International Water Law – Facilitating Transboundary Water Cooperation

This paper explores how international law facilitates transboundary cooperation in a manner that is accessible to the wider transboundary water community. It discusses the norms and principles contained in treaties and rules of customary law and examines how these works in selected case studies from across the GWP network.


The study reveals how the rule of law, central to the law of nations, provides legal parameters and processes that govern the shared uses of transboundary water resources. There is a pervasive misperception that international law fails in its implementation of agreed international agreements and customary norms. But this paper provides evidence to the contrary – the rule of law is a critical foundation for facilitating effective transboundary water cooperation in a many ways. It provides the legal framework, within which the actions of Transboundary States are evaluated, as lawful or unlawful, with a body of substantive and procedural rules, and mechanisms for dispute avoidance and settlement that enable operational implementation of the ‘rules of the game’. The case studies selected from across the GWP network illustrate how this works in practice.


The paper recommends targeted support for enhancing national capacity in transboundary water resources development and management, including water law, continued support for the UN’s transboundary water related activities, and renewed global community focus on the duty to cooperate in developing a managing the world’s shared water resources.

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