ICJ Rules for Cambodia on Temple Dispute

, The Asian Lawyer

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The International Court of Justice has ruled that Cambodia and not Thailand has sovereignty over the Temple of Preah Vihear, an 11th century Hindu temple.

The temple is an important historical symbol to both Cambodia and Thailand, and has been a point of contention between the two countries at numerous times over the past sixty years, including occasional military conflict.

The ICJ ruled that the temple was on Cambodian territory in a 1962 decision, but differing interpretations of that decision’s language allowed the dispute to carry on for another four decades.

At issue was what the court meant in its original judgment when it ordered Thailand to withdraw any troops stationed at the temple “or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory.” Thailand pulled back only from the immediate ruins of the temple but claimed the promontory on which it stands was Thai, not Cambodian, territory.

Cambodia, however, defined the border according to the 1904 map used by the ICJ in its 1962 ruling. That map, that drawn up by both France, Cambodia’s then-colonial ruler, and Thailand, showed the whole temple area, including promontory, as being in Cambodia.

The issue became more urgent after Cambodia applied to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2007 to have the temple named a World Heritage site. More intense troop clashes in early 2011 prompted Cambodia to request that the ICJ issue an interpretation of its 1962 decision.
 
In a Nov. 11 decision, the court said its previous ruling was intended to include the promontory as a part of Cambodian territory, and it ruled that Thai troops should again withdraw from that area. But the ICJ declined to rule on the broader dispute between the two countries regarding their national borders, saying that was beyond the scope of the original 1962 ruling.

Eversheds Singapore partner Rodman Bundy acted for the government of Cambodia, with support from the firm’s Paris office. Sir Franklin Berman QC, also represented the country in the dispute, as did Doughty Street Chambers barrister Amal Alamuddin.

Thailand was represented by Matrix Chambers barrister James Crawford SC, as well as Donald McRae, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, and Alain Pellet, a law professor at the University Paris Ouest, Nanterre-La Défense.

Email: tbrennan@alm.com.

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