1997 UN Watercourses Convention: 33 Parties, 2 More to Bring it in Force

On 20 December 2013, Ireland became the 33rd Party to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, only seven days following the accession of the United Kingdom to the Convention.  Of the 33 ratifications, four occurred in 2013 (Ireland, Montenegro, Niger, and the UK), five in 2012 (Benin, Chad, Denmark, Italy, and Luxembourg), three in 2011 (Burkina Faso, France, and Morocco), three in 2010 (Greece, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria) and two in 2009 (Spain and Tunisia). If the present rate of ratifications continue, the Convention could come into force within the next year, possibly in a matter of months. The Convention requires 35 parties for it to achieve that status.

Curiously, of the 33 parties to the Convention, the vast majority are from either Africa (11) or Europe (16). Only one ratifying state is found in Asia (Central Asia to be precise) and none come from the American hemisphere. Five others are from the non-African Middle East region, albeit a total of eight MENA nations are now a party to the Convention.

It is certainly peculiar that not one nation from the Americas has ratified the Convention. Venezuela and Paraguay were two very early signatories to the Convention. Yet, neither has made much headway toward full party status, and no other country in the region seems poised to join the Convention. And in Asia, only Uzbekistan has made the commitment.

What this geographic distribution portends is still unclear. At the very least, it suggests a certain geographic bias toward (and against) the Convention. And, once the Convention comes into force, that could raise the question of whether the geographic distribution of ratifying nations is adequate to project the Convention globally. Nations in Asia and the Americas, for example, might claim that the principles codified in the Convention apply only regionally – in Africa and Europe, and possibly the Middle East.

Those nations who are now full parties to the Convention have made a commitment to abide by the Convention’s norms. If they want the rest of the world to follow suit, they may want to consider developing a compliance strategy, possibly even a promotion strategy aimed at convincing other nations and regions to join the Convention. Additionally, given that only two ratifications are needed before the Convention comes into force, they need to begin thinking about a Convention Secretariat to administer the Convention and related activities (such as monitoring compliance and encouraging membership).

5 Responses to “1997 UN Watercourses Convention: 33 Parties, 2 More to Bring it in Force”

  1. elena lopez gunn says:

    Dear gabriel

    Thanks for the update..we still have 10 days to close the year of water and cooperation. It would be a very fitting outcome indeed. A race of two to be the signatory to ensure ratification. It can happen!

  2. Lesha Witmer says:

    Yes, it is good news and the Convention getting into force is very likely going to happen early 2014. At least two Asian countries have started the process towards accession and so did 2 in Latin America and 5 more in Africa. Parties have started their discussions on future govenance structure. (Lesha is a UNWC global intiiative member)

  3. Elena Lopez-Gunn says:

    Thanks Lesha, good news indeed and as you say an important development if the window opens to strengthen the governance structures. Maybe a COP process similar to climate change? It might give momentum to global water issues which considering population growth, development, change in diets, increased energy demands it is good news.

  4. g. kondala rao says:

    Thanks for Lesha’s update. It is desirable that the other nations also either declare their accession or make their reservations or concerns explicit so they can cleared following consultations. It is extremely important that multilateralism is promoted and becomes a reality in water cooperation and dispute resolution, at least in early. 2014

  5. Thanks to Lesha Witmer, here is a news story from Voice of Vietnam (online) reporting that Deputy Prime Minister, Nguyen Thien Nhan, proposed that Vietnam ratify the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention: http://www.internationalwaterlaw.org/News/Vietnam_Proposes_Ratifying_UNWC.pdf.