Border of Water, Border of Law: Río Bravo/Rio Grande Boundary Adjudications Since 1884
33 Maryland Journal of International Law 205 (2018)
12 Pages Posted: 29 May 2019 Last revised: 30 Jun 2019
How can binational entities fix the boundaries of contiguous countries despite their having disparate legal systems? This article, a preliminary version of a larger project, analyzes a century of decisions by which the International Boundary Commission (IBC) and its successor, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), determined the nationality of bancos (riverine islands) in the Río Bravo/Rio Grande River, the watercourse forming half of the Mexico-US border. The manuscript reports of banco adjudications following the 1884 Convention on the Elimination of Bancos show that the IBC and IBWC resolved disputes based on the Roman law doctrines of accretion and avulsion: Slow accumulation of sediment moved the boundary along with the river’s altered course, but rapid changes left the border in its prior position. These shared principles provided a legal structure that mediated controversy and reconciled the distinct regimes of Mexican civil law and US common law, creating a water barrier acceptable to both countries’ elites. Border-area residents, however, were often displaced and disempowered by these territorial transfers, over which they had little control.
Keywords: Comparative law, environmental law, international law, law and society, legal history, legal structuralism, Mexican law, Mexico, real property law, Roman law, water law
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