Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category

Countdown to the Guarani Aquifer Agreement coming into force: will it be effective in promoting transboundary groundwater governance?

Monday, June 18th, 2018

The following essay is by Pilar Carolina Villar, Professor of Environmental Law at Federal University of São Paulo. She can be reached at pcvillar [at]

The signing of the Guarani Aquifer Agreement (Portuguese / Spanish / English [unofficial]) on August 2, 2010, by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay was received by the water community with excitement due to the few number of treaties dedicated to transboundary aquifer cooperation, the absence of a water conflict, and the short time it took to secure the signatures after the end of the Guarani Aquifer System Project. In 2012, Argentina and Uruguay ratified the treaty with the promulgation of Law n° 26.780/2012 and Law n° 18.913/2012, respectively. Thereafter, the Agreement faced a period of stagnation until May 2017 when Brazil ratified it with Legislative Decree n° 52/2017. Almost a year later, in April 2018, Paraguay ratified the Agreement when it approved Law nº 6037/2018.

After almost 8 years, the Agreement is in the final stage of coming into force, although Paraguay has yet to deposit its instrument of ratification with Brazil, which is the official depository for the Agreement. According to Article 21, the Agreement will officially enter into force on the thirtieth day after that deposit occurs.

Schematic hydrogeological map of the Guarani Aquifer System. Source: The Guarani Aquifer Initiative – Towards Realistic Groundwater Management in a Transboundary Context, Case Profile Collection Number 9. Sustainable Groundwater Management: Lessons from Practice (Nov. 2009)

The Agreement’s ratification by the four countries represents a new phase in the process of cooperation among the Guarani countries. It allows implementation of the Guarani Aquifer Commission, and the possibility of restarting cooperative projects that will promote the development of knowledge and management of the Guarani Aquifer System. However, considering the long ratification process of the Agreement and the role of other transboundary water organizations in the La Plata Basin, should we be optimistic in the context of transboundary aquifer cooperation?

In view of the lack of international agreements for the joint management of transboundary aquifers, the ratification of the Agreement represents a milestone to encourage more countries in South American to include groundwater cooperation in their practice of international affairs. Moreover, the ratification opens a path for the establishment of a common institutional arrangement dedicated exclusively to groundwater issues among the four countries. The existence of an international agreement could also be used as a positive force for attracting international funds from organizations like the Global Environment Fund, World Bank, Organization of American States, UN Environmental Programme, and UN Development Programme, which may be interested in supporting the operationalization of the only international groundwater cooperative arrangement in South America. Finally, the Guarani Aquifer States could become more interested in promoting cooperative projects and actions regarding the aquifer since the Agreement will soon be binding on all of them.

The future of the Guarani Aquifer Agreement is dependent especially on the will of the countries to enforce the agreement’s institutional framework. On this point, the projections are not necessarily encouraging. While the Guarani Aquifer Commission is the pillar of the Agreement, it is unclear what its powers will be or whether it will have legal personality under international law. Moreover, it is impossible to foresee when the countries will establish the Statute of the Commission. Regardless, it does not seem to be a priority in the short term, especially considering the current political and economic conditions of the Guarani countries.

Even with the Guarani Aquifer Commission, cooperation should not be taken for granted. The La Plata Basin has a complex institutional system made up of fourteen organizations that have legal personality under international law and four technical committees. All of them face difficulties in consolidating themselves as leading players in cooperation over the La Plata basin. In fact, the amount of institutions contrasts with the relatively low number of joint actions and products resulting from their work. Even the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee of the Countries of the Plata Basin, which is the oldest water-related organization in the La Plata Basin area, still has problems receiving financial support from its member countries, and largely depends on international funds to conduct studies in the basin. As a result, the Guarani Aquifer Commission runs the risk of becoming another water-related organization with very limited influence.

Implementation of the Agreement and creation of the Guarani Aquifer Commission could benefit from the existence of CeReGAS – Centro Regional para la Gestion de Aguas Subterráneas (Regional Center for the Management of Groundwater), an international center located in Montevideo, Uruguay, that is dedicated to promoting groundwater management and cooperation in the regional context. While CeReGAS and the Guarani Aquifer Commission have different mandates, since the first is a regional center supported by UNESCO and the other is an organization established by an international treaty restricted to the Guarani Aquifer countries, they might build an alliance to optimize funding and technical resources. Their scope is closely related since both focus their efforts on the promotion of groundwater cooperation, one in the South American context while the other in the Guarani Aquifer region. CeReGAS has also developed a case study on the Guarani Aquifer, and has produced documents on and disseminated the results of the Guarani Aquifer System Project.

The Agreement soon will come into force and become a binding instrument for the Guarani Aquifer States. However, the questions of when and how it will be implemented remain unanswered. The challenges to applying the Agreement are some of the same facing other water agreements in the region: overcoming the tendency of building fragile water-related institutions, improving cooperation between institutions or between States, expanding transparency in actions of cooperation, and guaranteeing financial support. In this sense, the first step for the countries involved is to establish the Commission and define its capacity, a mission that could be facilitated by the presence of CeReGAS. Then, the States involved must overcome the traditional challenges related to political will, institutional capacity and efficiency, as well as the provision of funds to support the Commission and the execution of cooperative projects. Only time will tell if the Guarani Aquifer States will cooperate successfully over the joint management of the Guarani Aquifer.

The Human Right to Water in Latin America

Monday, May 14th, 2018

The following essay by Anna Berti Suman is a summary of her recently published monograph (under the same title), which appears in Vol. 3(2) 2018, pp. 1-94, of Brill Research Perspectives in International Water Law. Ms. Berti Suman is a PhD Researcher at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (TILT) at Tilburg University in The Netherlands. She can be reached at A.BertiSuman [at]

The right to water (RtW) is a key factor both shaping and shaped by the social, political, and economic arena of a country. Often, conflicting interests are at stake when water governance is addressed. A large and heterogeneous number of governance solutions have been proposed with the aim of balancing the interests of civic society and the private sector, as well as respect for the environment and public finance concerns. The main aim of this monograph is to illustrate and analyze lessons from Latin America contributing to the international debate on the governance of the RtW. The attention is specifically focused on questioning the role that each stakeholder should have in the water debate with a view to harmonizing the RtW with the interests of the concerned stakeholders.

Water, as a shared resource, calls for a transboundary approach. Various forms of cooperation and association among the global community are discussed as, for example, the World Water Forum organized by the World Water Council, and the Global Water Partnership. Relevant treaties, such as the 1992 UN Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, demonstrate the importance of cross-sectorial and multi-level cooperation in addressing water governance challenges.

Demonstrations during the ‘Water War’ in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which occurred December 1999 – April 2000.

Subsequently, the monograph proceeds in a preliminary and indispensable discussion on the dual nature of water, as an indispensable source of life and as an economic good, thereby acknowledging that water has been recognized as a social good and a human need, as well as a commodity. Its economic value will be inspected through the analysis of the debate ongoing at the international and national levels. A remarkable example of this double nature is identified in the Chilean legal framework for water, where two texts provide for the rights of private citizens over water (granted by the 1980 Constitution and the 1981 Water Code) and for water as a national property for public use (as stated by the 1981 Water Code; the Constitution lacks a similar provision). The economic value of water is also approached from the international perspective, as enshrined in the 1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development.

The monograph next delves into local scenarios and inspects the transposition of RtW in constitutional laws of Latin American countries and its interplay with water management systems. Part A investigates the broader  discussion in Latin America on the responsibility of the state towards the right to water, when recognized in constitution and when acknowledged through different legal tools. It also considers whether the state has a duty to grant a quantitative and qualitative minimum of fresh water to everyone, even if through subsidies or by impinging on private interests. The consequences of a state’s decision-making process that does not take into account the RtW are illustrated through three case studies, the participatory case of Porto Alegre, Brazil, and two cases of conflicts over water management, namely the case of the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin, Argentina, and the case of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The cases presented in Part A serve to illustrate the limits of the law in resolving water management issues. The discussion also examines the judicial system under the analytical lens of its suitability to settle water disputes. Overall, Part A stresses the need to focus the water debate on specific issues rather than on general statements.

The linking element bridging the transition from Part A to Part B is the discussion of whether the right to water as a human right is in antithesis to privatization. Part B considers the main Latin American water management systems, with their advantages and disadvantages, and compares them with European legal frameworks. In principle, the analysis suggests that the recognition of water as a human right does not prevent the privatization of the service, as long as the state monitors the private provider’s operations and complies with its obligations to ensure the RtW.

Participatory budgeting including water issues in Porto Alegre – Brazil

Part C provides a specific insight into the relationship between the market and the RtW in the context of Chile’s highly privatized water framework. The Chilean case offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the engagement of all affected stakeholders in the water debate as well as on the need for a wise compromise among them.

In the Conclusion, the lessons learnt from Latin America are summarized. The limits of the law in resolving water conflicts, and the disconnection of water issues from the adopted legal framework, are outlined to demonstrate the mismatch between the legal framework and the reality of water challenges. While it is not possible to identify the ‘best’ water management model, the analysis affirms the general need for a focus on the specificities of each river basin unit. The final message presented is that recognition of water as a human right does not prevent the possibility of privatizing the service if the state fulfills its obligations toward the right to water. Ultimately, the engagement of all affected stakeholders in the debate over water can facilitate constructive and open-minded compromises for jointly facing water challenges.


La entrada en vigor de la Convención de Naciones Unidas sobre Cursos de Agua Internacionales (The entry into force of the UN Convention on International Watercourses)

Monday, October 13th, 2014

The following post is by Dr. Nicolás Boeglin of the la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Costa Rica. It was prepared in Spanish to broaden the discussion about the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention and encourage the conversation in the Spanish-speaking world. The IWLP welcomes such opportunities and looks forward to engaging with friends and colleagues in multiple languages and regions globally.

El siguiente artículo del Dr. Nicolás Boeglin (Costa Rica) analiza el significado de la entrada en vigor de la Convención de Naciones Unidas de 1997 sobre Cursos de Agua Internacionales desde la perspectiva de América Latina. El Dr. Boeglin es profesor de derecho internacional público en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Costa Rica y es consultor en esta materia. Puede ser contactado al siguiente correo: nboeglin (a)

El pasado mes de agosto, al cumplirse los 90 días posteriores a la ratificación número 35 (Vietnam, en mayo del 2014), entró oficialmente en vigor la “Convención sobre el derecho de los usos de los cursos de agua internacionales para fines distintos de la navegación“, adoptada en 1997 por la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas.

Se trata de un instrumento internacional que, de acuerdo a la práctica del derecho internacional cuando se trata de explorar nuevo ámbitos normativos, recurre a la técnica jurídica de la convención marco (“framework convention” en inglés): esta expresión refiere a textos normativos que sistematizan un conjunto de principios generales que puedanervir de base para establecer una futura cooperación interestatal. Un artículo de doctrina sobre este peculiar tipo de instrumentos indica que: “El carácter de convenio marco de una convención se fundamenta en la decisión de las partes de delegar aspectos relevantes para lograr los objetivos de dicha convención a acuerdos posteriores” (traducción libre del autor, p. 441).

La Convención parte de una definición mucho más integral de “curso de agua internacional“, comparada con la clásicamente usada de “río internacional”. Su artículo 2 estipula que: “A los efectos de la presente Convención: a) Por “curso de agua” se entenderá un sistema de aguas de superficie y subterráneas que, en virtud de su relación física, constituyen un conjunto unitario y normalmente fluyen a una desembocadura común; b) Por “curso de agua internacional” se entenderá un curso de agua algunas de cuyas partes se encuentran en Estados distintos“. De acuerdo a este esfuerzo conceptual, podemos citar, a modo de ejemplo, las iniciativas de España para delimitar “la parte española de las demarcaciones hidrográficas correspondientes a las cuencas hidrográficas compartidas con otros países” (artículo 3 del Real Decreto 125/2007). En contraste, podemos indicar que, en la primera controversia sobre los derechos de navegación en el Río San Juan entre Costa Rica y Nicaragua llevada ante la Corte Internacional de Justicia (CIJ), ninguna de las partes logro imponer su pretensión sobre la calificación jurídica del río. En su decisión del 13/07/2009, la CIJ afirmó que “…no cree tampoco, en consecuencia, deber decidir sobre el punto de saber si el San Juan entra en la categoría de los “ríos internacionales” – tal como lo sostiene Costa Rica –  o si constituye un río nacional que comporta un elemento internacional – según la tesis de Nicaragua” (párrafo 34, traducción libre).

La Convención de 1997 contiene varios principios (Artículos 5 a 10) que deben guiar el actuar de los Estados del curso de agua internacional. La lectura del artículo 7 relativa a la obligación de no causar un daño significativo a otros usuarios posiblemente recuerde un sin fin de controversias acaecidas en los últimos años en diversas partes del mundo. Muchas de ellas, como por ejemplo entre Costa Rica y Nicaragua, o entre Argentina y Uruguay, no encuentran una solución satisfactoria en parte debido al uso de nociones jurídicas limitadas que adolecen de un enfoque integral, el cual es indispensable en cualquier intento de regular un recurso como el agua.

Al revisar el estado de firmas y ratificaciones oficial de la Convención, resulta llamativo que la región que concentra mayores recursos hídricos, y que cuenta con una nutrida práctica convencional como América Latina esté ausente de dicha lista. Una firma de Venezuela (1997) y de Paraguay (1998) son los únicos “logros” después de 17 años de campañas a favor de su ratificación promovidas por organizaciones regionales y entidades no gubernamentales (ONG). Una evaluación crítica de estas últimas se impone, ya que raramente se ha observado un impacto tan limitado en América Latina de una campaña en favor de la ratificación de un instrumento a vocación universal.

En 1994, al aprobarse el anteproyecto de la Convención por parte de la Comisión de Derecho Internacional (CDI) los Estados Miembros de Naciones Unidas conformaron un grupo de trabajo para readecuar el texto y garantizarle una adopción final mediante la resolución A/RES/517229 de la Asamblea General. Fue adoptada en 1997 con 103 votos a favor, 3 en contra (Burundi, China y Turquía) y 27 abstenciones. Por parte de América Latina votaron a favor: Brasil, Chile, Costa Rica, Haití, Honduras, México, Uruguay y Venezuela. Se abstuvieron: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Panamá, Paraguay y Perú. El detalle  del voto indica que Belice, El Salvador, Nicaragua y República Dominicana aparecen entre los “No shows” que sumaron en total 52 Estados (número extremadamente elevado para la práctica en materia de votaciones en la Asamblea General).

La Parte IV de la Convención (reglas en materia de protección del ambiente) puede ser comparada con las reglas enunciadas por la CIJ en el caso de las Plantas de Celulosa (Argentina c. Uruguay, sentencia de abril del 2010). Resuelto de manera sumamente cuestionable, este caso dio lugar a nuevas tensiones, que analizamos recientemente. De la misma manera, el contenido de la Parte IV deberá ser comparado con las reglas que enuncie la CIJ con ocasión de los dos casos que enfrentan a Costa Rica y Nicaragua: el del dragado del río San Juan, con la demanda interpuesta por Costa Rica en el 2010; y el relacionado con la denominada “trocha fronteriza”, objeto de la demanda interpuesta por Nicaragua en el 2011. Tuvimos de igual forma la posibilidad de analizar en su momento el proyecto minero ubicado en la localidad de Las Crucitas en Costa Rica y sus implicaciones ambientales en un curso de agua internacional desde la perspectiva de la protección de un curso de agua internacional.

El derecho internacional tiende a veces a modernizar de manera más ágil el marco jurídico en comparación con el derecho nacional. Tal es el caso de la Convención de 1997. Por ejemplo, dos Estados Parte a la Convención, España y Portugal, han logrado consolidar, luego de la adopción del Convenio de Albufeira de 1998, una cooperación técnica para el aprovechamiento, gestión y protección de las numerosas cuencas hidrográficas compartidas en una impresionante lista de acuerdos técnicos bilaterales.

Es de esperar que esta entrada en vigor reciente inspire a muchos Estados y los incite a ratificar este instrumento internacional, en particular en América Latina.

Dr. Maria Querol: The UN Watercourses Convention and South America

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The following post by Dr. Maria Querol is the ninth in the series of essays related to the entering into force of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (see links to all of the essays here). Dr. Querol is an international law consultant with a vast background in international water law. She can be reached at maria.querol [at]



Although the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) has finally entered into force, not one South American country is among its State Parties. Whilst Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela voted in favour of its adoption at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru all abstained. Paraguay and Venezuela were the only states from the region to sign the Convention, in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Nevertheless, neither has made any attempt to ratify it.

Many arguments have been presented to justify this flagrant absence, mainly focusing on the concern of South American states regarding challenges to their sovereignty over water resources flowing through their territories. However, this is not the only factor to be considered when analysing the region’s position on this topic.

Multilateral transboundary water treaties of South America

South American states have a history of concluding international treaties to regulate the management of their shared watercourses. This long-standing tradition favors the implementation of specific mechanisms and international water law norms over more general regimes. While most of these agreements are bilateral, there are four exceptions: the 1969 Treaty of the River Plate Basin, the 2010 Guarani Aquifer Agreement, the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty, and the 1995 Agreement constituting the Tri-National Commission of the Pilcomayo River Basin.

International Basins of South AmericaThe Plate Basin Treaty entered into force for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay on 14 August 1970.  It operates as an umbrella for other more specific agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, that have been concluded with regard to particular transboundary watercourses within the basin. Article VI of this agreement foresees the possibility that its Contracting Parties may conclude specific, partial, bilateral, or multilateral agreements designed to develop the basin. Accordingly, the Guarani Aquifer Agreement was concluded within the framework of the Plate Basin Treaty. Thus, the basin is regulated with an intergrated approach, both from a general and a more specific standpoint.

Transboundary watercourses are regarded in the region as shared natural resources. This view was particulary emphasized by both Argentina and Uruguay in the 1975 River Uruguay Statute and reaffirmed in 2010 in the Pulp Mills case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In this regard, Argentina argued in its memorial to the Court that “[t]he shared nature of the River Uruguay is also apparent from the fact that obligations are imposed on Argentina and Uruguay at an international level. The 1975 River Uruguay Statute is actually a repository for th[ose] international obligations”. Those obligations comprise the rules of no significant harm, equitable and reasonable use, and prior notification. It is important to bear in mind that these general norms are only applicable to the use and protection of shared natural resources as long as the states sharing the resource have not implemented a more specific conventional regime. Accordingly, Argentina also declared that while the River Uruguay Statute had been concluded 22 years before the UNWC was adopted by the UNGA, “the Statute provides for the establishment of a system of co-operation which is far more rigorous than that laid down by the Convention.”

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty was adopted by Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Suriname and Venenzuela to promote equitable and mutually beneficial results in the Amazon territories under their respective jurisdictions. It entered into force on 12 August 1980. The no harm rule and the reasonable and equitable principle are enshrined in Article I of the agreement. The no harm rule is also implicit in Article XVI as it stipulates that the decisions and commitments adopted by the State Parties to the treaty shall not be to the detriment of projects and undertakings executed within their natural territories, in accordance with international law. In addition, Article V prescribes the rational utilization of the water resources of the Amazon System. Periodic exchange of information among all the State Parties is also provided for in Articles I, VII and XI.

By virtue of an amendment to Article XXII of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, the Organization of the Treaty of Amazon Cooperation was created with the view of further strengthening and ensuring the more effective implementation of the goals of the Treaty. The existence of an international legal entity directly regulated by public international law no doubt facilitates the realization of projects and can provide guidance for the rational utilization and sustainable management of shared water resources in the Amazon region.

Although the Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not prescribe a dispute resolution mechanism, State Parties can agree to submit their disputes to an arbitral tribunal or a permanent judicial organ such as the ICJ. They can also resort to a political dispute resolution method such as mediation or good offices. In any case, states are always bound by the customary obligation to negotiate a solution to their disputes in good faith.

Transboundary water management in South America

Unlike the practice in other regions of the world, discussions over shared water resources in South America, more often than not, take place under a cordial atmosphere. Although information exchange among states does take place in the region, the necessary data may be scattered around in different institutions, in which case its collection can prove quite burdensome. With reference to dispute resolution, South American states have been resolving their issues through direct negotiations and in some cases, as between Argentina and Uruguay, through the ICJ. Whilst progress has been made in terms of cooperation and knowledge over the management of shared surface water resources, this is not the case with regards to all shared groundwater. A first step forward has indeed been taken with regards to the Guarani Aquifer. But, further in-depth knowledge is necessary to provide a more complete scenario of all the possible consequences of human action related to transboundary groundwater resources.

Currently, South American states do not appear to have an immediate interest in a universal framework treaty to regulate the management of their transboundary water resources. Rather, they would prefer to continue resorting to their existing bilateral and multilateral agreements and to applicable customary norms in the absence of such treaties. They even count on international organizations to help implement their preferred management regime in the case of the Amazon Basin, and through a framework agreement for the Plate Basin.

This does not mean that the UNWC will have no value to South America. To the extent that the Convention codifies general international rules, its norms are binding on all states of the international community, including those of South America. In addition, the entry into force of the UNWC might foster the development of new customary norms in areas not yet covered by the existing regional treaties and could prove very influential in the interpretation of those particular treaties.