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International Water R esources Law and the International Law Commission Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers: A Missed Opportunity for Cross-Fertilisation?

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image of International Community Law Review

While the Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers adopted in 2008 by the International Law Commission (ILC)1 follow the same format as the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention2 and might reasonably have been expected to adopt a similar normative approach wherever possible, the Preamble to the Draft Articles fails to make any reference to this or to other seminal instruments or codifications in the area of international water resources law and the document takes, in some respects, a radically different and less progressive stance. The principal difference in the Draft Articles, and one which can be linked to most of the other deviations, is the inclusion of an express reference to the sovereignty of aquifer States in a manner implying that this is the key guiding principle of the instrument. This emphasis on State sovereignty over shared, and often migratory, water resources appears to represent something of a retreat from the distributive equity inherent in the firmly established principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and from the intense procedural and institutional cooperation required to achieve the community of interests approach necessary to give meaning to this principle. Reliance on sovereignty implies instead a drift towards a position based more on the narrow and immediate self-interest of States. In order to avoid such an interpretation, it would have been better if the Draft Articles had sought to establish two separate but parallel regimes, one based on sovereignty and covering the static geological formation of the aquifer, and one covering the shared water resources contained in, and transiting through, the formation and based on equitable and reasonable utilization.

Affiliations: 1: University College Cork Cork, Co. Cork Ireland


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