The law of international watercourses, or international water law, is an international legal framework, including both navigational and non-navigational uses, as well as its historical evolution. 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 subject heading (keyword) Water is 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
- McCaffrey, "The Customary Law of International Watercourses", in: Research Handbook on Freshwater Law and International Relations, Cheltenham; Northampton, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018, pp. 147-174.
- 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.
- Volume I
- Volume II
- Volume III: Regional Issues: Africa and Asia
- Volume IV: Regional Issues: Europe
- Volume V: Regional Issues: Regional issues: North and South America
- 1997 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Adopted by UNGA 21 May 1997; Entered into force 17 August 2014 (available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic). See also
- UNILC's Report and Commentaries submitted to the UNGA in 1994 along with the draft articles on the law of non-navigational uses of international watercourses.
- UN Press Release on the adoption of the Convention
- Current Status of the Convention
- 1994 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Series Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese).
- Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Done at Ramsar, Iran, 2 February 1971 (available at English, French, Spanish, and German).
- Convention Relating to the Development of the Hydraulic Power of International Affecting More Than One State, and Protocol of Signature. Done in Geneva, 9 December 1923
- Convention and Statute on the Regime of Navigable Waterways of International Concern. Done in Barcelona, 20 April 1921
B. International Court of Justice
- Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia)
D. Selected books
UN Declarations and Resolutions
The resolutions and decisions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council may provide valuable information on water issues. Although they cannot themselves constitute international law or serve as conclusive evidence of a rule of customary law, such resolutions do have value in providing evidence of existing or emerging law. This point of view has been acknowledged by the International Law Commission.
As every Member State has been recognized and has a vote in the UN General Assembly, finding General Assembly resolutions that passed unanimously or near-unanimously may serve as an excellent starting point in the legal research process. Pay attention to the language of the resolution. Those with firm obligations versus those that are merely aspirational or advisory in nature are more likely to be considered valuable as evidence of customary international law.
→ Official Document System Search. ODS is the UN's Official Document System. You can search for UN declarations, resolutions and other documents by keywords, then narrow your search.
- Bogdanović, S., The International Law Association Helsinki Rules: Contribution to International Water Law, Leiden, Brill, 2019.
- 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, Second Edition, 2021.
- 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, Third edition, 2019.
- Movilla Pateiro, L., El Derecho Internacional del Agua: los acuíferos transfronterizos, Barcelona, Bosch Editor, 2014.
- Moynihan, R., Transboundary Freshwater Ecosystems in International Law: the Role and Impact of the UNECE Environmental Regime, Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
- 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
- Baranyai, G., European Water Law and Hydropolitics: an Inquiry into the Resilience of Transboundary Water Governance in the European Union, Cham, Springer, 2020.
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.
- Caflisch, L.C., "Settlement of Disputes concerning International Watercourses", in: Research Handbook on Freshwater Law and International Relations, Cheltenham; Northampton, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018, pp. 234-258.
- Chong, A., International Law for Freshwater Protection, Leiden, Brill, 2022.
- 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.
- Forlati, S., M.M. Mbengue and B. McGarry (eds), The Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Judgment and its Contribution to the Development of International Law, Leiden; Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2020.
- Gray, J. (et al.) (eds.), Trans-jurisdictional Water Law and Governance, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
- Howden, J.G., The Community of Interest Approach in International Water Law: a Legal Framework for the Common Management of International Watercourses, Leiden; Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2020.
- 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.
- McCaffrey, S.C. (et al.) (eds.), Research Handbook on International Water Law, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019.
- Misiedjan, D., Towards a Sustainable Human Right to Water: Supporting Vulnerable People and Protecting Water Resources, 2019
- 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.
- Tignino, M. (et al.) (eds.), Research Handbook on Freshwater Law and International Relations, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018.
- Wouters, P., "The International Law of Watercourses: New Dimensions", Collected Courses of the Xiamen Academy of International Law, Vol. 3, 2011, pp. 347-541.
Periodicals, serial publications
- International Water Law Series
- The Journal of Water Law
- Land and Water Law Review
- Land and Water Law Review (Online)
- Schrifttum und Rechtsprechung des Wasserrechts
- University of Denver Water Law Review
- Water Law
- Water Law and Indigenous Rights Studies
- Water Law Review
- 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.