Unravelling Cooperation: The Role and Limits of Cooperation in the Governance of International Watercourses in Customary International Law
70 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2015 Last revised: 26 Mar 2015
Date Written: November 3, 2014
Fresh water is one of the most fundamental natural resources on the planet for human beings as well as ecosystems more generally. This thesis explores ongoing efforts in international law to govern international watercourse systems more effectively. These efforts have been given recent impetus by the long-awaited entry into force in August 2014 of the first global, comprehensive treaty governing international watercourses – the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention (UNWC). The UNWC largely reflects customary international law and given that the UNWC still only has thirty-five State parties, custom continues to play an important role in the governance of many major international watercourses.
This thesis focuses on the central notion of cooperation in the field of customary international watercourses law. It first highlights the prominence of the vague, multi-layered and contested concept of cooperation and attempts to unpack it. In doing so, it identifies four distinct manifestations of cooperation and reveals the special emphasis the literature has placed on the fourth manifestation: specific procedural obligations of cooperation.
This thesis ultimately applies the assertions made in the literature about the binding and effective nature of customary rules of cooperation to a current case study: a dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. Through this case study, this thesis posits that the specific obligations of cooperation identified (notably notification and consultation) sit uneasily in customary international law. Lingering uncertainty about the content of such obligations, in both the literature and by relevant States themselves, highlights the importance of codifying and institutionalising rules of cooperation, so crucial to watercourse management, in order to improve their overall effectiveness.
Note: Supervisor: Dr Sarah Heathcote
Keywords: cooperation; international watercourses; UNWC; notification; consultation; negotiation; environmental impact assessments; international environmental law; general principles of international law; international law of cooperation
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