Legal Committee Delegates Discuss Most Effective Ways to Ensure Good Stewardship of World’s Cross-Border Aquifers

18 October 2011
GA/L/3418

Legal Committee Delegates Discuss Most Effective Ways to Ensure Good Stewardship of World’s Cross-Border Aquifers

18 October 2011
General Assembly
GA/L/3418
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

16th Meeting (AM)

Legal Committee Delegates Discuss Most Effective Ways to Ensure

 

Good Stewardship of World’s Cross-Border Aquifers

 

Growing Global Demand for Freshwater Said to Increase

Importance of Perennial Issue:  Push towards ‘Real Negotiations’ Urged

As the Sixth (Legal) Committee today considered the law of transboundary aquifers, delegates said that the elaboration of sound international principles that provide guidelines for the proper stewardship of cross-border aquifers was ever more relevant given the growing global demand for freshwater.

A representative of the International Hydrological Programme of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) emphasized the current relevance of the topic.  She told the Committee that groundwater contained in aquifers represented 97 per cent of the planet’s freshwater resources.  She said UNESCO stood ready to build the capacity of national authorities in transboundary aquifer management and to foster cooperation among experts and scientists.  In that regard, she said it had been a rewarding experience to work with the International Law Commission to build a common language between two very different disciplines:  law and hydrology.

The work which had been done by the International Law Commission on the question of transboundary aquifers constituted an important advance in providing a possible legal framework for the reasonable use and protection of underground aquifers, said the representative of the United States.  Those were playing an increasingly important role as water sources for human populations.

The delegate of Uruguay said that, as the first multilateral arrangement in South America for the proper management of aquifers, the “Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer”, signed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, showed progress towards integrating the protection of natural resources and the sovereignty of participating States.  Speaking for the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), he said the law of transboundary aquifers, in that regard, had defined a set of principles and basic rules regarding the use of shared aquifers with clarity, objectivity and balance.

Recalling that the draft articles had been in existence for several years, the representative of France said it was now time for the General Assembly to “push forward” and start real negotiations on the subject.  The Sixth Committee, she said, should establish a precise timetable for negotiations.

Reflecting the opinions of many other delegates in the room, the representative of Turkey said that before deliberations could begin on the final form the draft articles should assume, the substance of draft articles first needed to be agreed to.  In that regard, he recommended studying State practice.

The representative of Lebanon, too, called for further work on the draft articles, specifically by clarifying several terms used in the text, such as the meaning of “aquifer”.  The draft articles, she added, had an “underlying assumption” that States were at peace and enjoying good relations with one another.  Such an assumption, she said, restricted the applicability of some of the provisions.

Proposing a draft resolution that would refer consideration of the draft articles to the General Assembly’s sixty-ninth session, Japan’s delegate suggested that at that juncture it might be appropriate to endorse the draft articles as a declaration of the General Assembly, which would provide sound basis for future development and multilateral law-making, including the creation of bilateral or regional agreements.

The Committee also considered four requests for observer status, three of which were approved without a vote.

Also speaking today on the law of transboundary aquifers were El Salvador, Mexico, India, Slovenia, Hungary, Malaysia, Algeria, Portugal, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Venezuela, China, Philippines, Bolivia, Israel, Ukraine, Italy and Peru.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 October, to begin its annual consideration of the work of the International Law Commission, with a focus on the “First Cluster” of issues contained in the Commission’s report, including introductory chapters I-III, chapter IV on reservations to treaties and chapter V on the responsibility of international organizations.

Background

The Sixth Committee (Legal) had before it the Secretary-General’s report and an addendum on The Law of Transboundary Aquifers (A/66/116 and A/66/116/Add.1), as well as four draft resolutions on requests for observer status in the General Assembly (A/C.6/66/L.2, A/C.6/66/L.3, A/C.6/66/L.5, and A/C.6/66/L.7).

The report on transboundary aquifers, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 63/124, states that the Secretary-General requested Governments to examine the question of what form the draft articles on transboundary aquifers should take.  Comments were received from Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Austria, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.  The League of Arab States also submitted comments, as did Chile in an addendum.

The report says that while States agreed that the complex subject was of vital importance, several noted that the draft articles made no distinction between arid desert regions with little rainfall and regions that had plenty of aquifers.  Priorities would need to be established for the utilization of transboundary aquifers in desert regions, where the first priority should be drinking water.  Other comments focused on the draft articles addressing mostly the utilization of groundwater resources and the related assessment of the effects, with less attention being paid to preserving the quality and quantity of groundwater as an element of the environment.

The report also details concerns expressed by States as to the use of certain terms which changed meaning from one language to the next.  In one case of a Spanish translation of an English term, “significant harm” also implied “considerable” in English, while the Spanish adjective “sensible’ did not address the extent of the harm.  Some Arabic-speaking States said that the standard definitions in the Arabic references should be used, rather than the literal translations from English.

In terms of form, several States noted that the draft articles were based on State practice and bilateral and regional cooperation, as well as a number of existing bilateral and international agreements.  Some States suggested that the final form be considered at a later stage, to allow time to assess whether the current articles would stand the test of time.  Others suggested that the draft articles serve as general guidelines for the practice of States in this area; in other words, they should take the form of a non-legally binding resolution or declaration.  Many States urged caution with regard to drafting a convention based on the draft articles.

However, the report also notes that some States, while recognizing that the draft articles could serve as a guide for bilateral and regional agreements, believed that an international convention based on the draft articles could contribute positively to the proper management of existing transboundary aquifers and supported the draft articles being elaborated into an international framework convention.

Consequently, the report says, a definitive position on the final form would emerge only after an assessment had been made as to whether and how the principles contained in the draft articles were reflected at the bilateral and regional levels, and after discussions on such additional issues had been held in the General Assembly.  It was noted that the final debate should focus on the form that would best ensure implementation and full effectiveness of the draft articles by the vast majority of States, with a view to reaching an agreement that guaranteed genuine protection for transboundary aquifers.

Further, the final form of the draft articles should also be conducive to appropriate measures for halting excessive extraction and pollution of groundwater resources as a result of high population growth and rapid economic development.

The draft articles required a thorough review by States.  That basis of State practice might then provide input to the General Assembly on whether or not to elaborate a convention on the basis of the draft articles.

The Committee was also expected to take action on four draft resolutions on requests for observer status in the General Assembly

A draft resolution requesting observer status for the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States (document A/C.6/66/L.2) in the work of the Assembly is accompanied by a report to the Committee (document A/66/141) explaining that the international intergovernmental organization aims at promoting comprehensive cooperation among its four founding member States (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey).

Members of the Cooperation Council are said to embrace the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.  Cooperation among Member States is based on solidarity stemming from a common history, culture, identity and culture of Turkic-speaking peoples.  The Council serves as a regional instrument for enriching international cooperation in the Central Asian and Caucasian regions.

A draft resolution requesting observer status for the Union of South American Nations (document A/C.6/66/L.3) in the work of the Assembly comes with a report to the Committee (document A/66/144) describing the Union as one that is committed to strengthening the international presence of the South American region.

The Union seeks to achieve cultural, social, economic and political integration among its peoples.  Its focus includes eradicating poverty, overcoming inequalities and developing infrastructure for the interconnection of the region.

A draft resolution requests observer status for the Central European Initiative (document A/C.6/66/L.5) in the work of the Assembly.  A report to the Committee (document A/66/145) contains an explanatory memorandum that describes the 18-member body as the largest and oldest intergovernmental forum for regional cooperation.  Member States are in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

The Initiative represents a territory of 2.4 million square kilometres and a population of more than 250 million.  It has worked to establish cohesion and solidarity among its Member States, transforming from a group focused on policy dialogue to one emphasizing the transfer of know-how and technology and promoting climate and energy sustainability and civil society.

The Committee was also expected to take action today on a draft resolution requesting observer status for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (document A/C.6/66/L.7) in the work of the General Assembly.  A Committee report (document A/66/193) contains an explanatory memorandum describing the six-member Authority as one developed to supersede the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development.

Founded in 1996, its six member States are Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.  It comprises four hierarchical policy organs, including the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the Council of Ministers, the Committee of Ambassadors and the Secretariat.  Its mission is to assist and complement the efforts of the member States in the realms of increased cooperation, food security, environmental protection, promotion and maintenance of peace and security and humanitarian affairs and economic cooperation and integration.

Statements

JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA (Uruguay), speaking for Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that, as the first systematic formulation of international law at a global level on the topic of transboundary aquifers, the draft articles defined a set of principles and basic rules regarding the use of transboundary aquifers with clarity, objectivity and balance.  He said the draft emphasized that the States in whose territory the aquifers were located had sovereignty over the aquifer system, or that portion of aquifer located in their territory.  That sovereignty, he stressed, must be exercised in accordance with international law and with the principles and rules developed in the draft articles.

He referred to the “Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer” which was signed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in August 2010.  He said the Agreement, currently in the process of legislative approval prior to ratification, was a “step forward” in developing water resources and physical integration, while integrating the protection of natural resources and the sovereign responsibility of the participating States.  As the first multilateral agreement on transboundary aquifers in South America, he pointed out that the four countries had been the first ones to implement Resolution 63/124 of the General Assembly which encouraged States to enter into bilateral or regional arrangements for the proper management of their aquifers.

Regarding the form the draft articles should take, he noted that some delegations had, at an earlier session, considered the elaboration of a draft convention to be “premature”; he said he was convinced that the next step taken on that matter should be one all delegations were comfortable with.  He felt the draft presented by Japan gave a basis for preparing a resolution toward that goal.

SHINYA MURASE ( Japan) noted that there were some 273 transboundary aquifers in the world, many of which were over-exploited, seriously depleted and choked by pollution.  Addressing the work of the International Law Commission to complete the draft articles on transboundary aquifers, he said completing those articles in six years was remarkable, considering that the average amount of time the Commission spent on completing a set of draft articles was approximately 20 years.  States, too, had shown a keen interest in the work of the Commission on that topic, a phenomenon possibly attributable to the fact that aquifers existed in almost every State on the planet and that the overwhelming majority of States shared aquifers with their neighbours.

He said concerned States had shared their perspectives with the Commission, making the draft articles reflective of the positions of the majority of Member States.  Those articles were also based on firm scientific and technical evidence, supported by groundwater administrators and lawyers who were experts in water usage.  The draft articles were, therefore, the collective work of the international community as a whole.

He noted that, upon receiving the draft articles, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the law of transboundary aquifers which encouraged States to make appropriate bilateral or regional arrangements for management of such aquifers.  The Guarani Aquifer System was a result of that resolution, which also led to the consideration of the topic during the current session, with the view of discussing the form that the draft articles might take.  He suggested it might be appropriate at that juncture to endorse the draft articles as guidelines, as reflected in the draft resolution which Japan proposed, and which endorsed the draft articles as a declaration of the General Assembly.  Such a declaration provided a sound basis for future development and multilateral law-making, including the creation of bilateral or regional agreements.

MARĺA DEL PILAR ESCOBAR ( El Salvador) stressed that it was necessary and urgent to protect aquifers as they made up the strategic reserves of fresh water on the planet.  In that respect the draft articles were appropriate in achieving the “desired protection” as they offered a balanced approach while respecting the sovereign rights of States and their responsibility in accordance with international law.

Emphasizing that those underground aquifers were the basis of life, she said the draft articles should be complemented by other existing laws; it would be “a vital decision” on what form the draft articles should take and, in particular, on how they would be implemented.  In that regard, she said that an analysis of the “core purpose” of the articles should be carried out; the vulnerable and irreplaceable resources needed action by States, and thus a definitive form of the draft was essential to engender that protection.  Although from a legal point of view a convention would be binding, she said other measures could also achieve that goal, and it was important to consider a form in which many States could fully participate.  

YARA SAAB ( Mexico) said the draft resolution on transboundary aquifers underscored the contribution of the International Law Commission to codifying and developing international law, which would promote sustainable management of those shared resources.  The draft articles addressed issues of great importance and complexity, balancing vital human needs, the interest of States and the preservation of ecosystems related to transboundary aquifers. The last element of the draft articles concerning ecosystems, in particular, embraced modern concepts for proper management.

Turning to the form the draft articles should assume over time, she said that in the long term it would be appropriate to have an international instrument of international law.  Before that instrument could be binding, however, more thought needed to be dedicated to the matter.  In the meantime, States could develop regional and bilateral agreements that could inform the international instrument.  In that regard, she said those issues must remain on the General Assembly agenda and reconsidered after some years, preferably five, to establish whether the practice of States stemmed from the draft articles, and also to consider particular elements of the articles toward the gradual development of international law.  It would, therefore, be premature for the General Assembly to endorse the draft articles as principles before studying further bilateral and regional agreements.  It would also be premature to recommend that those agreements be carried out in accordance with the draft articles.

VISHNU DUTT SHARMA ( India) said aquifers were important as life-supporting groundwater resources, particularly within the context of the increasing demand for freshwater.  He spoke of the need to protect and manage underground water, ensuring the availability of freshwater through proper utilization.  In that regard, draft Article 3 recognized the sovereignty of an aquifer State over the portion of transboundary aquifers located within its territory.

He said the draft articles had tried to balance the equitable and reasonable utilization of aquifer systems with the obligation to prevent significant harm to other aquifer States; in cases where harm had been caused, the articles encouraged measures to be taken to eliminate or mitigate such harm.  The articles could serve as a useful guide for States in concluding their bilateral or regional arrangements on the subject.

He spoke with appreciation of the Japanese delegation’s introduction of the draft resolution on that topic, with the view of adopting the draft articles as a framework convention.  However, he went on, debates in the International Law Commission and the Sixth Committee, however, highlighted a lack of scientific knowledge about the management and protection of aquifers, so there was, therefore, a need to further study those aspects before coming to a conclusion about the nature of the draft articles.  Given the complexity of the subject and lack of State practice, States should be provided with scientific and technical assistance to further their understanding on the matter.  By learning more about State practice through bilateral and regional agreements, the General Assembly would at a later stage be able to decide whether the time was appropriate to develop a legally binding instrument.

SIMONA LESKOVAR ( Slovenia) said her country lay on territory where large amounts of groundwater were “hidden” sources and exceptionally sensitive with a low self-cleaning capacity.  They were also interconnected with surface and coastal waters and the marine ecosystem.  In that regard, the nature of such resources should be considered in policies, laws, and programmes of management and instruments at local, state and regional levels.

In the past, protection and management primarily had focused on surface waters.  Her country was a party to bilateral international treaties addressing water management with Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, as well as one subregional agreement and one regional convention.

She said that the transboundary groundwater of Karavanke within the permanent Slovenia-Austrian Commission for the Drava was of particular relevance, representing an important water source of 3,600 recorded springs and the recharge areas on both sides of the States’ borders.  The protection of drinking water sources was excellent on both sides as well.  There was, however, a lack of transboundary cooperation on adequate solutions for managing joint groundwater aquifers.  Her delegation, therefore, remained flexible on the final form of the draft articles, whether the instrument was legally binding or not.  It was, essential that States observe the provisions of the draft articles.

RITA SÁRA SILEK ( Hungary) said the draft resolution submitted by Japan was well balanced.  However, she urged that the Committee be realistic, since conflicts would always remain.  At the same time, she said the “speed of compromise” would be important in light of the conflicting interests.  As she understood the hesitancy of States, she stated that her delegation was flexible on the form the draft articles should take, and would not insist on a convention.  Rather, she said in conclusion, they could take the form of a declaration.

ZURSHIDA MURNI ABDUL HAMID ( Malaysia) said that, at the present stage, the draft articles would be a useful guideline for States to enter into appropriate bilateral or regional arrangements for the proper management of their transboundary aquifers, subject to the capacity and resources of States to undertake the necessary activities.  In that respect, States should be given time to evaluate and review those draft articles based on their own State practices and bilateral and regional arrangements, if any.  She proposed that the decision on the final form of the draft articles be considered at a later stage by the General Assembly, once sufficient State practice had developed to encapsulate the practices of States implementing them.

STEVEN HILL ( United States) said that the work of the International Law Commission on transboundary aquifers constituted an important advance in providing a possible legal framework for the reasonable use and protection of underground aquifers, which were playing an increasingly important role as water sources for human populations.  The Commission’s effort to develop a set of flexible tools for using and protecting those aquifers had been a particularly useful contribution.

There was still much to learn about transboundary aquifers in general, he said, adding that specific aquifer conditions and State practices varied widely.  The United States supported context-specific arrangements, as opposed to a global framework treaty.  States concerned should take into account the provisions of the draft articles when negotiating appropriate bilateral or regional arrangements for the proper management of transboundary aquifers; among the numerous factors that might be considered in that respect were hydrological characteristics of the particular aquifer, present uses and future expectations of use, and climate conditions.

FARID DAHMANE ( Algeria) said the approach, supported by his delegation consisted of taking into consideration the draft articles, and then the development of a convention from the articles in question.  Regarding the draft articles, he noted that there were still technical questions that needed to be clarified.  Deciding the form they should take during the session would, therefore, be premature.

On bilateral and regional cooperation for management of shared aquifers, he said it was up to States involved in those agreements to agree upon specific measures for management and protection.  He said a general definition of transboundary aquifers needed to be developed; the mechanism for managing each type of specific aquifer referred to in the draft articles should be complemented by regional frameworks that governed their use.

He spoke of the greater need to protect the rights of countries which shared aquifers to have access to quantities of water that would meet the needs of their populations.  He said he was also concerned with the sustainable development of those aquifers to ensure their fair and reasonable use.  For areas of the world under occupation, the protection and management of aquifers in those regions needed to be aligned with international law, particularly law on armed conflicts, so that aquifers were not used in violation.  He called attention to the importance of the use of Arabic terms in the draft articles, rather than English, which he said led to confusion.

MATEUS KOWALSKI ( Portugal) said the subject of transboundary sharing of water was extremely relevant for development, and for potential conflict of interest, as well as for environmental issues.  The draft articles for the Law of Transboundary Aquifers could provide a positive contribution to the proper management of the existing transboundary aquifers around the world, and hence to the promotion of peace.  He underlined in that regard the inclusion of the reference to the human right to water and of principles of international environmental law.

He said the solutions presented in the draft articles were well balanced and in line with the progression of contemporary international law.  The draft articles were also compatible with the European Union law on the matter, namely, the directive establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy and the directive on the protection of groundwater against pollution and deterioration.  The existence of applicable European Union law should not prevent Union member States from contributing towards the development and universal codification of the Law of Transboundary Aquifers.  The draft articles should therefore evolve into an international framework convention.

ANDREY KALININ ( Russian Federation) commended the final outcome of the International Law Commission on shared natural resources.  He said the draft articles on transboundary aquifers were a step in the right direction, as the document struck, on the one hand, the right balance between affirming a State sovereignty over its resources and, on the other hand, the rational use and the obligation to not cause harm.  In that regard, it was important for States to cooperate and to establish mechanisms toward the balance.

In terms of the final form which the draft articles should take, he said that he did not rule them out becoming a legally binding document.  However, at that stage it was premature to draft a convention.  It was first necessary to incorporate the principles of the draft articles into agreements on bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements.

NGUYEN THI TUONG VAN ( Viet Nam) said an international legal framework for cooperation among neighbouring States in the use and management of transboundary aquifers to achieve sustainable development of water resources was necessary for present and future generations.  The draft articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers had achieved a fair balance between the rights and obligations of States under international law.  However, given the insufficient information on the practice of States, and the sophisticated scientific nature of the subject, States needed time to research their aquifer resources and practices, and to review the draft articles thoroughly.  She supported a General Assembly resolution to discuss the issue during the next session, after further comments on relevant State practice.

GLENNA CABELLO DE DABOIN ( Venezuela) said the purpose of the draft articles as a whole could be achieved by bilateral and regional agreements, with the contents of the draft providing a guide or guidelines in reaching those agreements.  She emphasized that the form must be seen as a “non-binding instrument” rather than a “normative instrument”, taking into account that it addressed a resource that had unique characteristics depending on where it was located.  She also said that since the draft articles were similar to other conventions that had not come into force, it was important to implement those conventions before developing a legally binding one on aquifers.  Because the resource being discussed was vital to human survival, she said, the relevant articles were important not just with regard to the use and enjoyment of the aquifers, but also to their conservation.

LI LINLIN ( China) said the draft articles of the International Law Commission provided a good basis for examining legal issues related to the use and management of transboundary aquifers.  They would have a major impact on the development of law and international cooperation in that area.  As for their final form, China agreed with States’ observations that conditions were not yet ripe for the formulation of an international convention on that issue.

The dimensions of transboundary aquifers were not clear, she said, citing variance in their features and a lack of State practice.  Haste should be avoided in devising rules.  The draft articles could take the form of a legally binding resolution or declaration, and serve as general guidelines for State practices.  China’s amendments to the draft articles had been submitted to the Secretary-General and were contained in his report.

ROBERT ERIC ALABADO BORJE ( Philippines) said transboundary aquifers were vital components of freshwater resources; the development of an international legal regime that outlined the rights and the proper use, management and conservation of that resource was important.  The draft articles formulated by the International Law Commission provided a basis for the understanding and consideration of a full range of issues on the matter.  In that regard, solid scientific grounding was vital.  While the nexus between law and science was strong, stakeholder understanding should be broadened.

Welcoming the comments and observations of Governments detailed in the Secretary-General’s report, he called for the completion of transboundary aquifer mapping.  With regard to the form the articles should take, he said he was ready to work with others to establish the ideal final form.

YARA SAAB ( Lebanon) expressed appreciation for the work of the International Law Commission on the draft articles.  She said the meaning of “aquifer” could benefit from further elaboration, in particular as to whether it was confined, unconfined, renewable or fossil, among other considerations.  Further, there were draft articles that were similar to, or identical, with provisions in the Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  However, certain terms were not consistently used, such as the case of “transboundary” in the draft articles and “international aquifers” in the Convention.  She urged that terminology in those texts be unified in order to help clarification.

The draft articles had an underlying assumption, she continued, that States were at peace and enjoying good relations with one another.  The articles did not take into consideration States that were in conflict or at war, and as the articles stood, their success would depend on the goodwill of States and normal relations.  In that regard, such an assumption would restrict the applicability of some of the provisions under consideration.  She also stressed that because damage of aquifers by pollution was more difficult to remedy, such pollution needed to be dealt with more strictly.  Further, the obligation of aquifer States to “prevent significant harm” did not mention an obligation of “recharge zone” States to not deplete or pollute water sources.

RESUL ŞAHINOL ( Turkey) said that in regard to the draft articles, there was room for improvement.  As could be seen in the annex of the Secretary-General’s report on the subject, there were a number of countries that had provided their views, including Turkey.  That was a scientific issue, so account should be taken of how definitions of certain terms were reflected in the articles.  There were, for example, some technical errors in the definitions of some concepts, including “aquifers”, “recharge” and “discharge zones”.

As to the form the draft articles should take, he said there should be a step-by-step approach.  Unless there was first agreement on the substance of draft articles, there could not be agreement on the final form.  Further work was needed on the draft articles, particularly by studying State practice in that area.

RAFAEL ARCHONDO ( Bolivia) said that it was premature to analyze that matter and it was too early to go into detail on the various issues involving water resources and transboundary aquifers.  His country reserved its right to make comments on the draft articles and would listen to the observations of States.  However, he reiterated that the discussion was premature.  At a national level, Bolivia had no conflict with its neighbours.

OHAD ZEMET ( Israel) said the approach adopted by the ILA Study Group on the draft articles of the International Law Commission should have been embraced by the Commission.  Referring in particular to the treatment on an equal footing of the two general principles that had gained the recognition of States -- namely the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of aquifers, and the obligation not to cause significant harm to other aquifer States – he said that approach was consistent with that adopted in the 1966 Helsinki Rules, as updated by the 2004 Berlin Rules.  Although the general principles identified in the draft articles could serve as guidelines, Israel was not convinced that adopting the draft articles in the form of a convention would be appropriate.

OHAD ZEMET ( Israel) said the approach adopted by the Study Group on the draft articles of the International Law Commission should have been embraced by the Commission.  Referring in particular to the treatment on an equal footing of the two general principles that had gained the recognition of States — namely, the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of aquifers, and the obligation not to cause significant harm to other aquifer States — he said that approach was consistent with that adopted in the 1966 Helsinki Rules, as updated by the 2004 Berlin Rules.  Although the general principles identified in the draft articles could serve as guidelines, Israel was not convinced that adopting the draft articles in the form of a convention would be appropriate.

BÉATRICE LE FRAPER DU HELLEN (France) noted that the draft articles had been in existence for some years now, and the time was right for the General Assembly to push forward and to start real negotiations in that regard.  Recalling the comments from other States that the work would be premature, she said she disagreed.  Given the importance of what was at stake regarding transboundary aquifers, those negotiations were urgently needed.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had made an immense contribution to scientific issues linked to all transboundary aquifer systems.  That knowledge should enable us to make progress.

She described the draft articles as “balanced and consistent” with the United Nations Convention of 1997 on Non-navigational watercourses.  The Sixth Committee should, therefore, establish a precise timetable for negotiations, which should be immediately presented, and should not refer the matter to a later session of the General Assembly.

OLEKSANDR PAVLICHENKO ( Ukraine) said he did not have objections to starting the negotiations towards drafting a convention on the draft articles.  The draft established State relations based on mutual regulations.  However, with regard to the relevant article in the draft that stipulated the obligation to not cause harm, he said harm was not defined.  It would be necessary, he added, to define harm in a convention, in particular the harm caused from depletion and the harm caused by pollution.  Further, when stating “significant harm”, the criteria of significant and non-significant would need to be established.  He mentioned that his country did not have any bilateral or regional agreements in that area.

SALVATORE ZAPPALA ( Italy), addressing the draft articles on transboundary articles, said they were an important source of inspiration for States when negotiating bilateral and multilateral treaties in that area.  There were still doubts, however, as to whether it was the right time to transform the provisions of draft articles into a convention.  Expressing appreciation for Japan’s introduction of the draft resolution on the matter, he said efforts in that direction should continue to be made.

GONZALO BONIFAZ ( Peru) said that the draft articles set forth general principles, as well as some that addressed implementation.  They constituted a “significant step forward for a common framework”.  He said the matter of transboundary aquifers was an extremely sensitive issue for his country as they were addressing actual situations in the region.  Hence, Bolivia’s national bodies were studying the draft articles and the implications of where they would be regulated.  That was no easy task, and it required significant resources, especially for a developing country.  He stated that the draft articles should not move forward to a definitive form, as exploration was still needed in State practice, as noted in the Secretary-General’s report and addendum.

ALICE AURELI, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), speaking for its International Hydrological Programme, emphasized the current relevance of the topic, stating that groundwater contained in aquifers represented 97 per cent of our planet’s freshwater resources.  That supply was a significant portion of the drinking water and almost fully supported food production and agriculture.  In arid zones, aquifers were often the only source of drinking water.

She recalled that over the last few decades, the International Hydrological Programme had collected information on the world’s groundwater resources contained in aquifers, particularly on their role and functions, the observed changes over time and the identification of options for enhancing benefits from aquifer exploitation.  Those studies demonstrated that the storage capacity of transboundary aquifers offered unique opportunities for the overall reduction of risk and uncertainty regarding water availability.  That groundwater could help to bridge prolonged dry periods in areas where the limited availability of sustainable water was expected, she said.  Because that resource was “invisible”, however, special effort was required to raise awareness about its relevance.

Recognizing the crucial lack of knowledge on transboundary aquifers, the International Hydrological Programme launched its International Transboundary Aquifer Resources Management Project in June 2000.  One of the objectives of that project was to compile a global assessment and international inventory of transboundary aquifers.  As a project implemented across various regions of the world with relevant agencies and national authorities, 273 transboundary aquifers had already been classified.  Acknowledging progress, as well as work that still needed to be done, she said UNESCO stood ready to support national authorities in the training and capacity-building aspects of transboundary aquifer management, facilitating cooperation among experts and scientists.  In addition, networks of groundwater experts met regularly to exchange knowledge, and case studies had also been initiated in that area.  In that regard, it had been a rewarding experience to work with the International Law Commission to build a common language between two very different disciplines:  law and hydrology.

Action on Drafts

The Committee then took up the four draft resolutions requesting observer status in the General Assembly.

The first related to the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States (document A/C.6/66/L.2).  Speaking before the action, the delegate of Armenia expressed hesitation, as she felt consideration of the request required further information on the Council’s activities.  Thus, her delegation was not in a position to take action on that resolution.  The delegates of Cyprus and the Russian Federation supported that position, with the Russian Federation stressing that, because its membership was restricted, the work of the Council should be further studied.  He requested a postponement.

In light of those comments, the Chairperson said that the Committee was not in a position to take action on the matter.  The representative of Turkey said that it had been his understanding that there would not be any problem taking action on the subject.  Addressing the concerns of the Russian Federation delegate, he said the Council met the criteria of observer status as set forth by the General Assembly and he had provided the information required by the Assembly.  He was ready to provide more information but he did not want to postpone action on that request.  Further, he did not understand the concerns of the representatives of Cyprus and Armenia, as the request had met the criteria of the General Assembly. In that regard, he stated it was not fair to object to the resolution.

The Chairperson stated that without further consultations, no action could be taken at this time.

The Committee then turned to the draft resolution requesting observer status for the Union of South American Nations (document A/C.6/66/L.3).  The representative of Ghana noted additional co-sponsors to the draft resolutions.  The draft resolution was then approved without a vote.

The draft resolution requesting observer status for the Central European Initiative (document A/C.6/66/L.5) in the work of the Assembly was approved without a vote.

Speaking after the action, the representative of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia stated that he considered regional cooperation to be of paramount importance to both his region and Europe.  The goals of the Initiative were as important now as they were when the Initiative was established.  He regretted that his delegation could not co-sponsor the draft as it did not reflect the correct name of his country and that should have been explained in the Memorandum.  However, since his delegation remained committed to the Initiative, he supported the approval of the resolution.

Right of Reply

The representative of Greece, exercising the right of reply, questioned the comments of the representative of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as that was the name under which that country had joined the Organization and that comments as such undermined the relevant ongoing political negations.

Responding, the delegate of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said his country had always used its constitutional name, an established practice that had never been questioned.

Greece’s representative, speaking again, said he had to express his country’s disappointment at such a reply, which he said was in violation of the ongoing negotiations that were being done in good faith.

Action on Further Draft

The Committee also took action on a draft resolution requesting observer status for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (document A/C.6/66/L.7).  Speaking before the action, the representative of Ethiopia noted additional co-sponsors to the draft, which was then approved without a vote.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.