Xayaburi Dam: How Laos Violated the 1995 Mekong Agreement

TitleXayaburi Dam: How Laos Violated the 1995 Mekong Agreement
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2013
Secondary TitleInternational Rivers (IR)
Place PublishedBerkeley
Key themesHydropower, Impact Assessment, Transboundary Governance

The Xayaburi Dam was the first significant test for the Mekong Agreement, a treaty signed in 1995 by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The treaty is intended to promote shared use and management of the river basin. Instead of cooperating with neighboring governments, however, Laos began implementing the Xayaburi Dam while Cambodia and Vietnam voiced concerns about the project’s transboundary impacts. Thailand remained silent through much of the dispute, but quietly financed the project and agreed to purchase its electricity. By November 2012, Laos’ and Thailand’s implementation of the project had advanced so far that Cambodia and Vietnam had little leverage left to raise concerns. Laos insists that the Xayaburi Dam complies with the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Few others have questioned this claim. Some in the region have even concluded that Laos is permitted to act however it chooses under the Agreement. In a new report, we examine the requirements of the Mekong Agreement in closer detail. On its surface, the text of the Agreement is often ambiguous. In an effort to seek greater clarity, we examine the requirements of the Mekong Agreement in its entirety. We also examine: (i) the historical record of the negotiations that describes what the parties intended when they drafted the Agreement; and (ii) international law that describes the meaning of the words that were carefully placed in the Agreement. In doing so, a clearer picture of the Mekong Agreement emerges. We find that Laos has misinterpreted the Mekong Agreement and failed to comply with several of its key requirements.


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Cambodia, Laos, Regional, Thailand, Vietnam

Document Type

Report (Legal Analysis)

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