Sixth Committee (Legal) — 74th session

The law of transboundary aquifers (Agenda item 85)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/74/100)

At its sixty-third session, the General Assembly, under the item entitled “Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its sixtieth session”, considered chapter IV of the report of the Commission, which contained the draft articles on the law of transboundary aquifers, together with a recommendation that the Assembly take note of the draft articles, recommend to States concerned to make appropriate bilateral or regional arrangements for the proper management of their transboundary aquifers on the basis of the principles enunciated in those articles and consider, at a later stage, and in view of the importance of the topic, the elaboration of a convention on the basis of the draft articles. The Assembly welcomed the conclusion of the work of the Commission on the topic, accepted the Commission’s recommendations and commended the draft articles to the attention of Governments without prejudice to the question of their future adoption or other appropriate action, and decided to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-sixth session an item entitled “The law of transboundary aquifers” with a view to examining, inter alia, the question of the form that might be given to the draft articles (resolution 63/124).

The Assembly considered the item at its sixty-sixth, sixty-eighth and seventy-first sessions (resolutions 66/104, 68/118 and 71/150).

At its seventy-first session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 14 delegations (see A/C.6/71/SR.18 and 19). The Assembly decided to include in the provisional agenda of its seventy-fourth session the item entitled “The law of transboundary aquifers” (resolution 71/150).

Consideration at the seventy-fourth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 21st, 34th and 35th meetings, on 22 October, 11 November and 20 November 2019 (see A/C.6/74/SR.2134 and 35).

Statements were made by the representatives of Denmark (also on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (Nordic countries)), Israel, United States of America, Mauritius, Turkey, El Salvador, Japan, Portugal, Chile and Egypt.

Delegations generally reiterated their appreciation to the International Law Commission for the preparation of the draft articles, which concerned a very important topic. The social and economic factors linked to the exploitation of transboundary aquifers, and the importance of capacity-building, technical assistance and international cooperation, were also underlined. Several delegations highlighted the importance of the work on transboundary aquifers for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 6 concerning ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Delegations made substantive comments on the draft articles. Some delegations expressed the view that sovereignty over aquifers must be exercised in conformity with other rules of international law, which provide limits to the overuse or exploitation thereof. The need to apply the concept of equitable use in relation to future generations was also underlined.

In terms of application of the draft articles in practice, some delegations recalled the conclusion of the 2010 Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer, which constituted an important step in the implementation of the principles.

As to the future form of the draft articles, a number of delegations recognized their importance as guidelines for States in their elaboration and conclusion of bilateral or regional agreements. Several delegations expressed their continued view that the draft articles constitute an useful basis for negotiation among concerned States, in context-specific arrangements. A view was expressed that the draft articles should evolve into an international framework convention.

Concerning the future consideration of the item in the Sixth Committee, the suggestion was made that it be discussed every 5 years instead of 3.  It was noted that the progress in the codification of the law at the bilateral and regional levels had been slow albeit steady. A longer period would allow a proper assessment of developments and State practice that would facilitate decision making by the Assembly on the final form.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   21st meeting (22 October 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   34th meeting (11 November 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   35th meeting (20 November 2019, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 34th meeting, on 11 November, the representative of Israel, on behalf of the Bureau, introduced a draft resolution entitled “The law of transboundary aquifers” (A/C.6/74/L.11). 

At the 35th meeting, on 20 November, the Committee adopted the draft resolution without a vote. The representative of Argentina, also on behalf of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, made a statement in explanation of position after the adoption of the draft resolution.

Under the terms of this draft resolution, the Assembly would, inter alia, once again commend to the attention of Governments the draft articles annexed to its resolution 68/118 as guidance for bilateral or regional agreements and arrangements for the proper management of transboundary aquifers, and it would encourage the International Hydrological Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to continue its contribution by providing further scientific and technical assistance upon the consent of the recipient State and within its mandate.

Subsequent action taken by the General Assembly

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-seventh session (2022).

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