United Kingdom and Ireland accede to UN Watercourses Convention

With accessions, European neighbours become 32nd and 33rd parties to the UN Watercourses Convention, leaving it a mere two short from entry into force. At the same time, a  vote by Parliament of Ivory Coast makes ratification by the West African country imminent.

Seven days. That is all it took for the tide to turn and for advocates to believe a Christmas miracle could be in the making. What a month ago had seemed wishful thinking could now actually become a reality: the entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) before the end of the year. Could Santa Clause finally have answered their calls?

With the accession to the UNWC two weeks ago of the United Kingdom and, seven days later, of Ireland, and the imminent ratification of the treaty by the Ivory Coast, it seems like Father Christmas might have one additional present on his sleigh.

Source: Awesomestories.com

Source: Awesomestories.com

On December 13th and December 20th, the United Kingdom and Ireland acceded to the UNWC, becoming the 32nd and 33rd parties to the treaty, respectively. The countries’ governments had expressed their consent for some time already: Nick Clegg, deputy British Prime Minister, had announced his country’ accession to the UNWC in 2012, during the Rio + 20 Conference.

Article 36 of the UNWC specifies that the Convention will come into force ninety days after 35 states have ratified the Convention. Following The UK and Ireland’s accession to the UNWC, only two more instruments of ratification are needed for the dispositions of Article 36 to be fulfilled and the UNWC to come into force.

The entry into force of the Convention would be the culmination of over ten years of campaigning by environmental groups such as WWF or Green Cross International, and academics and politicians from across the globe. Numerous conference and workshops were organized, reports published, and meetings with high-level officials in an effort to overcome the obstacles hindering entry into force of the UNWC.

Ever since the cause was taken by these major groups with the potential to reach a wide audience, the rate of accession has steadily increased, and if the trend continues, the UNWC can be expected to become law in the first months of 2014. Entry into force of the Convention before the end of the year would be the perfect ending to an already incredibly fulfilling UN International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC).

A number of countries are in the final stages of the legislative process to become parties to the UNWC, according to Marie-Laure Vercambre, director of Green Cross’s Water for Life and Peace Program, leading proponents of the UNWC to stay on their toes and to keep the champagne in the fridge. “Entry into force of the Convention, something we have been waiting for for many years, is around the corner” Ms. Vercambre said.

The UNWC is a global legal framework which promotes inter-state cooperation, exchange of information and joint management of transboundary river basins. With the UNECE Helsinki Convention,  which just recently was opened to ratification by non-UNECE members, it creates a legal architecture that edicts the rights and duties of state parties regarding the governance and management of river basins shared with other countries.

The ultimate goal of the UNWC is the sustainable management of shared basins which maximizes and ditributes in an equitable fashion the benefits for all states involved.

Several reasons have been put forward for the slow process of entry into force, including treaty congestion within the UN System; the lack of champions and high-profile actors promoting the UNWC; low awareness of the Convention; and the fragmented understanding of its provisions.

Will the Ivory Coast be the UNWC’s next State party?

One country has already filled the legislative requirements to become party to the UNWC: On November 19th, the Parliament of Ivory Coast, in a historic vote, adopted a law allowing the West African country to ratify the treaty. Ivory Coast, or Côte d’Ivoire, officials will then need to deposit the instrument ratification with the Secretary-General of the UN. Once this is done, Ivory Coast will be formally listed among the Convention’s State parties and will become the 34th State party to the Convention.

Following the vote, Green Cross Ivory Coast President Koffi Mathieu Mahika said: “Ratification and implementation of the UN Watercourses Convention will enable West African countries like Ivory Coast to better share, manage and protect their transboundary basins, like the Volta River. Only eight of the 28 West African transboundary basins currently benefit from a basin agreement. The UN Watercourses Convention will harmonize all the agreements and apply to each transboundary basin, including the smaller ones, which we know will be used more and more.”

Ivory Coast was an original signatory of the UNWC in 1998, but had not ratified it, meaning it was not legally binding for the country, until now.


For the status of the ratification process of the UNWC, inluding a list of state parties and dates of ratification, please follow this link:  http://www.internationalwaterlaw.org/documents/intldocs/watercourse_status.html

For an analysis of Article 36 of the UNWC, please go to Part VII of the Online User’s Guide: http://www.unwatercoursesconvention.org/the-convention/part-vii-final-clauses/

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