UN court rules for Cambodia in Preah Vihear temple dispute with Thailand

View of the courtroom at the opening of the ICJ hearings in the Temple of Preah Vihear case between Cambodia and Thailand. ns and agencies. Credit: UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek

11 November 2013 – The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) today ruled that Cambodia has sovereignty over the whole territory of the Preah Vihear temple, and that Thailand is obligated to withdraw its military personnel from the area.

Following Cambodia’s independence, Thailand occupied the 900-year-old Hindu temple in 1954. The temple and its vicinity have long been a bone of contention between the neighbours and have in recent years led to deadly clashes between them.

In a June 1962 judgment, the ICJ found that the temple is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia, and that Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, stationed at the Temple or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory.

In April 2011, Cambodia requested the ICJ to interpret the 1962 Judgment, arguing that while Thailand recognizes Cambodia’s sovereignty over the temple itself, it does not appear to recognize the sovereignty of Cambodia over the vicinity of the temple.

In its decision today, the Court declared unanimously that the 1962 Judgement decided that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear, and that Thailand is obligated to withdraw its forces from that territory.

It also affirmed that the temple, which was inscribed in 2008 on the World Heritage List drawn up by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is a site of religious and cultural significance for the peoples of the region.

In this respect, the Court recalled that Cambodia and Thailand – which are both parties to the World Heritage Convention – must cooperate in the protection of the site as a world heritage. In addition, each State is under an obligation not to “take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly” such heritage.

Established in 1945 under the UN Charter, the ICJ – sometimes referred to as the World Court – settles legal disputes between States and gives advisory opinions on legal questions that have been referred to it by authorized UN organs or specialized agencies.

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