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.
Sources of international law
- Tofan, C. and S. Strambu (eds.), International Water Law: Selected Documents concerning the International Rivers, Transboundary Groundwaters Lakes and Other Natural Resources, Nijmegen, Wolf Legal Publishers, 2008.
- A History of Water, London; New York, I.B. Tauris, 2006-2016.
- Boisson de Chazournes, L., Fresh Water in International Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Brown-Weiss, E., International Law for a Water-Scarce World, Leiden, Nijhoff, 2013.
- Cuq, M., L'eau en droit international: convergences et divergences dans les approches juridiques, Bruxelles, Larcier, 2013.
- De Decker, M., Europees internationaal rivierenrecht, Antwerpen; Apeldoorn, Maklu, 2015.
- Dinar, A. (et al.) (eds.), Bridges over Water: Understanding Transboundary Water Conflict, Negotiation and Cooperation, Singapore, World Scientific, 2013.
- Boisson de Chazournes, L. and S.M.A. Salman (eds.), Water Resources and International Law, The Hague, Nijhoff, 2005.
- McCaffrey, S.C., The Law of International Watercourses, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Movilla Pateiro, L., El Derecho Internacional del Agua: los acuíferos transfronterizos, Barcelona, Bosch Editor, 2014.
- Sangbana, K., La protection des eaux douces transfrontières contre la pollution: dimensions normatives et institutionnelles, Genève; Zürich; Bâle, Schulthess, 2017.
- Schmeier, S., Governing International Watercourses: River Basin Organizations and the Sustainable Governance of Internationally Shared Rivers and Lakes, London, Earthscan from Routledge, 2013.
- Tanzi, A., The Consolidation of International Water Law: A Comparative Analysis of the UN and UNECE Water Conventions, Napoli, Editoriale Scientifica, 2017.
- 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.
Selected books and articles
- Bremer, N., The Regulation of the Non-Navigational Use of the Euphrates and Tigris River System: International Law Regulating the Distribution and Utilisation of the Water of Euphrates and Tigris illustrated by the Atatürk and Ilisu Dams, The Hague, Eleven International Publishing, 2017.
- Brown-Weiss, E., "The Evolution of International Water Law", in: Recueil des Cours, Tome 331, Leiden, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2007, pp. 163-404.
- Caflisch, L.C., "The Law of International Watercourses: Achievements and Challenges", in Boisson de Chazournes, L., C. Leb and M. Tignino (eds.), International Law and Freshwater: The Multiple Challenges, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2013, pp. 24-34.
- Caflisch, L.C., "The Law of International Waterways and its Sources", in: Essays in Honour of Wang Tieya, Dordrecht, Nijhoff, 1994, pp. 115-129.
- Dellapenna, J.W., “The Law of Transboundary Groundwater”, in The Earth Charter, Ecological Integrity and Social Movements, London; New York, Routledge, 2014, pp. 77-91.
- Fitzmaurice, M. and G. Loibl, "Current State of Development in the Law of International Watercourses", in International Watercourses Law for the 21st Century: the Case of the River Ganges Basin, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2005, pp. 19-43.
- Gray, J. (et al.) (eds.), Trans-jurisdictional Water Law and Governance, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
- Kornfeld, I.E., Transboundary Water Disputes: State Conflict and the Assessment of Their Adjudication, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019.
- MacCaffrey, S.C. (eds.) (et al.), Promoting Equity, Cooperation and Innovation in the Fields of Transboundary Waters and Natural Resources Management: the Legacy of Dr. David J.H. Phillips, Leiden; Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2017.
- Malla, K., "Current State of the Law of International Watercourses: Progress and Paradigm Shifts, 1815-2008", Nordic Journal of International Law, 77 (2008), No. 4, pp. 461-508.
- McCaffrey, S.C., “International Water Cooperation in the 21st Century: Recent Developments in the Law of International Watercourses”, in Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law, 23 (2014), No. 1, pp. 4-14.
- McCaffrey, S.C., "The Evolution of the Law of International Watercourses", Austrian Journal of Public and International Law, 45 (1993), No. 2, pp. 87-111.
- McCaffrey, S.C., "Some Developments in the Law of International Watercourses", in Promoting Justice, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution through International Law: Liber Amicorum Lucius Caflisch, Leiden, Nijhoff, 2007, pp. 781-798.
- Rieu-Clarke, A., "International Freshwater Law", in S. Alam (et al.) (eds.), Routledge Handbook of International Environmental Law, London, Routledge, 2013, pp. 243-257.
- Rieu-Clarke, A. and R. Kinna, “Can Two Global UN Water Conventions Effectively Co-Exist?: Making the Case for a "Package Approach" to Support Institutional Coordination”, in Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law, 23 (2014), No. 1, pp. 15-31.
- Temmerman, F., Trade in Water under International Law: Bulk Fresh Water, Irrigation Subsidies and Virtual Water, Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017.
- Wouters, P., "The International Law of Watercourses: New Dimensions", Collected Courses of the Xiamen Academy of International Law, Vol. 3, 2010, pp. 347-541.
Periodicals, serial publications
- The Journal of Water Law
- Land and Water Law Review
- Land and Water Law Review (Online)
- Schrifttum und Rechtsprechung des Wasserrechts
- Water Law
- Water Law and Indigenous Rights Studies
- Water Series (UNECE)
- Zeitschrift für Wasserrecht
- Steenhard, R., International Water Law: Selective Bibliography 2014, The Hague, Peace Palace Library, 2014.
- Steenhard, R., International Water Law: Selective Bibliography 2013, The Hague, Peace Palace Library, 2013.
- Steenhard, R., International Water Law: Selective Bibliography 2012, The Hague, Peace Palace Library, 2012.
- Steenhard, R., International Water Law: Selective Bibliography 2011, The Hague, Peace Palace Library, 2011.
- Steenhard, R., "Selected Bibliography", in L. Boisson de Chazournes and S.M.A. Salman (eds.), Water Resources and International Law, The Hague, Nijhoff, 2005, pp. 605-756.
- Steenhard, R., Water Resources and International Law: Selective Bibliography, The Hague, Peace Palace Library, 2001.
Please, check our bibliographic updates on International Watercourses. Revised and updated, 17 July 2014:
Misiedjan, D., Towards a Sustainable Human Right to Water: Supporting Vulnerable People and Protecting Water Resources, Cambridge, Antwerp, Chicago, Intersentia, 2019.View this title in our discovery service
Towards a Sustainable Human Right to Water is a timely examination of a critical and time-sensitive subject in the field of human rights law. Aside from being a basic necessity for human survival, the United Nations identifies water as being a keystone of sustainable development and at the very heart of healthy ecosystems and socio-economic development. Thus, the book poses the critical question how the concept of sustainable development can contribute to the sustainable realization of the human right to water for vulnerable people. It takes a three-step approach in providing an answer to this fundamental question of our time. Firstly, the case is made for a broadening of the scope of vulnerability to include environmental factors. Secondly, principles of sustainable development can be used to shape and further develop the human right to water. Finally, an assessment framework is developed to analyze how states can implement the human right to water in a sustainable way. Bringing together the different disciplines of law, economics, and public administration, it provides for basic water system knowledge.
Nanni, M. (et al.) (eds.), Legal Mechanisms for Water Resources in the Third Millenium, London, New York, Routledge, 2018.View this title in our discovery service
Legal mechanisms for the management, development and protection of water resources have evolved over the years and have reached unprecedented levels of complexity and sophistication. This phenomenon is largely in response to the global community’s sustainable development agenda, to the challenges and limitations imposed by climate variability, and to scientific and technological advances. Bringing together diverse experiences from across the world, this book analyses existing water law and governance solutions, their shortcomings, as well as developments and trends in the light of changing circumstances. The legal mechanisms examined range from international treaties, agreements and arrangements on cooperation over transboundary water resources, to the onset of novel issues arising out of technological advances, and from domestic regulation of water abstraction and groundwater management, to domestic regulation of the water industry. The articles in this book were originally published in the journal Water International, following the XIV and the XV World Water Congresses of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), which were held in 2011 and in 2015, respectively.
Boelens, R., T. Perreault and J. Vos (eds.), Water Justice, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2018. Showcase itemView this title in our discovery service
Water justice is becoming an ever-more pressing issue in times of increasing water-based inequalities and discrimination. Megacities, mining, forestry, industry and agribusiness claim an increasingly large share of available surface and groundwater reserves. Water grabbing and pollution generate poverty and endanger ecosystems' sustainability. Beyond large, visible injustices, the book also unfolds the many 'hidden' water world injustices, subtly masked as 'rational', 'equitable' and 'democratic'. It features critical conceptual approaches, including analysis of environmental, social, cultural and legal issues surrounding the distribution and management of water. Illustrated with case studies of historic and contemporary water injustices and contestations around the world, the book lays new ground for challenging current water governance forms and unequal power structures. It also provides inspiration for building alternative water realities. With contributions from renowned scholars, this is an indispensable book for students, researchers and policymakers interested in water governance, environmental policy and law, and political geography.
- Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, International Watercourses, by Stephen C. McCaffrey.
- United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, Lecture Series on International Watercourses
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.Read more
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.Read more
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?Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
- African Water Issues Research Unit
- American Bar Association - International Environmental Law Committee
- Arab Water Academy
- Centre for Energy, Petroleum, & Mineral Law & Policy: Water Law & Policy Programme
- Commission on Environmental Co-operation under the North America Free Trade Agreement
- Global International Waters Assessment
- Global Water Information Network
- Great Lakes Commission
- Inter-American Water Resources Network
- International Boundary & Water Commission
- International Committee of the Red Cross Water and Habitat Unit
- International Environmental Resources by Country - The George Washington University Green University Initiative
- International Joint Commission - United States and Canada
- International Rivers Network
- International Union for the Conservation of Nature Environmental Law Programme-Water and Wetlands
- International Water Law Project
- International Water Law Research Institute - University of Dundee, Scotland
- International Waters Resource Centre
- Nile Basin Society
- Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Website of the Ramsar Convention Bureau
- Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database
- United Nations Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification
- United Nations Environmental Program Vital Water Graphics
- United Nations Environmental Program Freshwater Portal
- Water and Conflict
- Water Portal of the Americas
- The Water Page
- Wikiverse.org - International Waters
- World Commission on Dams
- World Water Council
- Water Policy and Law Group
- Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization
- Autonomous Binational Authority of the Basin of Lake Titicaca
- Border River Commission between Finland and Sweden
- Finnish Norwegian Transboundary Water Commission
- Genevese Aquifer Management Commission
- Great Lakes Commission
- Guadiana River Commission
- Guarani Aquifer System
- Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee of the River Plate Basin Countries
- International Boundary and Waters Commission
- International Commission for the Protection of Lake Geneva
- International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River
- International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe
- International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine
- International Joint Commission
- International Meuse Commission
- International Sava River Basin Commission
- Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia
- Joint Rivers Commission
- Lake Chad Basin Commision
- Lesotho Highlands Water Project
- Mekong River Commission
- Moselle Commission
- Niger Basin Authority
- Nile Basin Initiative
- Organization for the Development of the Senegal River
- Peipsi Center for Transboundary Cooperation
- Uruguay River Management Commission
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