The law of international watercourses is evolving with increasing importance despite its relative youth as a subject of public international 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.


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.

Librarian’s choice
Howden, J.G., The Community of Interest Approach in International Water Law: a Legal Framework for the Common Management of International Watercourses, 2020
In The Community of Interest Approach in International Water Law, Julie Gjørtz Howden identifies the normative elements of the community of interest approach (COIA) in international water law, and demonstrates how the approach can provide a legal framework for common management of intern
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Sources of international law

  1. Volume I
  2. Volume II
  3. Volume III: Regional Issues: Africa and Asia
  4. Volume IV: Regional Issues: Europe
  5. Volume V: Regional Issues: Regional issues: North and South America



UN Declarations and Resolutions

Soft law

Reference works

Selected books and articles

Periodicals, serial publications