Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Competence, functions and tasks


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Early agreements on transboundary watercourses that provided for the establishment of joint bodies most commonly covered one or a few areas only, predominantly navigation and trade. Over time, the competence of joint bodies has expanded to include fishing and fisheries, water allocation, irrigation, power generation, construction of water facilities and bridges, and the protection against floods. Later, the protection and use of groundwaters, measures to improve water quality, protection of ecosystems, preservation of landscape diversity and cultural heritage, exchange of best available technology, as well as public participation became increasingly important for joint bodies.

The competence of a great number of existing joint bodies is relatively broad. Their functions and tasks are comprehensive and diverse. This is necessary to enable joint bodies and riparian States to implement the basin approach and the principles of IWRM. The agreements providing for the establishment of joint bodies usually regulate in detail the joint bodies’ functions, powers and tasks.

Groundwaters in the competence of joint bodies

Transboundary groundwaters are increasingly regulated by inter-State agreements and the joint bodies established by these agreements. For example, in the agreements concluded between or with participation of EECCA States from the early 1990s, groundwaters are included in the competence of some joint commissions and plenipotentiaries. The Agreement between the Russian Federation and Estonia of 1997 does not divide transboundary waters into surface waters and groundwaters, which allows the joint commission to deal with groundwater protection and management.

At the same time, the work of many joint bodies in the area of transboundary groundwaters is still insufficient – and this applies not only to the EECCA joint bodies. The staffs of joint bodies are often trained in the management of surface waters rather than groundwaters. Water supply from groundwaters and the licensing of water abstraction are not supervised by joint bodies.

The inventory of transboundary groundwaters in the Caucasus, Central Asia and South-Eastern Europe, done under the auspices of the Water Convention in 2007,[1] aims to contribute, inter alia, to the intensification of action on the management and protection of transboundary groundwaters by States and joint bodies in these subregions. In the EU Member States and neighbouring countries, implementation of the EU WFD is a driver for joint bodies to strengthen their work on transboundary groundwaters.


The following functions of joint bodies can be identified:

  • Coordination and advisory function, which includes coordination of and assistance to riparian States in their activities to implement the agreement.
  • Executive function, which includes direct activities of a joint body to implement the agreement.
  • Control of implementation and dispute settlement function, which includes monitoring of implementation, reporting on implementation, and settling differences and disputes.

The functions of joint bodies are defined by their tasks and powers. According to the Water Convention, the tasks of joint bodies shall be at least the following:

(a) To collect, compile and evaluate data in order to identify pollution sources likely to cause transboundary impact;

(b) To elaborate joint monitoring programmes concerning water quality and quantity;

(c) To draw up inventories and exchange information on the pollution sources likely to cause transboundary impact;

(d) To elaborate emission limits for waste water and evaluate the effectiveness of control programmes;

(e) To elaborate joint water-quality objectives and criteria, and to propose relevant measures for maintaining and, where necessary, improving the existing water quality;

(f) To develop concerted action programmes for the reduction of pollution loads from both point sources (e.g. municipal and industrial sources) and diffuse sources (particularly from agriculture);

(g) To establish warning and alarm procedures;

(h) To serve as a forum for the exchange of information on existing and planned uses of water and related installations that are likely to cause transboundary impact;

(i) To promote cooperation and exchange of information on the best available technology, as well as to encourage cooperation in scientific research programmes;

(j) To participate in the implementation of environmental impact assessments relating to transboundary waters, in accordance with appropriate international regulations.

Facilitating exchange of information on the best available technology

According to the Water Convention, the tasks of joint bodies shall include, inter alia, promoting cooperation and exchange of information on the best available technology. The Convention names several ways how Riparian Parties shall facilitate the exchange of best available technology. These ways are: the promotion of the commercial exchange of available technology; direct industrial contacts and cooperation, including joint ventures; the exchange of information and experience; and the provision of technical assistance.

A remarkable work to facilitate exchange of information on the best available technology has been done by the ICPDR. The ICPDR coordinated the development of recommendations on the best available techniques in the food industry (2000), the chemical industry (2000), the chemical pulping industry (2000), the paper making industry (2000), and at agro-industrial units (2004).

A recent example of the role a joint body can play in facilitating transfer of technology can be found in the Mekong River Commission. In 2008, this Commission opened a Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Center gathers information from water monitoring systems all over the Mekong Basin. It also provides training and technology transfer to technicians of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Vietnam.


The tasks listed in the Water Convention reflect the three major functions of joint bodies. The coordination and advisory function includes tasks (a), (d), (e), (f), (h) and (i). The executive function includes tasks (b), (c), (g) and (j). The control of implementation and dispute settlement function is partially present in task (d). At the same time, the difference between the coordination and advisory function and the executive function is sometimes not distinct and depends on the extent of participation of an individual joint body in the implementation of a certain task.

The Water Convention also provides for the tasks of joint bodies to cooperate with relevant joint bodies, established by coastal States for the protection of the marine environment, and to coordinate activities with other joint bodies in the same catchment area. It also requests Parties to conduct consultations through a joint body to develop cooperation regarding issues covered by the Convention.

To take into account the specifics and needs of a watercourse as well as purposes and priorities of States which enter into agreement and set up a joint body, the joint body may be entrusted with a wider set of tasks than those listed in the Water Convention.

In addition to the tasks listed in the Water Convention, a joint body may have for example the following tasks related to the coordination and advisory function:

  • To organize exchange of hydrological forecasts;
  • To coordinate the establishment of a unified information system;
  • To draft proposals on maintenance, restoration and protection of aquatic and littoral ecosystems;
  • To propose protective measures to prevent water pollution resulting from accidents;
  • To coordinate actions to prevent floods, as well as activities related to ice passage;
  • To take measures to fight consequences of temporary drought;
  • To develop River Basin Management Plans;
  • To draft proposals to improve the national legislation of riparian Parties with regard to transboundary waters;
  • To review and approve training programmes for the personnel of riparian States.

In addition to the tasks listed in the UNECE Water Convention, a joint body may also have for example the following tasks related to the executive function:

  • To issue permits for the construction of installations, for discharge of water and for fishing (among the tasks of the Finnish-Swedish Frontier Rivers Commission only);
  • To set the regime for large water reservoirs, to decide on the use of water management facilities;
  • To determine, in cooperation with border authorities, border-crossing procedures for personnel serving the water management facilities;
  • To make decisions providing conditions for safe navigation;
  • To implement environmental programmes;
  • To confer with donors to obtain the financial and technical support necessary for project/programme implementation.

Dispute Settlement

The control of implementation and dispute settlement function may include the following tasks and powers:

  • To perform a self-assessment and make recommendations concerning cooperation of Parties in accordance with the agreement;
  • To report regularly on the activities of the joint body (annually in ICPDR, ICPR, the International Commission on the Meuse/Maas, the International Commission for the Scheldt, the Sava Commission, the Mosel-Saar Commissions, the Finnish-Norwegian Transboundary Water Commission; once every two years in the Oder Commission), to report on monitoring and assessment and to provide other reports upon the request of the Parties;
  • To inform the public about the state of the watercourse and about activities of the joint body;
  • To put forward proposals regarding the amendment of the watercourse agreement and other arrangements between the Parties;
  • To facilitate the settlement of differences and disputes concerning interpretation and implementation of the agreement.

The common rule is that the joint bodies are the first institutions to discuss differences and disputes. Only in the case of a failure to settle a difference or a dispute through a joint body, should other means of dispute settlement be applied. For example, the Russian Federation-Belarus Commission has to “facilitate the settlement of disputed questions concerning the use and protection of transboundary waters”. The Russian Federation-Kazakhstan Commission has a similar task. Disputes concerning implementation of the Agreement not settled by this Commission shall be settled by negotiations at the level of Governments of the Parties. The Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation of 1992 entrusts the plenipotentiaries with addressing disputes concerning the interpretation and implementation of this Agreement. If the plenipotentiaries fail, the dispute should be settled by the competent authorities of the Parties. The Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (1994) requests Parties to seek a solution of a dispute by negotiation or by any other means of dispute settlement, “if appropriate” with assistance by ICPDR.

Disputes not settled by a joint body shall be settled by other peaceful means of dispute settlement. For example, the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin (2002) names such peaceful means as negotiations, good services, mediation or conciliation, a fact-finding expert committee, and referring the dispute to an arbitral tribunal or to the International Court of Justice.

Dispute Settlement: some examples

The activities of the Joint Finnish-Russian Commission, established by the Agreement between the Republic of Finland and the USSR Concerning Frontier Watercourses of 1964, are a classic example of the role that a joint body can play in regulating differences. The Commission actively participated in settling the issue of compensation for the losses incurred by the Finnish hydroelectric power station Imatra due to construction of a dam and a hydroelectric power station in Svetogorsk (the Russian Federation). Consideration of this issue by the Commission allowed for reaching an intergovernmental agreement in 1972. The Commission also developed Discharge Rule of Lake Saimaa and the Vuoksi River, laid down in the intergovernmental agreement of 1989. The Discharge Rule makes it possible to change discharge volumes rapidly and flexibly. Implementation of the Discharge Rule is supervised by the Commission, to which the Parties report on implementation, discuss implications and, in some cases, agree on compensation.

The most recent examples of settlements of differences and disputes include the referral to a neutral expert by Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) with regard to the points of differences concerning the project of Baglihar hydroelectric plant on the Chenab River in India. The referral followed the failure of the Permanent Indus Commission to settle differences. In 2007, a Swiss expert, appointed by the World Bank after consultation with the Parties, issued an expert determination concerning the key technical characteristics of the project.

Another example is the Case Concerning Pulp Mills on the Uruguay River (Argentina v. Uruguay), under consideration by the International Court of Justice since 2006. The case was initiated by Argentina under the Statute of the River Uruguay of 1975 and relates to construction by Uruguay of two pulp mills. In July 2006, the International Court of Justice called the Parties “to implement in good faith the consultation and cooperation procedures provided for by the 1975 Statute, with CARU (the Administrative Commission of the River Uruguay) constituting the envisaged forum in this regard”.


  1. Our Waters: Joining Hands across Borders. First Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters. ECE, United Nations, New York and Geneva, 2007.

See also

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Organization, rules of procedure & decision-making

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Public participation and Financing

Joint Bodies in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia/Cooperation

Intergovernmental transboundary waters agreements concluded with participation of EECCA countries from the beginning of the 1990s

International Law for the management, use and protection of transboundary watercourses and the establishment of Joint Bodies

International mechanisms for transboundary water cooperation

Establishment and improvement of Joint Bodies in countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia

Water-related Legislation and Conventions

External Resources


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