Some Reflections on the Resolution of State-to-State Disputes in International Waters Governance Agreements

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Richard Kyle Paisley
Alex Grzybowski


This paper reviews various dispute resolution mechanisms that have, or may have, application in international waters governance agreements. International waters are water resources that are shared by two or more states. They include international freshwater, international groundwater and international Large Marine Ecosystem (LMEs) situations. There are a number of possible types of dispute resolution mechanisms in international waters governance agreements. They include: (1) international courts, such as the International Court of Justice; (2) standing regional courts and tribunals, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal; and (3) ad hoc arbitration, such as arbitrations administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. While no one type of dispute resolution mechanism is suitable for all states in all situations, some of the objectives that may be sought in dispute resolution in international waters governance agreements arguably include: (1) obtaining an effective remedy; (2) obtaining a correct result and (3) maximizing the efficiency, in terms of cost and/or timing, of the decision-making process. Having an efficacious dispute resolution enforcement mechanism in an international waters governance agreement may help ensure that a state can obtain an effective remedy even when an opposing state fails to voluntarily comply with a decision in a timely manner. Providing for an enforcement mechanism in an international waters governance agreement may also help encourage voluntary compliance as it may move states to consider the costs of non-compliance.

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Author Biographies

Richard Kyle Paisley, University of British Columbia

Director, Global Transboundary Institute of Asian Research, International Waters Governance Initiative

Alex Grzybowski, Pacific Resolutions

Alex Grzybowski is a conflict management and resolution specialist working in the public and private sectors. Mr. Grzybowski has spent more than 2500 days in the last 22 years directly assisting Governments, Corporations, Non-Government Organizations, and Communities in finding mutually acceptable and constructive ways to resolve their differences, build new relationships and implement joint initiatives.