Howard Wheater speaks at International Court of Justice’s 70th anniversary

Photo: International Court of Justice

The world is facing mounting tensions over competing water uses. Many of these disputes are coming before the United Nations International Court of Justice (also called the World Court), which celebrated its 70th anniversary in spring 2016.

As a distinguished hydrologist whose advice is increasingly sought on international water issues, Howard Wheater was invited to participate in the World Court’s special anniversary panel discussion. He was the only non-lawyer invited to speak at the commemorative seminar held at the Peace Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands. The panel focused on the Court’s fact-finding and evidence practices, notably in science-related international disputes.

“The water environment faces increasing pressure from competing water uses and degradation of water quality, and we can expect tensions to arise at local, regional and national levels,” said Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. “However, it is encouraging that the International Court of Justice has a proven track record in resolving water disputes. In my experience, the Court is more than competent to judge on scientific issues.”

Wheater also noted discussion is taking place on how to improve the Court’s ability to address complex water issues and provide a forum to de-escalate international tensions over water.

Wheater has appeared before the Court as counsel and advocate for both Hungary and Argentina. He was also recently a member of an international court of arbitration, the world's leading body for resolving international disputes by arbitration, in a dispute between Pakistan and India concerning the Indus Waters Treaty.

Distinguished guests, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands, attended the events. The anniversary was a timely opportunity to acknowledge the International Court of Justice’s role in and capacity for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16: peace, justice and strong institutions.

Established in 1945, the International Court of Justice is the UN’s main legal organ. The Court settles, in accordance with international law, legal disputes between member states, and advises authorized UN bodies and specialized agencies on legal questions.

Wheater says he looks forward to continuing to support the UN in resolving international water issues.