Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear

Judgment of 15th June 1962

Background

  • Subject in dispute is the sovereign territory of the Temple of Preah Vihear (located in the eastern part of the Dangrek mountains).
  • The location stands on a mountain range on the boundary of Cambodia and Thailand.
  • The Temple of Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. It is an UNESCO world heritage site, calling the temple “an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture.”

Case

  • The case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear between Thailand and Cambodia at the International Court of Justice was initiated by the government of Cambodia in 1959.
  • In 1961, following objections from Thailand, the court judged that it had jurisdiction over this matter.
  • In 1904, France (then ruling Cambodia) and Siam (now known as Thailand) made a treaty to clarify the states’ borders to follow the watershed line (which would place most of Preah Vihear province in Thailand’s territory). This treaty established officers from both sides, known as the first Mixed Commission, to delimiting the territory between the countries.
  • The final stage of the Mixed Commission was to prepare maps. In 1907, four French officers (three of which were part of the Mixed Commission) were assigned to prepare a series of eleven maps forming the borders of Cambodia and Thailand. This was at the request of the Thai Government, as they did not possess the technical means to map the region. The map concerning the region of Preah Vihear placed the Temple of Preah Vihear on Cambodia’s side.
  • It is this map that Cambodia primarily claims sovereignty over the Temple. Cambodia argue that as the map had been accepted by Thailand, and entered into the treaty, Cambodia have ownership over the Temple. Thailand disagreed and denied accepting the map, arguing that they agreed to the 1904 treaty that specifies territory would follow the watershed line in the text, and that following this line, the Temple belongs to Thailand. They also argued that if they did accept the map, it would have been on the mistaken belief that the map corresponded with the watershed line (as according to the text of the treaty).
  • The map of the region of Preah Vihear, called Annex I, was never formally approved by the Mixed Commission. The Court mentioned that on its creation, Annex I had no binding character.
  • There are records however, that Annex I was shown to the Thailand government. As there was no response about this issue, it must mean that they agree to it.
  • Annex I was also shown to the Thai members of the Mixed Commission, who said nothing. The Thai Minister of the Interior at the time thanked the French minister for them. The Court mentioned that as the Thai authorities accepted the map without investigation, they could not now plead their consent was in error.
  • In 1934 and 1935 a survey revealed the difference between Annex I and the text of the treaty, with Annex I showing that the Temple is part of Cambodia, and the text (following the watershed lines) that the Temple is part of Thailand. Regardless of this, Thailand continued to use and publish maps showing that Preah Vihear being part of Cambodia. 
  • In 1925, 1937 and 1947 there were France-Thailand treaties and meetings, Thailand did not raise any issue regarding the territory of Preah Vihear. The natural implication of this is that Thailand did not have any issue with the territory belonging to Cambodia.
  • It was only until 1958 that Thailand raised a query about the Annex I map in its negotiations with Cambodia. Annex I was completed in 1907. This is more than fifty years since the map was completed.
  • The Court stated that the acceptance of Annex I entering into the treaty settlement meant that the parties had at that time adopted the interpretation of the treaty which caused the map to prevail over the text. The Court stated there was no reason to think otherwise as no objection or special importance to the line was mentioned at the time.
  • Following Cambodia’s independence in November 1953, Thailand occupied the Temple of Preah Vihear in 1954. After unsuccessful negotiations between the two parties, the case was taken to the International Court of Justice at the request of Cambodia in 1959.

 

Judgment

  • My nine votes to three, the Court found that the Temple of Preah Vihear was situated in Cambodian territory, and that Thailand are obliged to withdraw any forces, military or otherwise, stationed in and around the Temple.
  • By seven votes to five, the Court found that Thailand is under an obligation to return any sculptures, ancient pottery or artifacts to Cambodia since the date of occupation of the Temple by Thailand in 1954.

 

Further reading:

http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/151/17716.pdf

International Court of Justice