Article 2

2.1.5 Scope of parties – watercourse states and others


In order to understand the practical meaning of ‘watercourse state’ in Article 2(c) of the UN Watercourses Convention, the term must be differentiated from other types of actors mentioned within the text of the Convention. ‘Watercourse state’ technically means two things: a state party to the Convention in whose territory part of an international watercourse is situated; and/or a party that is a regional economic integration organisation, with at least one member state in whose territory part of an international watercourse is situated (Article 2(c)). In practice, the primary legal relationships which the Convention governs are between state parties that are riparians of the same international watercourse(s).138 This is evident in the numerous references to ‘watercourse states’ which are applied throughout the Convention’s text to establish various rights and duties. For example, Article 4 stipulates that it is ‘watercourse states’ which have the right to take part in the consultations and negotiations for the conclusion of specific international agreements relating to a part or to the whole of an international watercourse.

There are two categories of ‘other states’ – noncontracting riparian states and contracting nonriparian states. Non-contracting riparian states (other watercourse states) are those states situated on an international watercourse which do not become a party to the Convention. The Convention does not directly apply to these parties. However, where ‘other states’ are vulnerable to events taking place within an international watercourse, the Convention makes the exception in its scope by referring to ‘other states’.139 For example, the provisions in Article 23 would require watercourse states to protect the marine environment of ‘other states’. Provisions under Article 28 related to ‘emergency situations’ apply to ‘watercourse states or other states’, thus recognising that situations such as floods, landslides, earthquakes and industrial accidents may have significant impacts outside a particular international watercourse.140

Outside of these exceptional circumstances and in light of the definition of a ‘watercourse state’ (Article 2(c)) the rights and duties established by the Convention apply exclusively among parties and only to those ‘other states’ sharing an international watercourse when they are vulnerable to transboundary harm through an international watercourse. However, the rules of customary law as codified by the Convention will still apply to non-contracting states.

A final possible type of contracting party which the Convention could apply to is states which sign and ratify or accede to the Convention that are not a riparian to any international watercourse – this could include island nations. Non-riparian contracting parties do not inherit the same rights and duties to an international watercourse as ‘watercourse states’. Although, there is an absence of decisive guidance in the Convention as to what types of limited rights and duties non-riparian contracting parties receive. Clearly, a non-riparian party does not have any rights to use or develop an international watercourse pursuant to the Convention. Nevertheless, there are indirect benefits of these parties signing the Convention in terms of strengthening international law in this area, and given the fact that many states rely on the goods and services produced from transboundary water resources.141

138 Tanzi and Arcari. The United Nations Convention on the Law of International Watercourses: A Framework for Sharing at 72.

139 See Part IV.

140 See Part V.

141 See Preamble.

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