On Wednesday January 28, 2015, the fourth of a series of lectures on Peacebuilding in Progress was held at the Academy Building of the Peace Palace, The Hague. The lectures on Peacebuilding are organised by the UPEACE Centre The Hague and the Peace Palace Library

Sir Kenneth Keith, judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), held a speech about international water disputes and specifically the roles of international courts and arbitral tribunals in resolving them.

His speech covered four elements; (1) a short introduction about the subject matter; (2) the law applicable to international water disputes; (3) the limits of adjudication and arbitration and (4) the management of international water disputes.

Sir Keith gave several examples of international water dispute cases which cover several issues such as maritime delimitation, the allocation of water and the rights of navigation. He then briefly discussed a few applicable multilateral and bilateral treaties concerning water disputes in the light of relevant case law. A few questions popped up: what happens when time goes by? Are the old treaties binding on successive states?  According to Judge Keith, international water dispute settlement cases such as the Nicaragua case, show us that the regulations which may have been applicable to water disputes in the past may change over time. For example, how should treaties and other regulations be understood as time goes by?

According to Sir Kenneth Keith, international courts need to look at an evolving situation in a wider international law context. The original meaning of the appliccable law should not be denied, but things can however change over time and this needs to be taken into account. Old regulations may need to be interpreted in the light of new developments. Of course, these delicate matters need to be dealt with carefully. 

There are limits to the adjudication and arbitration concerning water disputes. For example, it is not forseeable how a river will be used in the future, Judge Keith stated. He discussed several cases, such as the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay) and the Maritime Dispute (Peru v. Chile) in which the limits of arbitration and adjudication are visible.

Finally, Judge Keith briefly spoke about the management of adjudication and arbitration concerned with international water disputes.

A second speech was delivered by Ms. Judith Levine, a senior legal counsel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). She gave a short introduction about the work of the PCA and proceeded by discussing three recent PCA cases concerned with the settlement of international water disputes (Netherlands v. France (2004)Guyana v. Suriname (2007)and Indus Waters Kishenganga Arbitration (Pakistan v. India) (2013).

Ms. Levine also shortly discussed some other relevant cases involving water disputes that have recently been arbitrated under the auspices of the PCA, such as the Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration between Bangladesh and India (2014) case and The Government of Sudan / The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (Abyei Arbitration) (2009) case.  Then a short discussion followed about the importance of several international legal instruments referencing arbitration about water disputes, for example UNCLOS and the UNECE Water convention. Lastly she briefly spoke about other PCA projects and initiatives concerned with the settlement of international water disputes.

After the speech of Ms. Levine, the Chairman of UPEACE The Hague, Marius Enthoven, made some concluding remarks and thanked both speakers for their interesting lecture on international water disputes.

Sir Kenneth Keith has been a judge of the International Court of Justice from 2006 to 2015. Ms. Judith Levine joined the Permanent Court of Arbitration as a legal counsel in 2008. If you are interested in listening to these two interesting lectures, you can find a complete audio version of these two lectures below.

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