The Right to Water in International Law

Esil Conference 2017 > Theme > The Right to Water in International Law

Among the many practical implications of the international regulation of common goods, access to a sufficient amount of clean water for personal and domestic use raises perhaps the most sensitive and debated questions. Although mention is made of it in several international instruments, the content and corresponding state obligations of the right to water are yet to be clearly defined. The status of the right to water – whether it is customary or not – as well its scope – whether it includes uses such as irrigation, the protection of livelihoods or the enjoyment of cultural and religious practices – is still open to discussion. Adding complexity to its scope of application, the right to water may also be related to the right to sanitation, the right to food or the right to public participation in environmentally-sensitive decisions. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether specific groups such as vulnerable and marginalized peoples, women, children, indigenous communities, and displaced persons should be given priority in the application of this right. An in-depth examination of the judicial and non-judicial means available to individuals or groups to enforce the right in question is also called for. The obligations of states and their duties in relation to third parties such as corporations are also to be determined and specified.

A key area of discussion for this agora concerns the role played by the right to water in inter-state relations, as well as in investor-state disputes. In judicial and arbitration contexts, the question of water as a human right is ever-present, although it is not always adequately addressed. In this respect, an important area of debate concerns the participation of NGOs and other entities in the settlement of international disputes. Other possible topics of discussion for this agora include: What is the status and extent of the right to water? How can non-state obligations in respect to the human right to water be defined? Can solidarity and equity play a role in the assessment of rights and duties? What role has the human right to water played so far in the dispute settlement context? What are possible future developments in this field?



Pierre Thielbörger, Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict


Catherine Brölmann (University of Amsterdam) “SDG 6 as a factor in the international‐legal framework for the protection of the world’s fresh water”

Virginie Barral (University of Hertfordshire) “Water and Procedural Rights – A Comparative Enquiry into the Procedural Dimension of the Right to Water”

Roberta Greco (Adjunct professor of international law, University of Rome LUMSA and Associate at Studio Legale Saccucci and Partners) “The role of the human right to water in the context of dispute settlement: Where do we stand and what comes next?”