The Multiple Challenges
Edited by Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Christina Leb and Mara Tignino
Chapter 17: Do judicial decisions settle waterrelated disputes?
In 1931, H.A. Smith offered a deeply discouraging answer to the question of whether judicial decisions are up to the task of solving water-related disputes. He noted that international law regarding international water rights had up until then “failed to keep pace with modern developments” and emphasized that submission of water disputes between States to a court can be “little more than a gamble unless there are clear and accepted rules of law which the court can apply to the facts before it.” Seven decades after his grim observation, with international water disputes on the rise, his concerns remain highly relevant. Some clarity has certainly been brought to both substance and procedure in international water law since 1931, particularly through the International Law Commission’s codification project on the non-navigational uses of international watercourses (which resulted in the 1997 adoption of the first universal agreement in this area—the UN Watercourses Convention), as well as through the creation of multiple international mechanisms dealing with water problems and disputes. Nonetheless, far more remains to be done.
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