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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

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Cambodia initiates temple proceedings at the ICJ

(4 May 2011)

On 28 April 2011 Cambodia initiated proceedings against Thailand at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) through two applications. The first application requests an interpretation of the ICJ's 1962 decision in the Temple of Preah Vihear case involving Cambodia and Thailand. In that decision, the ICJ determined that the Temple of Preah Vihear was within Cambodian territory, but it did not specify the course of the boundary around the Temple site. Both sides have since disputed the course of the boundary around the site which has remained unmarked since the 1962 decision. Skirmishes between the two sides have gained intensity since Cambodia unilaterally submitted an application for World Heritage status in 2008. Many sections of the Cambodia-Thailand boundary are similarly unmarked on the ground and recent skirmishes have spread to two other disputed temples located in the border area.

In its 1962 decision the ICJ relied in part on a colonial-era map (the 'Annex I' map) that was produced following the work of a joint French and Siam (Thai) boundary commission. Cambodia has asked the ICJ to interpret its judgment and clarify if the map used by the Court should be recognised as the legally valid depiction of the boundary around the Temple. Consequently, Cambodia suggests that Thailand should withdraw any personnel from areas around the Temple that are shown on the map to be Cambodian territory. Thailand refutes Cambodia's claim that the boundary depicted on the Annex I map is the binding depiction of the boundary and instead suggests that the boundary should be drawn much closer to the Temple complex itself.

Given that skirmishes have broken out at two other temples along other unmarked sections of the boundary, the legal status of the Annex I map will be of great interest in defining other sections of the unmarked Cambodia-Thailand boundary. If the ICJ finds that the Annex I map does provide the legally valid depiction of the boundary around the Temple of Preah Vihear site, it is likely that the whole series of maps (of which the Annex I map is just one of eleven) could be considered to have gained similar legal validity along other boundary sections. As examined by the ICJ in the Temple of Preah Vihear case itself, the depiction of the boundary on maps can come into contention with the textual description of the line in relevant boundary treaties.

Cambodia filed an application simultaneously for the indication of provisional measures requesting the ICJ to demand that Thailand withdraw all its military forces from around the Temple of Preah Vihear and refrain from any acts in the area that might affect settlement of the dispute.

Source: International Court of Justice ‘Press Release: Cambodia files an Application requesting interpretation of the Judgment rendered by the Court on 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand) and also asks for the urgent indication of provisional measures’ Press Release No. 2011/14, 2 May 2011.