Archive for the ‘UN Watercourses Convention’ Category

Côte d’Ivoire Becomes 34th Party to the UN Watercourses Convention – One More and Its Official

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

On 25 February  2014, Côte d’Ivoire became the 34th Party to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  One more, and the Convention will reach the 35 members required for it to go into force.

You can find prior postings and musings about the Convention and the growing number of ratifications over the past 3 years hereherehere,  here, here, here, here, here.

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

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

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).

Should we care whether the UN Watercourses Convention enters into force? – Part II

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

The following post (Part II of II), by Dr. Alistair Rieu-Clarke (a.rieuclarke [at] dundee.ac.uk), IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science (under the auspices of UNESCO) and Ms. Flavia Loures (flavia.loures [at] wwfus.org), WWF, continues the debate initiated in Part I  concerning the importance of the entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention for the codification and development of international water law.

Once in force, the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) would be better equipped to deal with the issue of fragmentation. To date, the legal architecture for international watercourses remains weak. While there are over 400 basin-specific agreements, 60 percent of international watercourses lack cooperative management arrangements, and the majority of agreements tend to be bilateral, even where more than two states share a particular watercourse (see article by Zawahri & Mitchell). Finally, many watercourse agreements fail to address key issues in transboundary cooperation, such as emergency situations, data-sharing, consultation and negotiation procedures, or dispute settlement. Such arrangements are ill-equipped to deal with current and future challenges and threats concerning the world’s finite freshwater supplies, such as population growth, climate change, ecosystem degradation, water insecurity, and so forth. Moreover, since 1997, despite the Convention having some influence – as noted in Part I – there has been a significant decline in the adoption rate of basin and sub-basin agreements, notwithstanding increased calls for stronger governance arrangements.

A global framework agreement, if in force, could play an important role in addressing such fragmentation by supplementing and strengthening the legal architecture where i) no basin agreement exists; ii) not all basin states are party to an existing agreement; and/or iii) an existing agreement only partially covers matters addressed by the UNWC.  It was in this sense that the Nordic Counties summed up the value of a framework agreement during the Convention’s drafting process, stating that it, ‘provides a good basis for further negotiations. It leaves the specific rules to be applied to individual watercourses to be set out in agreements between the States concerned, as has been the current practices’ (see replies of Governments to the Commission’s questionnaire at A/CN.4/447, 1993).

At the regional level, the 1992 UNECE Water Convention and the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses illustrate the role of framework instruments in addressing gaps and failings in basin and sub-basin agreements and, as discussed below, in supporting and facilitating the application, interpretation and implementation of those instruments. However, the aforementioned convention and protocol are the only examples of existing regional instruments. Therefore, the need for a global framework remains. Besides, regional instruments may fail to include all states within a certain international watercourse. Such is the case with the SADC Protocol as compared to the Congo and Nile basins.

The UNWC may also address fragmentation at the horizontal level. Entry into force would enable synergies to be developed between the Convention and other water-related multilateral environmental agreements, such as those dealing with climate change, biodiversity, wetlands, desertification and so forth (see report by Brels, Coates and Loures).

In addition, an effective UNWC would serve as a solid and widely accepted basis for the development of treaty law at the global level. In this regard, it is worth asking whether the ILC Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers would have been different if the Convention had already entered into force? Would the draft articles have ensured better integration between general international water law and the principles and rules applying specifically to shared groundwaters? Would countries be more open to considering the draft articles as a basis for a future groundwater protocol to the UNWC, rather than for a separate, independent convention that could possibly aggravate the issues of fragmentation and treaty congestion? (see article by Loures and Dellapenna).

From a political standpoint, formal and widespread support for the UNWC would send a definitive and clear message that, as codified in the Convention, international law requires states to cooperate over international watercourses, lakes and aquifers, including, where appropriate, through joint planning and actions, and within the framework of equitable and reasonable use and participation (see UNWC, Articles 5, 8, 20).

For lawyers, this may seem redundant, as the duty to cooperate is widely regarded as part of customary international water law. However, in the context of global water negotiations, an effective and widely endorsed UNWC could make a major difference. For example, during negotiations at the 6th World Water Forum, one state raised the issue that the UNWC cannot even be referred to as a “convention”, because it is not yet in force. During the development of the ILC Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers, another state pointed out the need to avoid linking that instrument to the UNWC, because the latter is not in force and, therefore, may not reflect the status of customary law. More recently, the “water and sanitation” section of the Rio document is permeated by a nationalistic tone: it refers to “actions within the respective national boundaries” to protect ecosystems, while never mentioning transboundary water issues, watercourse agreements or the International Year on Water Cooperation (see UN Resolution 65/154). For those working on these issues, it was disheartening to follow the interstate discussions that preceded the adoption of that document, and which led to the deletion of the paragraph dealing with water cooperation at various levels.

Arguably, if the UNWC had been in force, states would have less room to manoeuvre for downplaying the duty of watercourse states to cooperate and the role of international law in this context, leaving more time for discussions on substantive issues. This can be exemplified by the good progress made on oceans in Rio within the framework of international law, as reflected in UNCLOS. Hence, entry into force of the Convention would provide the UN and other international organisations with a strong legal mandate by which to support and advance transboundary water issues at the global level – a mandate that is currently lacking (see WWF/DfID Report).

Closely related to the political considerations noted above, entry into force may also help assist a key factor inhibiting the effectiveness of the Convention, namely awareness. Our experience, based on stakeholder interviews and workshops, demonstrates that levels of understanding and awareness of the UNWC are relatively low amongst key government officials in places such as Central America, West Africa and South-East Asia. Arguably, therefore, because the Convention is not yet in force, it has not been as influential as it could and should be, simply because governments have prioritized treaties that have already entered into force and to which they are bound.

In conclusion, should we care if the Convention enters into force? Conversely, we might ask, given the above, whether we could actually afford not to bother with its ratification process.

Should we care whether the UN Watercourses Convention enters into force? – Part I

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

The following post (Part I of II), by Dr. Alistair Rieu-Clarke (a.rieuclarke [at] dundee.ac.uk), IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy & Science (under the auspices of UNESCO) and Ms. Flavia Loures (flavia.loures [at] wwfus.org), WWF, is based on experiences gained through a range of activities conducted as part of the UN Watercourses Convention Global Initiative.

During Rio+20, UK and Irish representatives announced that their respective Governments would accede to the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) to ensure that the world’s 276 international watercourses were governed in an equitable and sustainable manner. These announcements follow a growing wave of support for the Convention’s entry into force, which has recently seen Luxembourg become the 26th contracting state, followed by Benin only a few weeks ago. Moreover, various global and regional institutions have urged States to accede to the Convention, including the European Commission (see Resolution 2012/2552(RSP)), the Niger Basin Authority  (see 2011 Bamako Declaration) and African Basin Organisations (see 2011 Bangkok Declaration).

Anticipation of the Convention’s imminent entry into force has also prompted the question, ‘what next’? In this regard, at the 6th World Water Forum (Marseille, March 2012), France offered to host the 1st meeting of the parties, and UN organisations, including the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), UNESCO and UNEP, were identified as potential candidates for ‘housing’ the Convention – whatever form that might take.

As momentum finally gathers around the UNWC – a keystone global legal instrument adopted over 15 years ago – the question at the forefront of discussions is, ‘why should we care’? Would entry into force of a global framework instrument on the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses really make a difference?

From the legal standpoint, a primary driver behind the UNWC was the codification and progressive development of international water law, which, in 1970, was recognised by the UN General Assembly as, ‘still based in part on general principles and rules of customary law’ (see  UN General Assembly Resolution 2669(XXV)). The value of the Convention was, therefore, to provide greater detail, clarity and certainty as to what was, and what should be, the applicable international law pertaining to the non-navigational uses of international watercourses.

Simply through its adoption by an overwhelming majority of UN Member States – after an extensive process of treaty drafting and negotiation – the Convention presents an authoritative statement of customary international law. In the Gabĉíkovo-Nagymaros case, for instance, the International Court of Justice made explicit reference to the UNWC only months after its adoption by the General Assembly. Additionally, numerous basin and sub-basin agreements adopted after 1997 have been influenced by the Convention: in the case of the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, many of the key provisions were taken from the Convention almost verbatim.

Although the UNWC already enjoys an influential role, its current status leaves open to debate which of its provisions reflect existing or emerging customary law, as well as the content of those principles widely accepted as custom. If the Convention were to enter into force, it is likely to trigger a snowball effect, leading to wider ratification by a representative body of states. At that point, all its provisions would be considered as reflecting customary international law and thus become potentially binding even on non-parties.  Entry into force would also consolidate the content of the principles of equitable and reasonable use and harm prevention, as well as their relationship, as codified under the UNWC.

In this sense, entry into force and widespread ratification are necessary to ensure the successful completion of the task entrusted to the International Law Commission: that of codifying, clarifying and progressively developing the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, with a view to offering a clearer, more stable framework for transboundary water cooperation at the global level.

It was for this reason that, during the Convention’s drafting process, the Nordic Countries cautioned that, ‘this [framework] approach should not lead solely to producing recommendations’ (see replies of Governments to the Commission’s questionnaire at A/CN.4/447, 1993). The statement alludes to the importance of a legally binding framework instrument. A legally binding text holds greater potential for shaping state practice at the basin level. The ratification process itself normally requires the government to conduct an extensive consultation process with a wide range of national stakeholders. Ratification also tends to provide a stronger assurance that the rules and principles contained within that instrument will be adhered to not only by the government in power, but also by its successors.

That said, an effective and widely endorsed UNWC, on its own, might have limited impact. For the Convention to fully meet its potential in supporting and facilitating transboundary water cooperation at all levels, the appropriate institutional arrangements must be in place by which to deepen knowledge and understanding of the Convention and its inherent rules, principles and aspirations. Evidence of the need and value of such arrangements can be seen in the case of the UNECE Water Convention. Through its meeting of the parties, secretariat, work programmes, implementation projects and so forth, the UNECE Water Convention has played an effective role across Europe and neighbouring regions in supporting implementation of basin and sub-basin arrangements. Exploring synergies between the UNECE Water Convention and the UNWC, therefore, provides considerable promise in ascertaining how ‘multi-basin’ treaty regimes can make a difference at the basin, sub-basin and national levels. In addition to global institutional mechanisms supporting the convention, such discussions should include the role of river basin and regional integration organizations as hubs for coordinating and monitoring the UNWC’s future implementation.

See Part II of this post here.

Convention Watch – Benin Becomes 27th Party to the UN Watercourse Convention

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Benin became the 27th Party to the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention when it submitted its instrument of accession to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 5 July 2012. Benin is the third country to join the Convention this year following Luxembourg ratification on 8 June 2012 and Denmark accession on 30 April 2012. According to recent press reports (here), the UK will soon join their ranks. The Convention will enter into force 90 days after the 35th nation submits its instrument of ratification, accession, acceptance, or approval to the UN Secretary-General.

You can find the updated status of the Convention here. Also, the IWLP has added a “Convention Watch” news box on its homepage here.

You can find a prior post on the status of the Convention here.

Luxembourg Ratifies 1997 Watercourses Convention

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

On 8 June 2012, Luxembourg became the 26th nation to ratify or otherwise become a full party to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. The other 25 states include: Burkina Faso, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Namibia, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.  In addition four nations have signed the treaty but have yet to become full ratifying members: Côte d’Ivoire, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Yemen. You can find the updated status of the Convention here.

Of the 26 ratifications, two occured in 2012 (so far), three in 2011, three in 2010, and two in 2009. If the present rate of ratifications continue, the Convention could come into force within three or so years. The Convention requires 35 parties for it to achieve that status.

While it is probably still too early to identify any definitive trends, it is at least curious that of the 26 states that have ratified the Convention, twenty are either from Africa (8) or Europe (12). Five others are from the non-African Middle East region, albeit its also true that eight are MENA nations. Only one ratifying state is found in Asia (Central Asia to be precise) and none come from the American hemisphere.

What this might mean is still unclear. But the geographic distribution of the ratifications could suggest a geographic bias or disfavor for the Convention. As nations continue to ratify the instrument (and I do expect more nations to do so), it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues. Moreover, it will be interesting to see what this might mean if and when the Convention comes into force.

25 and Counting: Another Ratification for the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

For those of you keeping a count, the 1997 Watercourses Convention now enjoys 25 parties [see Status of the Convention here]. On 30 April 2012, Denmark submitted its notice of accession to the Convention.  This comes on the heels of 6 other ratifications over the past 2 years: Burkina Faso, France, and Morocco in 2011; and Greece, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria in 2010. The other parties to the Convention include:  Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Namibia, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan. In addition, five nations have signed but not yet ratified the Convention: Côte d’Ivoire, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Yemen.

Denmark is the first nation in 2012 to ratify the instrument. But it may not be the last. In 2011, Benin’s parliament authorized its government to ratify the treaty. Other countries also are considering ratification. If this rate continues, the treaty may enter in force in the next few years. Under Article 36(1) of the Convention, the treaty will become binding on all ratifying parties ninety days following the 35th ratification. That day may be coming soon.

Incidentally, it is interesting (but not surprising) that when it filed its notice of accession, Denmark also submitted a notice excluding from its accession application of the Convention to the Faroe Islands and Greenland [see notice here].

1997 Watercourse Convention – 23 Ratifications, and Counting …

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

On 22 March 2011, Burkina Faso acceded to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. There are now 23 parties to that instrument (see Status of the Convention). This comes on the heel of France’s accession just last month (see my post on this here), as well as the accessions/ratifications by Greece, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria in 2010.

According to Article 36(1) of the Watercourses Convention, it “shall enter into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.” That day may be coming soon.

And France Makes 22

Monday, February 28th, 2011

On 24 February 2011, France acceded to the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses making it the 22nd party to the instrument (see Status of the Convention). This is a remarkable development since, just a few years ago, some had thought that the treaty was on the verge of expiring given the lackluster support it garnered since its inception.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997, the Convention appeared set for ratification as 103 nations voted in favor of it, while the instrument needs only 35 parties for it to come in force. That vote, however, masked long-standing disagreements over how transboundary fresh water resources should be allocated and managed. The most notable is the dispute between many upper riparians who favor the principle of equitable and reasonable use, and most lower riparians who prefer the doctrine of no significant harm (for a detailed analysis of the UNGA vote on the Convention, as well as the various interests, see my article).

Notwithstanding, over the past two years, six nations (Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Spain, Tunisia, and now France) have joined the ranks of parties to the Convention. And Convention-watchers suggest more may be on their way, notably Belarus, Italy, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

It is noteworthy that the resurging interest in the Convention is due, in no small part, to the efforts of the World Wildlife Fund , which has taken promotion and ratification of the treaty as one of its missions. Its work has certainly born  fruit.