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ICJ opens hearing in Thailand-Cambodia border dispute

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] on Monday heard oral arguments in the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over land surrounding the Temple of Preah Vihear [UNESCO profile]. The ICJ awarded [judgment, PDF] the temple to the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh in 1962. However, parts of the Cambodia-Thailand border have never been formally demarcated, resulting in violent military clashes since 2008. Cambodia's ownership of the temple itself has never been contested [Bangkok Post report], but both nations lay claim to a 4.6 square kilometer patch of land on the joint border reportedly not covered by the ICJ's ruling. Thailand has long argued that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to decide the border dispute. However, in April 2011 the Cambodian government petitioned [JURIST report] the ICJ to clarify the 1962 ruling in order to "peacefully and definitely settle the boundary problem..." after a series of violent clashes left 28 dead. In response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed [statement] that the dispute could not be resolved through military force and urged both sides to work towards a ceasefire. In July 2011 the ICJ ordered [JURIST report] both nations to immediately withdraw military personnel from the disputed area, however, both nations delayed replacing soldiers with police and security guards until July 2012. The ICJ is expected to rule on the dispute in October.

The area surrounding the Temple of Preah Vihear has been contested [ICJ backgrounder] for more than a century, dating back to maps drawn after French colonial disengagement in the early 1900's. The temple, now partially in ruins, stands on a promontory of the Dangrek mountain range, which generally constitutes the boundary between Cambodia and Thailand. The dispute first arose between French settlements involved with Indo-China, and the Siam government. The parties entered into various treaties attempting to delimit the border along the mountain range, one of which placed the temple itself in Cambodia. By the 1950's, the Thai government had yet to contest the delimitation, and continued to publish maps placing the temple in Cambodia. The ICJ thus affirmed Cambodia's sovereignty over the temple in 1962. Cambodia's border with Vietnam has also been a point of controversy. In 2011, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy lost his final appeal in the Cambodian Supreme Court on charges [JURIST reports] of intentionally destroying posts marking the Cambodia-Vietnam border and inciting racial discrimination.

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