Mainland Southeast Asia’s two major international rivers – the Mekong and Salween – are central to the food security, livelihoods and culture of millions of people.


  • Policy Brief: coming soon

Further information

Presentation about “Environment and Human Rights” 

Contact Dr Carl Middleton for further details.

Project Status: Complete

Transboundary Rivers: Arenas of Justice

Increasingly fulfilled plans for large hydropower dam construction, whilst generating seemingly cheap electricity, place environmental and social costs on to affected communities whose substantive and procedural human rights are often threatened.

There is growing recognition of the relationship between the environment and human rights. In 2012, the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment argued that these are: substantive obligations; procedural obligations; and an obligation to take account of groups who may have particular vulnerabilities to environmental harm. In addition, recent developments in international human rights law have furthered the principles of extra territorial obligations (ETOs). Both are relevant to cross-border investments in large hydropower projects.

In Southeast Asia, the Thai National Human Commission (TNMC) and Malaysian National Human Commission (Suhakam) are currently considering cases submitted by affected riparian communities on the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams respectively on the Mekong River in Laos. The TNMC is also investigating the Hat Gyi Dam on the Salween River, Myanmar. These are potentially important cases for affirming the right to the environment. Within ASEAN, these cases are also important to furthering the principle of extra-territorial obligations (ETOs).

In 2014, the International Watercourse Law entered into force, although how it relates to international human rights law remains poorly defined. Regarding natural resource management and hydropower, meanwhile, the concept of the “food-water-energy nexus” (the nexus) is emerging as an important research and policy agenda, although it has been critiqued for insufficiently considering human rights and justice.

This research therefore addresses the question: “How can a “nexused rights-based approach” to water governance on transboundary rivers further the protection of the human rights of riparian communities in Southeast Asia beyond existing water governance based on the International Watercourse Law?” The research goal is to strengthen accountability of large hydropower construction on transboundary rivers through a rights-based approach, and to identify and reinforce “arenas of justice” through which accountability may be achieved.

The project is financially supported by the SHAPE-SEA program, which is a collaboration of the ASEAN University Network-Human Rights Education (AUN-HRE) and the Southeast Asian Human Rights Studies Network (SEAHRN). The SHAPE-SEA program is hosted by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) of Mahidol University, Thailand, and it is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)