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Cambodia and Thailand disputed for many years about ownership over a Temple of Preah Vihear. It started in the early 20th century when Thailand was a part of Siam, and Cambodia was a French colony. Initially, a Court decided that the Temple belongs to Siam. However, three years after, Cambodia demonstrated a new map proving that the ancient Temple belongs to it. This paper aims at exploring the case of the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v Thailand) Merits, ICJ Rep (1962) that lasts longer than all the other cases considered by the UN International Court of Justice.
As a result of thorough investigations, the Court ruled that the territory of the Temple of Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia. In this regard, the Court ordered Thailand to withdraw all military and police forces as well as other guards or keepers from the Temple and Cambodian adjacent territory as the so-called equidistance line was identified. Furthermore, the Court ordered Thailand to return all the items that were taken out of the Temple by Thai authorities since the occupation of the Temple in 1954.
At the same time, “the Court did not define the region under dispute or the Temple’s vicinity on Cambodian territory and the status of the Annex I map line in the operative clauses” (Ciorciari 2014, p. 290). The decision of 1962 stated the following significant regulation: the line of the border can be considered conclusively recognized as a result of the absence of objections of another country concerning the given territory for a long time. This phenomenon is denoted by the term of acquiescence that means a tacit consent and serves as the basis of the international law principle of estoppels.
Principle of Sovereignty
The case reflects a number of principles of international law including those of sovereignty, international responsibility, and peaceful settlement of international disputes. The first one refers to the dispute about the territorial sovereignty over the area where the Temple is located rather than to the delimitation of the border. The Court found that the subject of the dispute is the sovereignty of the promontory of Preah Vihear and that it extends according to the line on the map set out in Annex I (Rylatt 2013).
Therefore, the territory of Preah Vihear is under the sovereignty of Cambodia. This decision supports the principle of sovereignty as it protects the country’s identity along with its rights. According to one of the regulations of this principle, both territorial integrity and political independence of the countries are inviolable, and borders can be changed only by agreement and in accordance with international law. The states should respect the territorial integrity of each other and refrain from any action incompatible with the objectives and regulations of the UN Charter.
Principle of International Responsibility
This principle assumes that states should cooperate with each other in accordance with the objectives and tenets of the UN (Klabbers 2013). It promotes the development of cooperation, mutual understanding and confidence, and friendly relationships between the countries. Considering that Preah Vihear is a World Heritage site, both countries should cooperate with each other and with the international community in the protection of the Temple (Bjorge 2014). In addition, each state is obliged not to take any deliberate measures which might directly or indirectly damage it. Considering the commitments mentioned above, the Court accentuated the significance of providing access to the Temple from the side of Cambodia.
Principle of Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes
According to the principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes, the countries have an obligation to resolve their international disputes with other states using peaceful means avoiding infringement of international peace, security, and justice (Wolfrum, Seršić & Šošić 2015). The disputes should be resolved on the basis of sovereign equality. In this case, the countries selected the Court as a means of peaceful dispute resolution. The fact that they did not appeal to the armed confrontation also proves the adherence to the mentioned principle.
Application of Principles
Speaking of the application of the case principles, it should be mentioned that after the Court’s decision, Thailand brought its forces out of the Temple. However, it installed a fence of barbed wire that enclosed the Temple from the rest of the territory. The enclosure was installed on the map which was attached to the Resolution of Thailand Council of Ministers after the Court’s decision on the merits (Traviss 2012). However, this map was not represented to the Court.
Thailand believed that since the Court did not specify the term of the adjacent territory in paragraph two of its decision, then the country has the right to unilaterally determine the limits of this territory. In its turn, Cambodia protested against the Thai authorities’ presence in the Cambodian territory which was recognized by the Court. Cambodia also complained that the fence of barbed wire that was installed by Thailand comes far enough to this territory, violating the Court’s judgment.
Consequently, a dispute between the parties arose over the interpretation of the meaning and scope of the decisions made in 1962. At this point, Cambodia applied to the Court requesting their accurate interpretation in 2011. After that, the Court reaffirmed its decision that had been made earlier.
Thus, it is possible to note that the principles of international responsibility and sovereignty were not applied in an appropriate manner, while both countries successfully followed the principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the case of the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v Thailand) reflects the territorial proceedings. In the context of international law, it is essential to point out that the case clearly demonstrates several principles such as international responsibility, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and sovereignty. Even though not all of them were applied by the countries, the very attempt of peaceful resolution of the issue proves the adherence to the UN regulations that, in turn, shows the tendency to the global cooperation and promotion of international law.
Bjorge, E 2014, The evolutionary interpretation of treaties, Oxford UP, Oxford.
Ciorciari, JD 2014, ‘Request for interpretation of the judgment of 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand)’, The American Journal of International Law, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 288-295.
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Klabbers, J 2013, International Law, Cambridge UP, Cambridge.
Rylatt, JW 2013, ‘Provisional measures and the authority of the international Court of Justice: Sovereignty vs. efficiency’, Leeds Journal of Law and Criminology, vol. 1, no.1, pp. 45-69.
Traviss, AC 2012, ‘Temple of Preah Vihear: Lessons on provisional measures’, Chicago Journal of International Law, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 317-344.
Wolfrum, R, Seršić, M & Šošić, T 2015, Contemporary developments in international law, Brill, Boston.