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Watercourses, environment and the International Court of Justice: the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros case.

Author: 
Sands P
Source: 
In: International watercourses: enhancing cooperation and managing conflict. Proceedings of a World Bank seminar, edited by Salman M.A. Salman, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes. Washington, D.C., World Bank, 1998. 103-25. (World Bank Technical Paper No. 414)
Abstract: 

This technical report chapter discusses the legal dispute about international watercourses (IWs) that was resolved in the International Court of Justice: the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Case. The September 1997 judgment between Hungary and Slovakia appears in the appendix. The case concerns a dispute over construction of two dams on the Danube River in shared water. A 1977 bilateral treaty authorized construction of two dams and joint operation. During construction, political pressure mounted in Hungary over environmental concerns until 1989, when Hungary suspended work. Czechoslovakia proceeded to build a single dam that would divert 80% of the shared water. In 1992, Hungary ended the 1977 treaty. The Court found that Hungary was not entitled to suspend work or end the 1977 treaty. It ruled that Slovakia was not entitled to operate from a 1992 unilateral solution to divert the water. The Court urged mutual cooperation and agreement and suggested the joint operation of one dam, but not at peak power. The 1977 treaty included protections of water quality and nature. This case indicated that states can invoke "ecological necessity" actions, but there must be proven "real, grave and imminent peril." The decision was based on the assumption of a common legal right, equality of all riparian states as users of the whole IW, and directly, on the law of IWs. It referred to a global convention about sustainable use of the Danube. The Court argued that States must consider new activities, such as sustainable development, even in long-term projects. This case gives prominence to environmental concerns within public international law.

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Document Number: 
138484
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