Policy Brief n°2 - Entry into force of the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997)

March 2015 - Boisson de Chazournes L., Tignino M., Sangbana K.


The entry into force of the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (United Nations 1997 Convention) on 17 August 2014 constitutes a major milestone for water international law development.

This Convention was adopted on 21 May 1997 by the United Nations’ Member States of the General Assembly. Seventeen years were necessary for thirty five countries to ratify it as stipulated by Article 36 of the Convention1. The extended elaboration process of the Convention within the United Nations, from 1974 to 1997, as well as the delay before its entry into force, reflects the reluctances of Member States to be tied by a universal framework in terms of the management and protection of international watercourses.

Such reluctances have been overcome, and the 1997 Convention entered into force. More than just its normative content, quite customary of the Convention, the added value of this text holds in the challenges related to shared water resources that it will help to overcome. The Convention will facilitate the harmonisation of water management and protection practices of international water courses. It will bring corrections to asymmetrical relations between neighbouring states. It also lays out a reference framework for international agreements negotiations. The 1997 Convention entering into force, as well as expected related amendments to the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and Lakes (The 1992 Convention below), it is expected that the universal regime for transboundary water management will be strengthen.

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