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RESCOM: Conference gathers leading law experts in Luxembourg for the first time



September 2017 saw the most renowned experts on the law of the sea and the law of international watercourses converge in Luxembourg for the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg conference “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Dispute Resolution in the Law of International Watercourses and the Law of the Sea”.

“This international conference was a unique event as it brought together for the first time the most prominent experts (judges, arbitrators, academics, and practitioners) concerning the resolution of international law of the sea and fresh water disputes,” states Prof Dr Hélène Ruiz Fabri, Executive Director, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law.

Dispute settlement in period of great change

Organised in cooperation with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and supported via the FNR’s RESCOM scheme – which offers support for lecture series and international scientific conferences – the two-day conference was the first conference to combine the two legal frameworks of the law governing the sea and that governing international watercourses.

Dispute settlement in the fields of freshwater and the law of the sea is undergoing a period of great change, bringing with it both challenges and opportunities. Through presentations and discussions, over 200 participants from across the globe, including prominent international judges, arbitrators, lawyers and academics debated what could be facing the global community in settling such disputes today and in the future.

Focus on freshwater

The first day of the conference was dedicated to the resolution of international fresh water disputes, which fall under the law of international watercourses, a legal framework that governs the use of international rivers, lakes and groundwater shared by two or more countries.

Topics covered by the freshwater panels included the confusion in the freshwater field about when and how to apply the international water law, as well as the opportunities for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in clearing this confusion up, for example with a current case: an ongoing dispute between Bolivia and Chile surrounding the Silala River – which starts in Bolivia and flows into Chile – about who can use the waters.

The conference gathered over 200 participants from Luxembourg and across the globe
© MPI Luxembourg

Focus on the sea

The second day of the conference focused on law of the sea dispute settlement. The law of the sea, also referred to as the ‘constitution of the oceans’, is covered by the UNCLOS Convention, concluded by the UN in 1982 and as of 2016 ratified by 167 countries and the European Union. It’s the most comprehensive treaty in public international law, covering topics such as the use of oceans for fishing, shipping, exploration, navigating and mining.

Sea law topics discussed included the ‘South China Sea Arbitration’ case, where the Philippines brought a case against China concerning, for example, the legality of China’s historical claim to a certain area of the South China Sea. The ICJ ruled in favour of the Philippines – a decision rejected by China and Taiwan.

In addition to the panels, a platform was also provided for up and coming researchers in the field, as Prof Dr Hélène Ruiz Fabri points out: “Thanks to a poster session selected young researchers also had the opportunity to share their research with an expert audience.”

Revisiting the conference

To extend the reach of the discussions from the Conference, each panel was recorded and can be re-visited on the Max Planck Youtube channel. Interest from journals has also been registered.

Prof Dr Hélène Ruiz Fabri, Executive Director, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law, hails the conference as a great success:

“This conference was undoubtedly a success in terms of attendance with 220 registered participants and it has a ‘second life’ thanks to the MPI YouTube channel. Owing to its originality and its impact, a prestigious publisher contacted us to publish the conference proceedings and selected articles will also form a special issue of a major journal of international law.”

This success story originates from the FNR 2017 Annual Report – view the Annual Report as PDF or interactive digital version


Left to right: Prof Dr Helene Ruiz Fabri, Prof Erick Franckx, Asael Rouby (FNR) © MPI Luxembourg