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Temple of Preah Vihear

(Cambodia v. Thailand)
15 June 1962

By Jahnavi and Vishwanathan


 The Preah Vihear Temple more than being a unique

architectural masterpiece at the Thai-Cambodian border is also
a source of an endless dispute between both countries.
 The issue concern the sovereignty over the Temple and its
surrounding area.

 The temple was built at the top of Pey Tadi, a steep cliff in the Dângrêk Mountain
range which are the natural border between Thailand and Cambodia.
 The Temple was listed by Thailand as being in Bhumsrol village of Bueng Malu sub-
district (now merged with Sao Thong Chai sub-district), in Kantharalak district of
the Sisaket Province of eastern Thailand.
 The Temple was also listed by Cambodia as being in Svay Chrum Village, Kan Tout
Commune, in Choam Khsant District of Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia. The
temple is 140 km from Angkor Wat and 625 km from Phnom Penh.

 Construction of the first temple on the site began in the early 9th century; both then and
in the following centuries it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in his manifestations
as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara
 The earliest surviving parts of the temple, however, date from the Koh Ker period in the
early 10th century, when the empire's capital was at the city of that name.
 Today, elements of the Banteay Srei style of the late 10th century can be seen, but most of
the temple was constructed during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1006–
1050) and Suryavarman II (1113–1150).
Facts of the Case

 In 1904, Siam and the French colonial authorities ruling Cambodia formed a joint
commission to demarcate their mutual border to largely follow the watershed line of
the Dângrêk mountain range, which placed nearly all of Preah Vihear temple on
Thailand's side.
 In 1907, after survey work, French officers drew up a map to show the border’s
location. However, the resulting topographic map, which was sent to Siamese
authorities and used in the 1962 (ICJ) ruling, showed the line deviating slightly
from the watershed without explanation in the Preah Vihear area, placing all of the
temple on the Cambodian side.
Facts Continued

 Following the withdrawal of French troops from Cambodia in 1954, Thai forces
occupied the temple to enforce their claim.
 Cambodia protested and in 1959 asked the International Court of Justice to rule
that the temple and the surrounding land lay in Cambodian territory.
 The case became a volatile political issue in both countries. Diplomatic relations were
severed, and threats of force were voiced by both governments.
Core Issues

 The Sovereignty of the Temple was to be determined based on the Following –

 Geography
 Treaty Law
 Effective Control
 Culture and Historical Claim

 Throughout history, it is the most common method to divide territories. ( Example-

Indus River)
 Thailand constantly claimed that access to the temple was intended from their side as
the Cambodian portion of the mountains were almost impossible to traverse through.
 However it was clear that since the 730 kilometer long border was defined in 1907 by
the placement of only 73 border markers, the exact location of the border was widely
open to interpretation by both neighbors.
Treaty Law

 The origin of this controversy can be found in the Convention of 13 February 1904 and
the Treaty of 23 March 1907 between France and Siam (what was formerly known as
Thailand) concerning the Return of Battambang and Angkor to Cambodia.
 The Convention of 1904 set up a first Franco-Siamese Mixed Commission which was in
charge to delimit the frontier. It established the general character of the frontier.
 However a further boundary settlement under the Treaty of 23 March 1907 brought
various districts within Cambodia which became the new frontier region.
Effective Control

 Which party had ‘Uncontested Administration of the Temple and its Surroundings’.
 Use of this Principle in Property Law
 The court believed that the administration that Thailand enacted over the region were
negligible and not sufficient to assert a concrete territorial claim.
 However it was clear that since the 730 kilometer long border was defined in 1907 by
the placement of only 73 border markers, the exact location of the border was widely
open to interpretation by both neighbors.
Historical and Cultural Claim

 The Temple epitomizes the Hindu mythology inherited from the glorious past of the
Khmer civilization.
 It has been an important place of worship for both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims from
Cambodia who have attached a spiritual and high moral values to it.

 Australian judge Sir Percy Spender wrote a scathing dissent for the minority on the
court, however, pointing out that the French government had never mentioned Thai
"acquiescence" or acceptance at any time, not even when Thailand stationed military
observers at the temple in 1949.
 On the contrary, France always insisted that their map was correct and the temple was
located on their side of the natural watershed (which it clearly is not).
Dissent Continued

 Thailand had modified its own maps, which in Spender's opinion was sufficient
without having to protest to France. Spender said:
 “Whether the Mixed Commission did or did not delimit the Dangrek, the truth, in my
opinion, is that the frontier line on that mountain range is today the line of the watershed.
The Court however has upheld a frontier line which is not the line of the watershed, one
which in the critical area of the Temple is an entirely different one. This finds its justification
in the application of the concepts of recognition or acquiescence. With profound respect
for the Court, I am obliged to say that in my judgment, as a result of a misapplication of
these concepts and an inadmissible extension of them, territory, the sovereignty in which,
both by treaty and by the decision of the body appointed under treaty to determine the
frontier line, is Thailand's, now becomes vested in Cambodia.”
Reactions of the Judgement

 Thailand reacted angrily.

 It announced it would boycott meetings of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization,
with Thai officials saying this step was to protest a U.S. bias toward Cambodia in the
dispute. As evidence, Thai officials cited the pro-Cambodia vote of an American judge
on the court and Acheson’s role as Cambodia’s advocate; the U.S. government replied
that Acheson was merely acting as a private attorney, engaged by Cambodia. Mass
demonstrations were staged in Thailand protesting the ruling.
 Thailand eventually backed down and agreed to turn the site over to Cambodia.
Rather than lower the Thai national flag that had been flying at the temple, Thai soldiers
dug up and removed the pole with it still flying.
A Ray of Hope?

 In January 1963, Cambodia formally took possession of the site in a ceremony

attended by around 1,000 people.
 Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia’s leader, walked up the cliff in less than an hour, then
made offerings to Buddhist monks. He made a gesture of conciliation in the ceremony,
announcing that all Thais would be able to visit the temple without visas, and that
Thailand was free to keep any antiquities it may have taken away from the site.
Cambodian Civil War

 Civil war began in Cambodia in 1970. Soldiers loyal to the Lon Nol government
in Phnom Penh continued to hold it long after the plain below fell to communist forces.
Tourists were able to visit from the Thai side during the war.
 The Khmer Rouge made several unsuccessful attempts to capture the temple, then
finally succeeded on May 22, 1975 by shelling the cliff, scaling it and routing the
 It was said to be the last place in Cambodia to fall to the Khmer Rouge.
Legal Issues after the Case

 Article 60 of the ICJ - The judgment is final and without appeal. In the event of dispute
as to the meaning or scope of the judgment, the Court shall construe it upon the request
of any party.
 However, a party may request an interpretation but the party must be specific with
the details that require clarification.
More Recently

 A military clash occurred in October 2008.

 In April 2009, 66 stones at the temple allegedly were damaged by Thai soldiers firing
across the border.
 In February 2010, the Cambodian government filed a formal letter of complaint
with Google Maps for depicting the natural watershed as the international border instead
of the line shown on the 1907 French map used by the International Court of Justice in
 In February 2011, when Thai officials were in Cambodia negotiating the dispute, Thai and
Cambodian troops clashed, resulting in injuries and deaths on both sides.[ Artillery
bombardment in the area occurred during the conflict. The Cambodian government has
claimed that damage occurred to the temple.
Interpretation made in 2013

 “[D]eclares, by way of interpretation, that the Judgment of 15 June 1962 decided that
Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the promontory of Preah Vihear […]
and that, in consequence, Thailand was under an obligation to withdraw from that
territory the Thai military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, that were stationed
 The International Court of Justice here slightly clarified the situation. The 2013 interpretation
confirmed Cambodia’s sovereignty over the Temple but also defined the disputed area
and thus the expression ‘vicinity’ of the Temple as the whole territory of the promontory.
The Court said that back in 1962 it “did not address the issue of sovereignty of any other
area beyond the limits of the promontory of Preah Vihear”

 The court also urged both the parties to cooperate to protect the site and not take
deliberate measures that will lead to it being damaged.