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International Water Cooperation in the 21st Century: Recent Developments in the Law of International Watercourses

Authors

  • Stephen C. McCaffrey


Abstract

This article surveys selected recent developments in the field of the law of international watercourses. One of the most significant developments concerns the Partial Award rendered by the Court of Arbitration in the Indus Waters Kishenganga Arbitration between Pakistan and India. While the questions presented to the Court concerned whether a dam being constructed by India was consistent with the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, the Court interpreted the Treaty to find that India had environmental obligations regarding the operation of the dam. This award could well influence the positions of other governments as well as disputes between them. Another development of interest concerns the human right to water and its implementation. Perhaps paradoxically in view of their greater economic strength, opposition to the right has come most notably from developed countries. A third development concerns the law of transboundary aquifers. The draft articles on this subject prepared by the International Law Commission give prominence to the ‘sovereignty of aquifer States' and overlap with the 1997 Watercourses Convention. They would thus require significant modification if the negotiation of a treaty were to be based upon them. Finally, two treaties on international watercourses are now open to all States in the world: the 1992 UNECE Water Convention and the 1997 UN International Watercourses Convention. While taking different approaches, these treaties are in fact mutually reinforcing. The growing disposition of States to govern their freshwater relations according to law shows that the International Year of Water Cooperation proclaimed by the UN General Assembly is not just a hollow slogan.

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