Table of Contents

International Law and Freshwater

International Law and Freshwater

The Multiple Challenges

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Edited by Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Christina Leb and Mara Tignino

International Law and Freshwater connects recent legal developments through the breadth and synergies of a multidisciplinary analysis. It addresses such critical issues as water security, the right to water, international cooperation and dispute resolution, State succession to transboundary watercourse treaties, and facets of international economic law, including trade in ‘virtual water’ and the impacts of ‘land grabs’.

Chapter 6: Do people have rights in boundaries’ delimitations?

Marcelo Kohen and Mara Tignino

Subjects: environment, environmental law, water, law - academic, environmental law, public international law, water law


Rivers and lakes have historically provided a clear and obvious geographical feature by which to mark the boundary between the territories of two or more States. They typically constitute so-called “natural boundaries.” At the same time, the use of waterways as territorial boundaries raises complexities not attached to many land-based or even maritime boundaries. River or lake boundaries are mainly created by consent of the bordering States and expressed either in treaty or in arbitral awards and judgments. Unlike geometric limits, however, reliance on international rivers and lakes can lack precision and involve difficulties in implementing technical standards, giving rise to divergent views from riparian States even after boundaries have been ostensibly “determined.” Moreover, human intervention and natural phenomena can contribute to the ongoing transformation of the underlying hydromorphology of international rivers and lakes. Furthermore, boundary delimitation is often complicated by factors particular to water-based boundaries. Shared bodies of water, no less than domestic waters, often have a role in irrigation, transportation, communication, hydropower and fishing, not to mention numerous household and community uses. As a consequence, in the context of disputes surrounding boundaries along or near water sources, States have attached high priority to resource questions going well beyond strictly delimiting the geographical extent of sovereignty. Navigational rights and use and access to shared water resources have all been the basis of claims before international tribunals.

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