama was granted the right to the conservation of water resources (Water Resources Law 2014 based on the Constitution of 2008); New Zealand recently granted legal personality to the Whanganui River, with rights and duties as well a legal representative (Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017); shortly after, the forests and waterbodies of the Indian State of Uttarakhand, including the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers, were declared as legal entity by the High Court of Uttarakhand (Uttarakhand High Court Decision 2017); at this very moment, French Polynesia is considering the possibility of granting legal personality not only to its rivers but also to its ocean Te moana nui a Hiva (Parliamentary Question to the Minister of the Environment, 28 March 2017).

Greening-course2Clearly, a balance must be struck between people’s needs and those of the natural environment. Moreover, action must be taken to reverse the degradation of waterbodies, knowing that the status quo ante cannot always be restored. UN member States recently committed, under Sustainable Development Goal 6, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, including by implementing integrated water resources management and by protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems.

Water law can support this commitment by guiding water use and management towards sustainability. To do this, it must become ‘greener’. In practice, the water law ‘greening’ is the process by which legal provisions regulating the use of water resources progressively incorporate environmental concerns. The greening of international treaties, regional agreements and domestic legislation on water resources may be carried out by: freshwater treaty negotiators as they bring environmental principles and concerns to bear on negotiations over shared freshwater bodies; domestic legislatures embedding environmental provisions into laws and regulations, and by judges interpreting legal provisions in light of environmental law.

Legislation reflects the society it regulates; therefore, early domestic water laws generally supported the ‘development craze’ and focused on abstraction and use of water resources rather than protection and conservation. Similarly, early international water law, including bi- or multilateral agreements on shared waters, focused on allocation of those waters between riparian countries rather than preservation.

Environmental concerns started making their way in both domestic and international water law in the second half of the 20th century and, more conspicuously, after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when the greening wave acquired momentum and depth. It was during that decade that two major treaties on transboundary waters were adopted: the 1992 UNECE Water Convention, and the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention.

The interdependence of water and nature is now widely recognized, not only in the scientific world but also by policy- and lawmakers. The environment is increasingly being recognized as a water user, competing with the different human uses of the resource, and a wide range of solutions are emerging to ensure that environmental concerns are duly accounted for in water law.

‘Green’ provisions often aim at controlling effluent discharge to minimize pollution of natural waterbodies, or more innovatively promote wastewater reuse thanks to advances in water treatment technology. They also aim at establishing an ecological flow of water in rivers to allow aquatic life or a water reserve for human and environmental benefit. An environmental impact assessment may be required before developing infrastructure that might affect water resources. Certain standards may be established to protect aquatic biodiversity (e.g. migratory fish passage in dams), prevent soil erosion (e.g. reforestation of river banks) or prevent groundwater pollution (e.g. protection of recharge areas). Legislation may also recognize ecosystem services, such as the provision of freshwater or the regulation of floods, and establish payment or compensation schemes for those who maintain healthy ecosystems.

The most progressive examples of ‘green’ provisions are generally found in domestic legislation, with international water law often lagging behind despite the ‘green’ potential of its main guiding principles – equitable and reasonable utilization, no significant harm and ecosystem protection. A vast range of multilateral environmental agreements adopted during the last 50 years, such as the 1997 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, may effectively support the process of water law greening, both at domestic and international level, by prompting normative reform and orientating judicial interpretation towards environmentally-sound application of water use principles.

Funded by UN Environment (formerly UNEP), the online training course on “The Greening of Water Law: Implementing environment-friendly principles in contemporary water law” was developed by the International Association for Water Law (AIDA) with the contribution of 10 authors and 6 reviewers, as a guide for policy makers, technocrats and experts. The course focuses on the implementation of international principles for sustainable water management, stemming from both binding and non-binding instruments, and on their implementation in domestic legislation, transboundary agreements and related court/arbitration decisions.

The program is accessible free-of-charge from the INFORMEA website. It involves a series of slides and readings, including a brief and group exercises presented as a manual for lecturers, and requires 5 days to complete considering one module per day. A condensed version of the training course will be presented in a Special Session at the XVI World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) that will be held in Cancun, Mexico at the end of this month.

Further reading:

Burchi S., Balancing development and environmental conservation and protection of the water resource base – the “greening” of water laws, FAO Legal Paper Online #66, June 2007

Eckstein G.,, The Greening of Water Law: Managing Freshwater Resources for People and the Environment, UNEP, 2010


Transboundary Offshore Aquifers: A Search for a Governance Regime

Monday, June 27th, 2016

The following essay by Renee Martin-Nagle is a summary of her recently published article entitled: Transboundary Offshore Aquifers: A Search for a Governance Regime, which appears in Vol. 1.2, 2016, pp. 1-79, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Ms. Martin-Nagle is a PhD Researcher at the University of Strathclyde and a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute. She can reached at renee.martinnagle [at]

In December 2013 an article appeared in Nature magazine describing aquifers lying under continental shelves around the world and containing fresh to slightly brackish water.  Entitled ‘Offshore Fresh Groundwater Reserves as a Global Phenomenon’, the article summarized scientific studies since the 1970s and suggested that the volume of water held in these offshore reserves could amount to twice the volume of groundwater withdrawn from aquifers globally since 1900.  Within days, the global press seized on the article and gleefully announced that the global water crisis had been solved.  Intrigued by the possibilities, I determined to understand the scientific support for such claims as well as the potential they held for supplementing existing freshwater supplies.  Moreover, I began to wonder what governance regime might apply in the likely event that one or more of these offshore aquifers straddled an international border  Since the topic of sharing transboundary offshore aquifers has not been addressed previously, there was no template to follow.  However, logic suggested that a governance regime for the these unique aquifers should be influenced by at least three current regimes: legal principles embodied in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (‘UNCLOS’), legal principles applicable to transboundary offshore hydrocarbon development, and legal principles that have evolved for transboundary land-based freshwater resources.

Global_Sumarine_Aquifers1My article begins with an explanation of the origins of offshore aquifers.  Not surprisingly, they were formed in the distant past, when meteoric and geological conditions were different than they are today.  During the last glacial maximum between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago, sea levels were much lower than they are today.  At that time the current continental shelves were actually part of the continental coastlines and were, therefore, exposed to rain and other meteoric conditions.  Over thousands of years, freshwater became entrapped between confining layers that were generated by the same natural processes that produced other land-based confined aquifers.  As glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the confining layers protected the now-offshore freshwater aquifers from saltwater intrusion.

With this background, the article proceeds to analyze three legal regimes in search of guidance on how these resources might be governed in transboundary circumstances.  It begins by looking at the UN Convention on the Continental Shelf (the precursor to UNCLOS) and its equidistant method for apportioning shared natural maritime resources among nations with adjacent and opposite coasts.  It then considers the assessment of the International Court of Justice in the North Sea Cases, which rejected the equidistant approach, urged nations to seek equitable solutions based on locally-specific facts and circumstances, and referenced the unity of a deposit. UNCLOS followed the ICJ guidance in advising nations to seek equitable solutions.

Global_Sumarine_Aquifers2Following the North Sea Cases, the oil and gas industry quickly filled the void by developing its own legal mechanism, which is the second regime assessed in my article.  Under that regime, and in harmony with the ICJ’s suggestion to preserve the unity of deposits, the industry utilized a system called unitization where parties sharing a resource appoint a single operator to exploit that reserve, with their respective shares being pre-determined in the applicable agreement.  The concept of unitization later evolved into joint development agreements where nations agreed on an operator for both exploration and exploitation of the resource.

The third regime considered in my study is the body of law that has developed for land-based groundwater resources.  While there are only four ratified treaties and several sets of guidance that address transboundary aquifers, certain concepts for land-based water have evolved to the point of representing accepted principles of customary international law.  Principles such as reasonable and equitable use, no significant harm, cooperation, and sharing of information have been enshrined in treaties for surface water and have also influenced principles for sharing hydrocarbon resources.

After examining these three bodies of law, I propose suggestions for a governance regime for transboundary offshore aquifers that incorporates the best aspects of each of them while still bearing in mind practical aspects of resource development.  Whether this regime will be needed in the near future remains to be seen. Nonetheless, by offering this analysis, I hope to begin the conversation and lay the groundwork for the time when offshore aquifers may be used to support existing freshwater supplies.

The entire article is available here.


Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?

Monday, May 16th, 2016

The following essay by Dr. Götz Reichert is a summary of his recent published article entitled: Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?, which appears in Vol. 1.1., 2016, pp. 1–111, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water LawDr. Reichert is head of the Environment Department at the Centre for European Policy in Freiburg, Germany. He can reached at goetz.reichert [at]

Europe’s diverse aquatic environments continue to face pressure, often suffering from pollution, over-abstraction, morphological alterations, loss of biodiversity, floods and droughts. Throughout the European continent, 75 transboundary river basins have been identified. Given that over 60% of the European Union (EU) is covered by transboundary river basins and 70% of European catchment areas are shared between EU Member States and other European countries, pressures on rivers, lakes and aquifers constitute a considerable challenge to international cooperation. In Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe, I analyze the multidimensional regime for the protection and management of European transboundary freshwater resources, which is composed of different but increasingly intertwined legal systems: international water law, water law of the European Union (EU), and domestic water legislation.

Götz Reichert, Transboundary Water Cooperation in Europe – A Successful Multidimensional Regime?, Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law, Vol. 1.1., 2016, pp. 1–111

The emergence of this complex regime was triggered and facilitated by a general paradigm shift in water policy and law in the 1980s and 1990s towards an ecosystem-oriented approach, which is guided by the overall leitmotif of sustainable development and operationalized through the concept of integrated water resources management. It is based on the notion that the various components of the aquatic environment should be managed in an integrated manner throughout their natural catchment area, irrespective of administrative or national boundaries. Consequently, the different legal systems applying to transboundary freshwater resources in Europe are also increasingly interlinked and harmonized so as to function as an integrated whole. In order to shed light on the nature, fabric, and functioning of the resulting multidimensional regime, my article takes a closer look at its various dimensions.

Today, there are over 100 bi- and multilateral international agreements pertaining to rivers, lakes and aquifers in basins and sub-basins shared by riparian countries throughout the European continent, ranging from the two global framework conventions to basin-specific agreements. The first part of the article provides an overview of the origins, regulatory structure and main substantive and managerial elements of current international water law in Europe. It shows that the obligations of the EU, its Member States and other European countries, as parties to various international water agreements in Europe, function as “transmission belts” for the transposition of substantive and managerial provisions from international water law to EU water law and the domestic water legislation of EU Member States and other European countries.

Since 2000, however, the EU’s Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (WFD) has generated the defining impulses for the further development of the unfolding regime on transboundary freshwater resources in Europe. Most importantly, the WFD set the legally binding objective of attaining “good water status” by the end of 2015. Accordingly, the second part of the article provides for an accessible introduction to the unique legal nature and normative clout of EU water law, which is indispensable to understand transboundary water cooperation in Europe. It focusses on the main substantive and managerial elements of current EU water law relevant for cooperation between riparian countries, both within the EU and beyond. The pivotal instrument in this respect is the international river basin management plan, which is provided for by EU water law, but may be developed and implemented within international river commissions established under international water law. In this way, substantive and managerial provisions of EU water law are transposed to international water law in Europe.

Against the background of this hybrid interface between the different dimensions of the transboundary water regime in Europe, the third part of the article looks at the resulting integration of EU water law and international water law. Illustrated with examples of internationally shared river basins, such as the Danube and the Rhine, the analysis demonstrates that EU water law is, to a growing extent, influencing transboundary water cooperation not only within the European Union, but also beyond its territory.

Given the recently expired deadline for attaining the WFD’s objective of attaining “good water status” and the mixed results transboundary water cooperation has yielded so far, the article finally asks whether the elaborate and complex regime for the protection and management of transboundary freshwater resources in Europe is actually living up to its ambitious aspirations. In this respect, I suggest an optimistic conclusion. The different legal dimensions of the regime have the potential to fulfill those functions they are most capable of performing, thereby allowing for the development of solutions tailored to the particular needs of a specific freshwater ecosystem. EU water law has introduced a common vision, objective, terminology and managerial framework, thereby creating overall compatibility and complementarity within the regime. Furthermore, the normative clout of EU water law creates legally binding obligations for EU Member States and provides for robust enforcement procedures under judicial review. With regard to procedural and managerial aspects in a transboundary context, international river commissions established under international water law provide a stable institutional framework for the development of expertise, mutual trust and common approaches on transboundary water cooperation. On this basis, the multidimensional regime for the sustainable protection and integrated management of transboundary freshwater resources in Europe has the potential to be further developed in order to fulfill its goals.

The entire article is available here.

The Kishenganga Awards and their Contributions to International Water Law

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

The following post is by Dr. Mara Tignino, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Platform for International Water Law, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva. She can be reached at Mara.Tignino [at]


In May 2010, Pakistan initiated an arbitration proceeding against India concerning the construction of a hydroelectric infrastructure project (“KHEP”) undertaken by India on the Kishenganga River—part of the Indus River basin. The KHEP is situated in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir in north-west India, about 12 kilometres upstream of the Line of Control with Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir, and is aimed at producing hydropower via a diversion of the River’s flow. Once completed, the diverted waters would flow through a tunnel around 23.5 kilometres long toward a power facility situated 666 meters below the Kishenganga dam. The water will then be redirected into Wular Lake and the River Jhelum, which flows into the territory of Pakistan. The falling water would drive turbines producing about 330 megawatts of electricity. According to Pakistan, the KHEP will have an impact on water flow downstream in Pakistan and affect its own production of hydropower.

Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project (Source: Partial Award, p.51)

Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project (Source: Partial Award, p.51)

The uses of the Indus River and its tributaries are regulated by the Indus Waters Treaty, adopted by India, Pakistan and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) in 1960. Article IX of the treaty provides for the establishment of mechanisms for the settlement of differences and disputes between the two States. As a result of Pakistan’s request, an arbitral tribunal composed of seven arbiters was established under article IX, which subsequently issued four decisions: an Order on Interim Measures in September 2011, based on an application made by Pakistan in June 2011, a Partial Award in February 2013, a Decision on India’s Request for Clarification or Interpretation in May 2013, and a Final Award, issued in December 2013. All four decisions were adopted unanimously.

Signed after ten years of negotiations, the Indus Waters Treaty represented an ambitious landmark in the development of international water law. The treaty is emblematic of the potential for international law to facilitate cooperation in the governance of international watercourses. As emphasized by the tribunal itself, the treaty has been continuously applied for over 50 years, despite recurring hostilities in the Kashmir region, including three episodes of direct armed conflict between India and Pakistan. In fact, while Pakistan had made use of the dispute settlement procedures of the treaty once before—in 2006, it requested the intervention of a Neutral Expert under article IX in the case of the Baglihar hydropower project—this was the first time that an arbitral tribunal had been established to settle a dispute concerning the application and the interpretation of the treaty.

Much as the treaty itself contributed to the development of substantive law on international watercourses, both the process and outcome of the arbitration offered noteworthy innovations in the settlement of disputes on transboundary water resources:

  1. In procedural terms, the inclusion of an engineer among the members of the tribunal offered an interesting approach to balancing the needs for various forms of expertise in the determination of the issues (the Neutral Expert charged with resolution of the 2007 Baglihar dispute was also an engineer). The presence of technical experts as equal participants in dispute settlement mechanisms facilitates the understanding of complex factual issues related to the construction and exploitation of hydropower infrastructures.
  2. From the perspective of substantial international environmental law, the recognition in the award of an obligation to ensure a minimum environmental flow in an international watercourse offers a possible indicator of future developments. The tribunal held that India could divert waters from the Kishenganga River, but that it had to ensure a continuing minimum flow rate of 9 cubic meters of water per second in the River itself (Final Award, p.326). Parties must provide the Permanent Indus Commission with daily data on River flows and the information on the inputs and withdrawals of water from the reservoir. According to the arbiters, the Commission is the most appropriate mechanism to ensure the exchange of data and monitoring of the uses of the tributaries of the Indus River (Final Award, par.121).
  3. Strikingly, the judges rejected the application of the precautionary principle to the case. Pakistan had argued that the flows of the Indus tributaries at the Line of Control are difficult to measure, and the Parties gave different estimations of future minimum flow levels. The tribunal recognized future flows levels would be uncertain, depending both on future uses and on factors outside the control of either India or Pakistan, such as climate change (Final Award, par.117). Rather than basing their judgment on the precautionary principle, they chose to account for this uncertainty by requiring India to finalise the KHEP in a manner that would allow for responsiveness to future variations in flow levels.
  4. Finally, the tribunal offered a lynchpin for the sustainability of this approach by creating a window for reconsideration: if, within seven years after the diversion of the Kishenganga River is finalized, one of the Parties considers it necessary to review the quantity of the minimum environmental flow as decided by the arbitral tribunal, the flow will be submitted to the Permanent Indus Commission or other mechanisms established by the Treaty (Final Award, par.119).
Members of the Court of Arbitration, 20 August 2012 Standing : H.E. Judge Peter Tomka, Judge Bruno Simma, Professor Lucius Caflisch, Professor Jan Paulsson. Seated : Sir Franklin Berman KCMG QC, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (Chairman), Professor Howard S. Wheater FREng

Members of the Court of Arbitration, 20 August 2012
Standing: H.E. Judge Peter Tomka, Judge Bruno Simma, Professor Lucius Caflisch, Professor Jan Paulsson. Seated: Sir Franklin Berman KCMG QC, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (Chairman), Professor Howard S. Wheater FREng

The decisions of the arbitral tribunal specify the general obligations related to the construction of hydroelectric projects upstream and downstream of an international watercourse. Thus, the Tribunal affirms that “There is no doubt that States are required under contemporary customary law to take environmental protection into consideration when planning and developing projects that may cause injury to a bordering State” (Partial Award, par.449), and takes note of the principle of sustainable development, the obligation to carry out a transboundary environmental impact assessment and the broader duty to avoid transboundary harm (Partial Award, pars. 448-451). In considering these obligations both in terms of conventional law, according to the Indus Waters Treaty, and in terms of customary law, the arbiters have contributed to the development and clarification of general principles of international water law relating to the environmental protection of transboundary water resources.

Online Presentations on International Water Law and Policy

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

By Gabriel Eckstein

In recent years, technology has allowed us to become more informed and engaged at greater distances. This includes viewing lectures and presentations via the Internet. I wanted to draw your attention to a number of presentations on international water law and policy that were recently posted online and that may be of interest. If any of you know of other relevant lectures online, please do let me know via the comment box below or at iwlpwebsite [at]

On 22 May 2015, the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, organized two lectures as part of its SCELG Seminar Series.

Entry into Force of the United Nations Watercourses Convention: Why Should it Matter

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, fellow with the International Water Resources Association, delivered a lecture in which he outlined the progressive development leading to the adoption of the United Nations Watercourses Convention, and comprehensively explained the importance and relevance of the Convention now it has entered into force. The seminar was supported by the Scottish Government.    View the presentation here.

Transboundary Aquifers: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

Prof. Gabriel Eckstein, Professor of Law at Texas A&M University, gave a guest lecture on the challenges for transboundary aquifer law and governance. The lecture was followed by a roundtable discussion that also included an esteemed panel from the fields of hydrogeology (Prof. Robert Kalin, University of Strathclyde), human geography (Dr. Naho Mirumachi, King’s College London), and international water law (Dr. Salman M.A. Salman, International Water Resources Association).    View the presentation and roundtable here.

Over the past few years, United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law has organized a lectures series on various international issues, including International Watercourses.

Dr. Stephen C. McCaffrey, Distinguished Professor and Scholar at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, delivered a lecture on The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This lecture provides an overview of the background and content of the Convention, and then examines the Convention’s influence. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman presented a lecture on The Evolution, Codification and Current Status of International Water Law. The lecture describes the developments in international water law since 1911. It reviews and analyzes the work of the Institute of International Law, the International Law Association, and the International Law Commission, paying particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

Not long before he passed away in 2013,  Ambassador Chusei Yamada, who served on the ILC during the drafting of the UN Watercourses Convention and later as Special Rapporteur for the ILC’s Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers, delivered a lecture on Codification of the Law on Transboundary Aquifers (Groundwaters) by the United Nations. The lecture describes how the UN International Law Commission, a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly with the mandate of codification of customary international law, formulated Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers (groundwaters) for the proper management of the transboundary aquifers in order to attain the reasonable and equitable utilization through international cooperation. The lecture is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish and can be viewed here.

The Global Environmental Facility Groundwater Community of Practice, coordinated by UNESCO-IHP, has featured a of seminars on groundwater law and policy.

Webinar #1, which took place 17 October 2013, was entitled Multiple Dimensions of Groundwater Governance: What We Are Doing and What More Can We Do? The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

Webinar #2, which took place 11 December 2013, was entitled Groundwater and International Law: Current Status and Recent Developments. The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

Webinar #3, which took place 29 April 2014, was entitled The Coastal Zone: Where Groundwater Merges With the Sea. The video and webinar material can be accessed here.

On 15 January 2015, IGRAC and UNESCO-IHP organized the IW:LEARN Groundwater Webinar entitled: Moving with the Momentum: Reviewing Lessons for Groundwater from 2014 and a Looking Ahead to 2015. Part I of this program can be accessed here  /  Part II can be accessed here.


IWLP Blog’s Series on 1997 UN Watercourses Convention Republished in Water Policy Journal and in Russian translation

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

By Gabriel Eckstein

As you may recall, the IWLP Blog recently featured a series of twelve essays on the coming into force of the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  That series was recently republished in Water Policy, a journal published by the International Water Association and the official journal of the World Water Council.

Part I, containing the first 6 essays, was published as: Specially Invited Opinions and Research Report of the International Water Law Project: Global Perspectives on the Entry into Force of the UN Watercourses Convention 2014:  Part One. Water Policy, Vol. 16(6), available at doi: 10.2166/wp.2014.008 (subscription required).

Part II, containing the next 6 essays was published as: Specially Invited Opinions and Research Report of the International Water Law Project: Global Perspectives on the Entry into Force of the UN Watercourses Convention 2014:  Part Two. Water Policy, Vol. 17(1), available at doi: 10.2166/wp.2014.009 (subscription required).

In addition, the entire series was translated into Russian by the Scientific Information Center of the Interstate Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia. That version can be found here.

State of Palestine Accedes to UN Watercourses Convention

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015
Jordan River Basin

Jordan River Basin

By Gabriel Eckstein


On 6 January 2015, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, acting in his capacity as depositary for the UN Watercourses Convention, issued a formal notice that the “State of Palestine” had acceded to the Convention and that the treaty would enter into force for the “State of Palestine” on 2 April 2015. That will make the “State of Palestine” the 36th Party to the UN Watercourses Convention. The Convention formally went into force on 17 August 2014 (see here).

The move was part of a broad Palestinian effort to join eighteen international treaties (see here and here). While Palestinian membership in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has overshadowed all of the other ratifications, the accession to the Watercourses Convention is noteworthy in a number of respects.

Of the 36 Member States, nine (including the “State of Palestine”) are from the Middle East and North Africa, indicating that a substantial percentage of the region’s nations are committed to the terms and norms of the UN Watercourses Convention. In addition, with this accession to the Convention, Israel is now the only state in the Jordan River Basin to not have joined the treaty. Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – all riparians to the Jordan River Basin – became Parties to the Convention in 1999, 1999, and 1998, respectively (see here).

Whether this reality will have any bearing on future hydro-diplomacy or management of the Jordan River remains to be seen. At the very least, it suggests that the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors will look to the Convention to guide them on any future transboundary water-related negotiation. To some extent, this could aid them in reaching consensus among themselves, as well as forge a concerted front in their dealings with Israel. On the other hand, it may give Israel an advantage in future negotiations since they have bound themselves to work within the Convention’s framework while Israel has not.

The Sustainable Development Goals Process: Making International Water Law More Sustainable and Ecosystem and Public Participation-Friendly

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

The following post is by Dr. Otto Spijkers, Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Utrecht University. He can be reached at O.Spijkers [at] The essay is based on Dr. Spijkers’ forthcoming article in the Journal of Water Law.


One of the more formidable global challenges today is ensuring the sustainable management of freshwater resources. In many recent speeches and reports, including by Mikhail Gorbachev, one reads that urgent action is necessary to prevent a nightmarish world with polluted lakes and rivers, deadly droughts and floods, water scarcity, and the resulting water wars. This post analyzes how the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) process might guide the evolution of the existing international water law framework toward a structure that is more friendly toward sustainable development, ecosystems, and public participation.

The Role of Water in the SDG Process

The SDG drafting process takes place through two work streams, which will come together in autumn 2015 when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopts the list of SDGs in the form of a resolution. The first is a work stream led by the UN Secretary-General and supported by many reports and consultations. The second is led by the UNGA Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). For an overview of the SDG drafting process, see here and here. After the UNGA adopts the SDGs, the SDG process will focus on implementation, dissemination, monitoring compliance, and creating awareness of the SDGs – a bit like the current status of Millennium Development Goals process.

From the beginning of the SDG drafting process, water has been identified as an important issue. The Future We Want, the outcome document of the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, which set the SDG drafting process in motion, placed water at the heart of sustainable development. Since then, participants in the work streams have struggled to find the proper place for “water” in the SDG process. For example, a proposal for a separate water goal was presented by the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (consortium of scientists) proposed to include in the list of goals a commitment that “water resources are managed sustainably and transparently.” The UN Global Compact (consortium of responsible businesses) suggested calling upon all States to look critically at overconsumption of water resources, especially in the agricultural sector. And the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (group of experts) proposed including a separate SDG on water, but focusing on individual entitlements to water – making it more of a human rights issue than a sustainable transboundary water management issue. Finally, and most importantly, the Outcome Document of the OWG, around which all subsequent discussions on the SDGs will be organized, included an SDG on the sustainable management of water.

All of these efforts do not mean the mission has been accomplished. At the 24th World Water Week in Stockholm, the Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute rightly noted that nothing is certain until the UNGA adopts its resolution at the end of 2015.

All in all, water was – and still is – on the minds of many people involved in the SDG drafting process, but there exist various and widely diverging views on how exactly the reference to water should be phrased: As a human rights issue? As an economic issue? As an environmental concern? Despite these different opinions, there are some views emerging from the SDG process on which there is general agreement.

Three Emerging Views from the SDG Process

The first view suggests that States should be encouraged to interpret and apply international water law as a legal framework for the sustainable development of water resources. Sustainable development requires a development policy that meets the socio-economic needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE Convention) notes in its Preamble that “water resources shall be managed so that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourse (Watercourses Convention) refers to the principle of sustainable development in the Preamble and in Article 24. Moreover, Article 5 links the “sustainable utilization” of shared watercourses to water law’s bedrock principle of reasonable and equitable use. Hence, there are plenty of references to sustainability in water law’s most important legal documents. But this says little about the precise balance between the rights of present and future generations to benefit from water resources. Some States still believe that international water law is meant to regulate the economic use of shared watercourses, but not to protect the environment of these watercourses. The SDG process, with its focus on sustainability, provides an ideal opportunity to convince all States to approach the water law framework always wearing spectacles with green glass.

A second view would encourage States to stimulate the further development of the ecosystems approach to international water law. The year 2015 might very well be the year of the ecosystems approach. The ­Post 2015 Water Th­ematic Consultation already made many references to the protection of freshwater “ecosystems.” This emphasis on ecosystems is supported by various national consultations. An explicit reference to an obligation to “restore and maintain ecosystems to provide water-related services” in the targets of the SDG on water was proposed by UN-Water. In the OWG’s Outcome Document, the term ecosystem is applied in a broad sense, and with a lot of confidence. Since there is still much uncertainty about the meaning of the term “ecosystem” in international law, the SDG process could seize the moment, and encourage the further development of the ecosystems approach through international water law. We do have a legal basis: Article 20 of the Watercourses Convention and Article 3(1)(i) of the UNECE Convention both include an explicit reference to the ecosystems approach. And if a whole decolonization wave in the 1960s and 1970s could be based on one meagre reference to “self-determination” in the United Nations Charter (Article 1(2)), it is conceivable that two articles could serve as the basis for a legal regime on the protection of freshwater ecosystems. Article 20 of the Watercourses Convention, in particular, may then become a treaty-within-a-treaty, setting up by itself a legal regime on the protection of freshwater ecosystems.

The third view suggests using the legal framework of international water law to facilitate public participation at all levels of water governance. Both the Women’s Major Groups (see here and here) and Business and Industry called for a more “participatory” water governance system. UN-Water suggested that any system of water management should include “participatory decision-making.” In the Outcome Document of the OWG, the importance of public participation, especially by local communities, in water governance is acknowledged. All of this might encourage States to exploit with more confidence the potential of international water law in facilitating public participation in the sustainable management of waters. No general right of the public to participate can be found in the Watercourses Convention or the UNECE Convention. But the Conventions do not oppose it.

Dr. Salman M.A. Salman and Professor Gabriel Eckstein: Concluding Thoughts on the Implications of the Entry into Force of the United Nations Watercourses Convention

Monday, September 1st, 2014

The following post by Dr. Salman M.A. Salman and Professor Gabriel Eckstein offers concluding remarks about the series related to the entering into force of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (see links to all of the essays here)Dr. Salman is an academic researcher and consultant on water law and policy, and Editor-in-Chief of Brill Research Perspectives, International Water Law. Until 2009, Dr. Salman served as Lead Council and Water Law Adviser for the World Bank. He can be reached at SalmanMASalman [at] Professor Eckstein is a member of the law faculty at Texas A&M University, directs the International Water Law Project, and edits the International Water Law Project Blog. He can be reached at gabriel [at]  or  gabrieleckstein [at]



The preceding essays discussing and analyzing various perspectives on and interpretations of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention convey different, and sometimes conflicting, views and perceptions about the various principles set forth in the Convention. Indeed, many of these differences arose in the very early years of the work of the UN International Law Commission (UNILC) on the draft Convention, which began in 1971, and continued throughout to its conclusion in 1994. These differences also dominated the two meetings of the UN Sixth Committee convened as a Working Group of the Whole in 1996 and 1997, as well as the UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting on May 21, 1997, which finalized and approved the Convention. Thus, the journey of the Convention over the past forty-four years has been quite turbulent and contentious.

Ongoing Debates

As evident in the perspectives from Southern Africa and the Nile Basin, one of the most contentious debates surrounds the relationship between the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation against causing significant harm between upper and lower riparians. As evidenced in the essays, this issue remains a focal area of debate notwithstanding the efforts made to clarify the issue during the Sixth Committee and UNGA meetings, and through the interpretations and elaboration of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros and the Pulp Mills cases. A number of lower riparians countries still view the Convention as biased in favor of upper riparians because it subordinates the obligation against causing harm to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Conversely, many upper riparians still believe that the Convention favors lower riparians because of its separate mention of the obligation against causing harm. It is noteworthy that the three countries that voted against the Convention (Burundi, China and Turkey), and many of those that abstained, such as Bolivia, Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania, are largely upper riparian states. On the other hand, a number of lower riparians, such as Egypt and Pakistan, and those with mixed upper and lower riparian geographies including France and Peru, also abstained, concerned that the Convention favors upstream riparians because it subordinates the no harm rule to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Of all these countries, only France is now a party to the Convention.

Although the SADC countries amended their Protocol on Shared Watercourses in 2000 to make it consistent with the Convention, they tried to maintain parity between the two principles by subjecting each to the other, thus keeping the actual relationship in abeyance and unresolved. The same concerns seem to be a main reason for the South Asia countries’ reluctance to join the Convention.

It is true that the Convention does indeed subordinate the obligation against causing harm to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Yet, this should in no way be taken to indicate a bias in favor of upper riparians. The principle grants each riparian a fair share for utilization, based, at least theoretically, on some objective and widely accepted principles dating back to the Helsinki Rules of 1966. The ICJ, in addition to buttressing and elaborating the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization, confirmed in the Gabcikovo case, the perfect equality of all riparian states in the uses of the watercourse, and the exclusion of any preferential privilege of one riparian state in relation to the others. The ICJ noted that modern development of international law has strengthened this principle for non-navigational uses of international watercourses “as evidenced by the adoption of the Convention of 21 May 1997 on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses by the United Nations General Assembly.” The ICJ reconfirmed this elaboration in 2010 in the Pulp Mills case.

The interaction of the Convention with existing agreements seem to be another matter raising the concerns of some states, as noted in the perspectives from South America, North America, Southern Africa, and to some extent Central Asia. Article 3 of the Convention asserts that it does not affect the rights or obligations of watercourse states arising from agreements already in force. Nonetheless, it asks the parties to consider, where necessary, harmonizing such agreements with the basic principles of the Convention. Some riparian states with existing bilateral or regional agreements appear to believe that the harmonization formulation causes those prior agreements to be weakened, if not disregarded. Conversely, riparian states left out of existing local and regional agreements criticize the Convention for not subjecting existing agreements to the Convention’s provisions and failing to mandate inclusion of all riparians in such agreements. Both perspectives misconstrue the Convention. A close reading reveals that the Convention recognizes both the validity of existing agreements as well as the rights of riparian states in a shared watercourse that are not parties to such local and regional agreements. This is the interpretation described in the essay discussing the European perspective, which also acknowledges the complementary nature of a general framework instrument, like the Convention, and more specific bilateral and regional agreements.

A third contentious issue, raised most prominently in the essays presenting the Chinese and South Asian perspectives and suggested in the South American perspective, relates to the Convention’s dispute settlement provisions. While some states, like Pakistan, believe that the provisions are too weak because they do not mandate a binding mechanism, other states, such as China, interpret the fact-finding procedures as compulsory and argue that such an approach interferes with their sovereign right to select their own approach to dispute settlement. Indeed, Article 33 of the Convention offers parties a number of methods for settling disputes. However, the only obligatory process set forth is impartial fact-finding and a requirement to consider the fact-finding report in good faith. Thus, while the Convention provides a basic mechanism for ascertaining the facts of a dispute, it leaves the precise method for resolving disputes to the parties. Given that the Convention is a framework treaty, this is clearly a reasonable approach incorporating both points of views.

A fourth concern regards the Convention’s relevance to groundwater resources. As explained in the essays providing the South Asian and North American perspectives, some countries like Mexico and Pakistan question whether the Convention’s regime should extend to subsurface waters. The unease appears based, in part, on inadequate national information related to border-region aquifers and the extent to which the Convention could fully address groundwater challenges, which often are distinct from those affecting surface waters. The Convention, however, provides mechanisms for developing knowledge about hydraulically related water resources, including obligations to cooperate (Art. 8) and share information (Art. 9), and even to generate new knowledge (Art. 9). Furthermore, it would be illogical to impose the Convention’s regime to water resources whose relations to a transboundary watercourse are still unclear. Nevertheless, as considered in the perspective on the Convention’s implications for groundwater resources, with the advent of the Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers, which contain a number of noteworthy groundwater-specific provisions, countries may be justified in raising questions regarding how the Convention addresses subsurface water resources. However, the issue should be couched more in terms of a concern rather than a contentious matter preventing ratification of the Convention.

A New Chapter of International Cooperation

Notwithstanding the regional and subject-specific challenges and concerns, there is a clear consensus that transboundary waters should be managed on the basis of cooperation and the equality of all riparians in the use of shared watercourses. Beyond these basic international law tenets, there are a number of advantages that could accrue to nations that ratify the Convention. Foremost is the comfort and security of knowing that riparian neighbors operate from the same foundational norms.

For example, under the Convention, all riparians – regardless of whether upstream or downstream – must abide by the instrument’s detailed notification procedures before embarking on measures that may affect an international watercourse. The Convention does not bestow a veto right in any riparian, but rather requires interaction and communication in conformity with fundamental norms of international law. As a result, riaprians are prevented from taking unilateral action and encouraged to cooperate through various means, including notification.

The notification procedures can also benefit states to the extent that they offer greater certainty, security and comfort to the various international, regional, and national financial institutions about financing projects affecting international watercourses. Agencies such as regional development banks and state development agencies, which typically lack such procedures, now have a global instrument on which to rely on for project notification and processing.

Ultimately, as suggested in Dr. McCaffrey’s essay, the Convention’s most significant value lies in its status as an authoritative statement of customary international water law and a framework under which more specific bilateral and regional agreements can be established and interpreted. In fact, the UNGA itself used the term “codification” when it referred the task of preparing the draft convention to its legal arm, the UNILC.

Hence, entry into force of the Convention represents a broadening commitment by the international community to manage and utilize transboundary freshwater resources through peaceful and cooperative means. Entry into force is also likely to have a “snow-ball” effect of creating an incentive for other states to join, as happened with other treaties, because few states would want to be left out.

Frontier freshwater resources have long been one of the few transboundary natural resources devoid of a global framework treaty. With the UN Watercourses Convention, freshwater resources no longer carry that distinction. Indeed, a new chapter of international cooperation over these resources has emerged.