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University of Geneva

International Water Law

University of Geneva via Coursera


In recent decades, international law has undergone a series of major developments in order to accommodate the many new facets of freshwater management and protection. The adoption of universal, regional and basin instruments highlights how important it is to study the evolution of international water regulations and to be able to identify the main principles in this field. This course aims to provide the necessary background to understand and examine the regulation applicable to transboundary freshwaters especially to rivers, lakes and aquifers. It presents the principles and legal standards that govern the use, sharing, management and protection of these resources.

The MOOC is made up of 5 modules. As each module addresses a different theme, they can be viewed in any order. However, the modules do follow a certain pedagogical logic and following in order will be especially helpful to those who are new to the subject. Each module is accompanied by an evaluation questionnaire or quiz. A certificate will be awarded to students who obtain an average of at least 80% in the quizzes.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:
1) Describe the issues related to the regulation of transboundary freshwaters;
2) Explain how transboundary freshwater regulations have evolved;
3) Recall and interpret the key principles governing water resource regulation;
4) Understand the role of transboundary freshwater dispute settlement mechanisms in the development of international freshwater law (or to understand the role of international courts and tribunals in the resolution of conflicts)

This MOOC was developed by the Platform for International Freshwater Law that is part of the Geneva Water Hub, assisted by the MOOC Team of the University of Geneva. Alongside the researchers and teachers of the Platform, several international experts have also participated. This MOOC is one of three courses supported by the Water Hub Geneva and the University of Geneva. The other MOOCS are "Water Management and Policy" ( and "Ecosystem Services: a method for sustainable development "( The Global Water Program of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has funded this course.

This MOOC was originally created in French. It has English subtitles.


  • Module 1: Introduction to international water law
    • With around two hundred and seventy-six (276) rivers and lakes and a large number of groundwater shared by two or more States, there is an increasing level of interest in the importance of international law in this area. This introductory module is designed to highlight how international regulation is fundamental to achieving a harmonious and peaceful management of these essential resources. It outlines the various issues and challenges related to the management and protection of water resources. Whilst emphasis is placed on the factors that can lead to conflict, the module will also show how water can be considered as an instrument of peace and cooperation among States. Within this context, the benefits of cooperation between States over transboundary freshwater are examined. We will also analyse the different uses linked to water resources and the relationships that exist between them. The module will be concluded by a quiz worth 15% of the final mark. You must have at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the module.
  • Module 2: The Evolution of the International Regulation on Fresh Water Resources

    • This module outlines the major milestones in the evolution of international freshwater regulation. It will present the scope and contribution of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997 Convention) and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water and International Lakes of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) (1992 Convention). The role of international organizations, international academic societies and civil society in the development and promotion of these instruments will be highlighted. The unique nature of groundwater regulation is also addressed and we will look closely at the main features of the 2008 International Law Commission’s Draft articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers. We will also examine the best practice shown in the 2008 Convention on the Protection, Utilisation, Recharge and Monitoring of the Franco-Swiss Genevois Aquifer. The module will be concluded by a quiz worth 20% of the final mark. You must have at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the module.

  • Module 3: The Principles of the Law on Transboundary Water Resources I
    • This module presents the general principles governing how water is shared and we will also examine the rules associated with planned measures on transboundary waters. We will take a look at the theory behind the principle of equitable and reasonable use, the obligation to not cause significant harm and the principle of cooperation. The rules of notification, consultation and negotiation in the case of planned measures will be examined in detail. We will also focus how these principles interact with each other. The module will be concluded by a quiz worth 25% of the final mark. You must have at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the module.
  • The Principles of the Law on Transboundary Water Resources II
    • This module highlights how other bodies of norms such as international environmental law, human rights and the law of climate change have contributed to the protection of transboundary freshwaters. The module presents the main international conventions that deal with the environment and details the principles that apply to the management of shared water resources (such as prevention, precaution and the obligation to conduct an environmental impact study). We will examine new legal instruments that take into account these aspects of international freshwater law via the water charters (such as for the Senegal River, the Niger River Basin, the Lake Chad Basin). The module will be concluded by a quiz worth 25% of the final mark. You must have at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the module.
  • Module 5: Prevention and Resolution of Water-Related Disputes
    • This module presents the diplomatic and judicial mechanisms that exist for resolving water-related disputes. The essential role of basin organizations and commissions in the prevention and resolution of conflicts over water is also addressed. Finally, we examine the details of the decisions of international tribunals and courts about shared water resources and we assess their contribution to the development of international freshwater law. The module will be concluded by a quiz worth 20% of the final mark. You must have at least 80% of the answers correct to pass the module.

Taught by

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Makane Moïse Mbengue, Mara Tignino and Komlan Sangbana


4.7 rating, based on 3 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 423 ratings

Start your review of International Water Law

  • I am a graduate student in Natural Resources Management and I am interested in learning about the international water law.
  • Anonymous
    Can someone help me in Passing quiz ?
    As this course is not in English Language, I am facing difficulties to understand the points.
  • Anonymous
    Very resourceful and complete study guide. Best course ive done. All moderators are very helpful and give a good guideline to the course. Easy reading and downloads available. Very resourceful. Thank you.

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