International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Summer 2010 Issue

International Tribunal Spotlight


Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (which includes the “Rhine Court”)

Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine

By: Christine E. White, Copy Editor and Reporter, International Judicial Monitor



History & Structure

Spanning 766 miles and flowing from Switzerland to the Netherlands, the Rhine River is one of the most important waterways in Europe.  It “represents 80% of the European transport on inland waterways”[i] and carries 300 million tons of goods each year.  Given the importance of the Rhine, it comes as no surprise that the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR), an organization dedicated to protecting freedom of navigation and promoting navigation on the river, is the oldest international organization in existence. 

The CCNR’s inception dates back to the 1815 Congress of Vienna, held in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, which guaranteed freedom of navigation on many European rivers, including the Rhine.  The Mainz Convention formally established the CCNR on March 31, 1831 and put into effect the first laws governing navigation on the Rhine.  The Mannheim Convention of October,1868 replaced the Mainz Convention; a revised version of the Mannheim Convention was signed on November 29, 1963 in Strasbourg, France.  Additional protocols have been attached to the Convention since then.  The seat of the CCNR is in Strasbourg, where it has been located since 1920, pursuant to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

The working languages of the CCNR are German, English, French and Dutch.  It “has a hybrid structure, drawing both from an international diplomatic conference and a regular international organization.  It thus has two organs: the plenary session … and a permanent Secretariat.”[ii]  Additionally, the CCNR has a Chamber of Appeal to hear appeals arising from disputes over damages caused during navigation on the Rhine.  The annual budget of the CCNR is 1.6 million Euros, or roughly $2 million USD, and the costs are borne equally by the member states.

The Central Commission, also known as the Plenary Session or General Assembly, is composed of the representatives of the member states to the CCNR: Belgium; France; Germany; the Netherlands; and Switzerland.  Each state delegation has four Commissioners and two substitute Deputy-Commissioners.  The Presidency of the Central Commission rotates alphabetically among the member states every two years.  The current President is Geert van Keer (Belgium). 

The Secretariat is known as the “seat of the Rhine navigation tribunal.”  The eighteen staff members of the Secretariat are responsible for coordinating the administrative services for the fifty meetings held each year by the ten sub-committees and working groups of the CCNR.  The Secretariat also represents the CCNR at other international organizations.  The Secretary-General of the CCNR is Jean-Marie Woehrling (France).

Mission & Activity

On its most basic level, the mission of the CCNR is to ensure freedom of navigation on the Rhine and its tributaries.  However, the organization’s actual missions and competencies include the following: promote respect of the principles in the Mannheim Convention; “ensure the safety of navigation;” “strive for the unity of the Rhine system;” “promote the economical prosperity of the Rhine;” examine proposed amendments to the Convention; address complaints related to implementation and enforcement of the Convention; and administer social security for boatmen working on the Rhine.[iii]

The CCNR Commissioners meet biannually in the spring and fall to hold General Assembly meetings.  They pass unanimous decisions on “proposals concerning the prosperity of navigation on the Rhine, adoption of technical and administrative regulations concerning the safety of vessels … complaints arising from the application of the Mannheim Convention.[iv]  The resolutions passed by the General Assembly originate in the various meetings held by subcommittees and working groups.  The subcommittees and working groups, made up of experts appointed by member and observer states, work on various legal, economic, and technical issues ranging from police regulation to vessel inspection to the transportation of dangerous goods to budgetary matters. 

Other international bodies have adapted the Rhine regulations to fit the needs of their organizations, and the CCNR and the European Union have been working closely to harmonize regulations on European waterways.  For example, in November, 2002 the CCNR adopted an additional protocol that would allow it to recognize certificates for boats and the transportation of dangerous goods as well as boatmasters’ licenses issued by non-CCNR member states as being compliant with Rhine regulations.  In addition, on March 3, 2003, the CCNR and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, signed a cooperation agreement calling for the promotion and unification of inland water transport in Europe.

The CCNR offers both non-judicial and judicial remedies for disputes arising out of interpretation of the Mannheim Convention and enforcement of its regulations.   Individuals may bring a complaint before the Legal Committee of the CCNR if they disagree with the way in which a member state executed a particular regulation.  The member state receives an opportunity to respond, at which point the Legal Committee responds to the plaintiff with an interpretation of the rule.  Member states are also able to take advantage of this non-judicial remedy and file a complaint with the Legal Committee. 

As for judicial remedies, the Mannheim Convention requires that the member states designate trial courts and appellate courts as Rhine navigation tribunals to have jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters.  The CCNR has on file the national courts of each member state that are to act as Rhine navigation tribunals.  According to Article 37 of the revised Mannheim Convention,[v] when the amount in a dispute exceeds 20 special drawing rights,[vi] or $30 USD, the parties have the option of appealing to the CCNR or to the designated appellate court of the country where the initial judgment was handed down.  Appeals made to the CCNR are sent to the Chamber of Appeal.

Chamber of Appeal

Since the signing of the Mannheim Convention of 1868, parties to a dispute have been able to seek redress at the CCNR.  However, the decisions taken by the CCNR were not considered true court proceedings because the Secretariat prepared the decisions, which were then adopted by the Central Commission.  The revised Convention signed in Strasbourg in 1963 changed this situation and established an international court with jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters “to render judgment in cases of appeal brought before the Commission against the judgments of Rhine navigation tribunals of first instance” (Article 45).  The Central Commission was tasked with establishing the rules of procedure for the Chamber of Appeal.

The Central Commission appoints one judge and one substitute judge from each member state to serve for a period of six years.  All of the judges “must possess legal training or experience of Rhine navigation” (Article 45).  The judges act independently, without influence from their home governments.  The presiding judge and assistant presiding judge are elected by the other members of the Chamber of Appeal for renewable three year terms.  The current presiding judge is Wolfgang Ball (Germany).  Helene Gebhardt (France) is the assistant presiding judge.

In order to send a case to the Chamber of Appeal, the disputing party must file an appeal with the trial court that decided the case within thirty days of receiving the court’s judgment, indicating that an appellate decision is requested from the CCNR.  The original trial court completes the appeal application and sends it to the Chamber of Appeal.  As with the CCNR, the Chamber of Appeal’s working languages are French, German, English, and Dutch.  The Chamber meets as needed, usually a minimum of twice each year.  The judges deliberate after oral arguments and can opt to send the case back to the trial court for reexamination.  When the Chamber chooses to issue a judgment, the decision is written in the language of the trial court where the case originated.  Parties are notified of the judgment through the original trial court. 

The University of Mannheim, through its Institute for Inland Waterways Transport Law (Institut für Binnenschifffahrtsrecht), has maintained a website with all of the Chamber of Appeal’s decisions since March, 1968.  The decisions are accessible in their original language, the language of the trial court, French, German, and Dutch.  The vast majority of the Chamber’s decisions have been in German, an understandable fact give that the Rhine is the longest river in Germany and many plants and factories are located in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Duisburg, the location of Europe’s largest inland port.

[i] Cécile Tournaye, Central Commissions for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR), Reports on International Organizations – an American Society of International Law publication, (July 1, 2010).


[iii] Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, Missions and Competencies, (July 1, 2010).

[iv] Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, Functioning, (July 1, 2010).

[v] Additional Protocol No. 3 to the Revised Convention for Rhine Navigation of 17 October 1979.

[vi] “The SDR is an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement its member countries' official reserves. Its value is based on a basket of four key international currencies, and SDRs can be exchanged for freely usable currencies” (July 20, 2010)


« Back to the Home Page


ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2010 – The International Judicial Academy with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
IJM welcomes comments, suggestions, and submissions.
Please contact the IJM editor at