Document Type



Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy




In this article, Dean Getches examines the nature of international law as it relates to indigenous water rights and evaluates the kinds of claims that native peoples might assert when they are deprived of access to water. Around the world, indigenous peoples have experienced depletion or pollution of their traditional water sources caused by the uses made by dominant, non-native societies. As a result, native peoples' ability to perform water-dependent vocations like farming and fishing, and to perpetuate cultures and spiritual practices requiring water is limited. While a few countries recognize water rights of indigenous peoples in their domestic laws, the author focuses on the potential for asserting claims under international law, the primary source of protection where domestic law is lacking or non-existent. In a thorough assessment of the sources of law and types of water rights claims that can be made under international law, the author identifies six types of rights that exemplify ways in which claims can be framed and the various international law instruments and norms that can serve as the basis for those claims. However, because these claims are large and complex in nature, the assistance of lawyers and experts in international law is vital to efforts to advance the development of international law as an instrument for protecting indigenous water rights.


"This article was written with the support of and as a contribution to the international Water Law and Indigenous Rights project (WALIR). It is based on an article originally published online at WALIR is an academic and action-based program that reviews the extent to which national laws recognize indigenous and customary water management rules and rights. The project is coordinated by Wageningen University and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is implemented in co-operation with counterpart institutions in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, France, the Netherlands, and the United States."