These days the biggest news and discussion had become the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the country’s right to use the dam as it sees fit. The dispute is not new. However, what is new in the eyes of the observers is the belligerent interference by the United States and unreasonable discussion by Arab League to support Egypt.
Sovereignty, defined as “the supreme, absolute and uncontrollable power by which any state is governed”. (Black Law Dictionary, Black, H., 1968) Sovereign states make the rules that govern their citizens and that apply within the limits of their territorial jurisdiction, including the land within their borders, internal waters, territorial sea and the air above these areas extending to the point at which the legal regime of outer space begins.
So where do we get the legal authority to exercise our Sovereign right to our water? The answer is within the international law. When discussing Sovereignty Over Natural Resources, the international Court on Gabčíkovo – Nagymaros Project case states: Each state has sovereignty, or supreme controlling power, over its natural resources. Each state has the right of possession and the right to freely manage and dispose of natural resources within the limits of international law. in Article 3: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdictions or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”
One thing is clear. That is the world (those who support Egypt) will do and say what ever Egypt wanted them to say to intimidate Ethiopia’s god given right to use her own resources within the meaning of the international Law. The tactic is not a legal tactic that can hold water in the court of law. This is a political tactic to intimidate developing countries such as Ethiopia.
International Water Law (IWL) dictates these three preconditions or criteria’s: with respect to the water course.
- Equitable Utilization
- No-harm Principle, and
- Cooperation Principle
These three conditions emphasis: first, the need to understand the sovereignty of the states by the county’s interest concept into legal rules. Second, it reminds parties to pursue a shared interest principle in the utilisation of the water use with non-zero-sum game, to be able to benefit all parties involved. Third, as a sovereign county that can decide on its own resources, it provide legal protection in terms of economic and environmental consideration. Fourth, it incorporates sustainability in the equitable utilization of the issue. Fifth, Making the cooperation the driving factor for the two principles stated above.
The United Nations Convention States:
Art. 5, 1997 NY UN Convention
1. Watercourse States shall in their respective territories utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, an international watercourse shall be used and developed by watercourse States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits therefrom, taking into account the interests of the watercourse States concerned, consistent with adequate protection of the watercourse.
2. Watercourse States shall participate in the use, development and protection of an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. Such participation includes both the right to utilize the watercourse and the duty to cooperate in the protection and development thereof, as provided in the present Convention.
Ethiopia’s position has been, the right to use our water as a sovereign state rest on the fact that the water is generated from Ethiopia and the use of the water is essential to our economy and protection of our people. This principle approach is within the International Water Law to which Ethiopia is willing for Equitable specified in IWL.
The 1992 UNECF water Convention, is clear on what may be the issues in the international watercourse. The convention is clearly emphasising the need for equitable and reasonable manner within the meaning of Article 5. Art. 6, 1997 NY UN Convention: 1. Speaking of and international watercourse, takes into account 1) the social and economical needs 2) the existing and future use of the watercourse 3) Conservation, development and economic use of the water. These three essential points of the convention requires Egypt to understand and adhere with the international law and conventions.
The 1992 UNECE Water Convention, Article 2 (2 )(c) and (5) (c): “[…] 2. States: (c) Water resources shall be managed so that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
What is expected of Ethiopia from the International legal perspective is to: In the application of article 5 or paragraph 1 of this article a) Enter into consultations in a spirit of cooperation. Which, Ethiopia has been doing since the inception of the dam. The stipulation as per the convention: “Watercourse States shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection of an international watercourse” (Article 8 of the NY Convention). The above paragraph clearly indicates parties to engage in consultation in a spirit of cooperation not coercion or intimidation.
3.5.15 Right to Development The right to development is a highly contested concept and is the topic of annual battles at the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The right to development was established in a UN General Assembly Declaration in 1986, which states that ‘the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.’
This (the above) proposition was reinforced by the judgment of the International Court of Justice in the Case Concerning the Gabčíkovo – Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia).
In conclusion, Ethiopia has noting to fear. We have the backing of the International Law regarding this very issue. In addition, our approach has been in compliance of the 1997 UN Convention to which as a sovereign country to exercise our god given right to use our own resources as we see fit, with the caveat of the conventions three criteria’s as stated above.
Ed.’s Note: Note: Sisay Woldemichael is a Judiciary (Justice of the Peace) and former adviser of communication to the Chief Justice of Ontario, at Ontario Court of Justice in Canada. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Sisay Woldemichael