Water - Research Guide International Law

The Law of International Watercourses is evolving with increasing importance despite its relative youth as a subject of public international law and the fact that much of the law is emerging but not as yet well established law. From times of Antiquity, when early civilizations settled along the great rivers of the world, water has played an important role in economic and social development. Apart from domestic consumption, navigation was the most important use of water, and early doctrine and State practice reflect this. Following the Industrial Revolution, competition over the non-navigational uses of international watercourses spurred the development of international water law. In recent years rules have been developed and codified through the work of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, institutions and associations for international law, including the International Law Association (ILA) and the Institut de droit international (IDI). Central is the work of the UN International Law Commission (ILC), which led to the adoption of the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997. The entry into force of this convention and the recent amendment of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Helsinki, 17 March 1992) to open it up to non-UNECE States have given a boost to this field of international law. As water scarcity and increasing environmental pollution will inevitably result in more disputes over international watercourses in the future and, at the extreme, in armed conflict, the further codification and progressive development of the law of international watercourses is essential to prevent this.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research in the field of the Law of International Watercourses. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's systematic classification → International waterways and subject heading (keyword) International Watercourses are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.


Reference works

Recent Books (2012-2016)

Leading articles


Periodicals, serial publications


Systematic classification → Territory and jurisdiction

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Please, check our bibliographic updates on International Watercourses. Revised and updated, 17 July 2014:

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  • Mirumachi, N., Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World, London; New York, Earthscan from Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

    This book examines the political economy that governs the management of international transboundary river basins in the developing world. These shared rivers are the setting for irrigation, hydropower and flood management projects as well as water transfer schemes. Often, these projects attempt to engineer the river basin with deep political, socio-economic and environmental implications. The politics of transboundary river basin management sheds light on the challenges concerning sustainable development, water allocation and utilization between sovereign states. Advancing conceptual thinking beyond simplistic analyses of river basins in conflict or cooperation, the author proposes a new analytical framework. The Transboundary Waters Interaction NexuS (TWINS) examines the coexistence of conflict and cooperation in riparian interaction. This framework highlights the importance of power relations between basin states that determine negotiation processes and institutions of water resources management. The analysis illustrates the way river basin management is framed by powerful elite decision-makers, combined with geopolitical factors and geographical imaginations. In addition, the book explains how national development strategies and water resources demands have a significant role in shaping the intensities of conflict and cooperation at the international level. The book draws on detailed case studies from the Ganges River basin in South Asia, the Orange–Senqu River basin in Southern Africa and the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia, providing key insights on equity and power asymmetry applicable to other basins in the developing world.

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  • Magsig, B.-O., International Water Law and the Quest for Common Security, London; New York, Earthscan from Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

    The world’s freshwater supplies are increasingly threatened by rapidly increasing demand and the impacts of global climate change, but current approaches to transboundary water management are unsustainable and may threaten future global stability and international security. The absence of law in attempts to address this issue highlights the necessity for further understanding from the legal perspective. This book provides a fresh conceptualisation of water security, developing an operational methodology for identifying the four core elements of water security which must be addressed by international law: availability; access; adaptability; and ambit. The analysis of the legal framework of transboundary freshwater management based on this contemporary understanding of water security reveals the challenges and shortcomings of the current legal regime. In order to address these shortcomings, the present mindset of prevailing rigidity and state-centrism is challenged by examining how international legal instruments could be crafted to advance a more flexible and common approach towards transboundary water interaction. The concept of considering water security as a matter of ‘regional common concern’ is introduced to help international law play a more prominent role in addressing the challenges of global water insecurity. Ways for implementing such an approach are proposed and analysed by looking at international hydropolitics in Himalayan Asia. The book analyses transboundary water interaction as a ‘case study’ for advancing public international law in order to fulfil its responsibility of promoting international peace and security.

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  • Tanzi, A. (et al.) (eds.), The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes: Its Contribution to International Water Cooperation, Leiden/Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.

    Edited by Attila Tanzi, University of Bologna; Owen McIntyre, University College Cork, National University of Ireland; Alexandros Kolliopoulos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Alistair Rieu-Clarke, University of Dundee; Rémy Kinna, Oxfam Australia. The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes provides invaluable insights into the contribution of this international agreement towards transboundary water cooperation via its legal provisions, accompanying institutional arrangements and subsidiary policy mechanisms. Contributing authors - experts on key aspects of the Convention - address a broad range of issues, primarily concerning its: development and evolution; relationship with other multi-lateral agreements; regulatory framework and general principles; tools for arresting transboundary pollution; procedural rules; compliance and liability provisions; and select issues including its Protocol on Water and Health.

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  • Murillo Chávarro, J., The Human Right to Water: a Legal Comparative Perspective at the International, Regional and Domestic Level, Cambridge; Antwerp; Portland, Intersentia, 2015.

    Murillo Chávarro, J., The Human Right to Water: a Legal Comparative Perspective at the International, Regional and Domestic Level, Cambridge; Antwerp; Portland, Intersentia, 2015.

    The book summarises the history of the human right to water and examines its main content and the obligations that derive from this right. The main purpose of the recognition of the human right to water is to guarantee to everyone access to sufficient, safe and affordable drinking water to satisfy personal and domestic uses. This book discusses whether the human right to water is recognised as a derivative right or as an independent right at three levels – universal, regional and domestic - where human rights are acknowledged and enforced. For national law a case study approach has been used with focus on Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. Additionally, the human right to water is examined in a transboundary water context, where the use and management of an international watercourse in one riparian state can directly or indirectly affect the human right to water in another riparian state. For this reason, this book analyses whether the core principles of international water law contribute to the realisation of the extraterritorial application of the right to water.

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  • Earle, A. (et al.) (eds.), Transboundary Water Management and the Climate Change Debate, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015.

    Earle, A. (et al.) (eds.), Transboundary Water Management and the Climate Change Debate, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

    Climate change has an impact on the ability of transboundary water management institutions to deliver on their respective mandates. The starting point for this book is that actors within transboundary water management institutions develop responses to the climate change debate, as distinct from the physical phenomenon of climate change. Actors respond to this debate broadly in three distinct ways – adapt, resist (as in avoiding the issue) and subvert (as in using the debate to fulfil their own agenda). The book charts approaches which have been taken over the past two decades to promote more effective water management institutions, covering issues of conflict, cooperation, power and law. A new framework for a better understanding of the interaction between transboundary water management institutional resilience and global change is developed through analysis of the way these institutions respond to the climate change debate. This framework is applied to six river case studies from Africa, Asia and the Middle East (Ganges-Brahmaputra, Jordan, Mekong, Niger, Nile, Orange-Senqu) from which learning conclusions and policy recommendations are developed.

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  • De Decker, M., Europees internationaal rivierenrecht, Antwerpen; Apeldoorn, Maklu, 2015.

    Dit boek behandelt in extenso alle juridische aspecten verbonden met het gebruik van binnenwateren voor scheepvaartdoeleinden, met name door binnenschepen. Zowel publiekrechtelijke als privaatrechtelijke vraagstukken komen daarbij aan de orde. “Het voorliggende werk is monumentaal, niet enkel in omvang maar vooral naar inhoud. Mij is geen andere wetenschappelijke bijdrage bekend die op een zodanig alomvattende wijze het rivierenrecht situeert en analyseert en er eveneens in slaagt om het op een bevattende wijze te duiden. Dr. Marc De Decker etaleert op een meesterlijke manier zijn uitgebreide historische en juridische kennis van het Europese rivierenrecht en voert de lezer mee op een intrigerende tocht naar de schepping van een juridisch systeem waarmee bijna iedereen wordt geconfronteerd maar wat weinigen werkelijk kunnen bevatten. De verschillende grote ontwikkelingen die stapsgewijs tot stand zijn gekomen, van de Franse revolutie over het Congres van Wenen, het verdrag van Parijs van 1856 naar de grote verkeersconferenties in de 20ste eeuw, worden met meer dan een vaardige hand beschreven en geanalyseerd. Bijzonder boeiend is het plaatsen van het Europese rivierenrecht binnen het grotere kader van het internationaal publiek recht. Fundamentele aspecten zoals de vrijheid van scheepvaart en de institutionalisering van het rivierenrecht worden grondig behandeld en geven zonder meer een grote meerwaarde aan dit boek. Het toetsen van de materie tegenover het recht van de Europese Unie en tegenover andere dan scheepvaartgebruiken van de waterwegen vervolledigt de aanpak van de auteur waarmee het voorliggende werk een bijna alomvattend beeld geeft van het Europese rivierenrecht. Dit boek verdient veel aandacht. Niet enkel academici maar eveneens praktijkjuristen en diegenen die elke dag met watergebonden vervoer worden geconfronteerd, zullen baat vinden bij het gebruiken van dit werk.

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Free Access

The Lecture Series contains a permanent collection of lectures of enduring value on virtually every subject of international law given by leading international law scholars and practitioners from different regions, legal systems, cultures and sectors of the legal profession. Lectures on the Law of International Watercourses by Stephen C. McCaffrey, Salman M.A. Salman, Chusei Yamada and Eyal Benvenisti.


  • UPEACE/Peace Palace Library Lecture: Judge Kenneth Keith and PCA Legal Counsel Judith Levine on International Water Disputes

    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.

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  • International Water Law: Recent Developments

    International water law is on the move. It is evolving with increasing importance despite its relative youth as a subject of public international law. The entry into force of the 1997 Watercourses Convention and the recent amendment of the 1992 Water Convention to open it up to non-UNECE States have given a boost to this field of international law. It is important and encouraging to see that the recently established universal norms have been nurturing each other and have inspired new agreements on individual river basins and aquifers. Further cooperation is still needed, however. International law is a recognized means for supporting and developing this.

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  • Canal Digging

    Two big canal digging plans are under way: the Interoceanic-Nicaragua Canal and the Istanbul Canal. The construction of this new canal brings into focus the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regimes of the Straits, which regulates the transit through the Straits Region. Will this new Canal undermine the principles of transit and transportation liberty, as is stipulated in Article 1 and 2. Is it time to revise the Montreux convention adapting it to modern views and situations?

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  • 40 Years of the Ramsar Convention : Appraisal and Outlook

    On 2 February 1971, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was adopted. The original Contracting Parties of the Convention were driven by an anxiety that migratory waterbirds were in increasing danger because of loss of their habitats. And yet in their wisdom they created a convention focused on wetland ecosystems rather than just wetland birds.

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  • Scheldt River Dispute (Part II) : Hedwige Polder

    The Scheldt is a transboundary river which originates in North-Western France and runs through Western Belgium and the South-West of the Netherlands. The Scheldt Estuary is shared between Belgium and the Netherlands. Since the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1839, the free navigation of the Scheldt and the maintenance and improvement of the navigation channel have been a bone of contention and legal controversy.

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  • Transboundary Water Cooperation in the Newly Independent States

    With the emergence of the Newly Independent States (NIS) in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, new borders cut through Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. As a result, many water allocation and pollution problems that were previously national issues within the Soviet Union have become transboundary issues.

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Systematic classification → Territory and jurisdiction