Fostering cooperation over the Han river between North and South Korea: Is the UN Watercourses Convention the appropriate instrument?

Laure-Elise Mayard

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This study tackles the cooperation over the transboundary river between North and South Korea, the Han River.
The Han River is at the heart of the Korean peninsula tensions, geographically and figuratively. The absence of regulation or agreement over it is not solely due to the apathy of the two riparians but also because of the tension and incidents occurring. Noticeable problems can range from the unnoticed discharge of water from one country onto the other that has already caused human casualties to the instrumentalisation of water security and infrastructures for political purposes. The importance of the cooperative management of the Han River Basin does not only revolve around peace but also around sustainable use and protection of the resource. Indeed, the river provides for most drinking water to the South Korean capital and suffers from agricultural runoffs upstream and industrial pollution downstream.
The problematic is guided by the existing international treaty related to transboundary rivers and cooperation, the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) and its goal of developing cooperation over transboundary water resources. In light of the particularities of the Han River Basin and of the low level of cooperation between the two Koreas, the study examines how an international legal framework, currently non-binding for both countries, can foster cooperation. The research tries to expose first the current cooperation and management of the Han River Basin. Secondly, it illustrates what international water law and the UNWC can do to develop cooperation and appropriate management of the Basin. The adaptation of the provisions in this local case are studied, regarding water quality, quantity, infrastructures and cooperation procedures regarding the river.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-24
JournalJournal of Water Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018


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