Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 15 June 1962 in the Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand) (Cambodia v. Thailand)
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Overview of the case
On 28 April 2011, the Kingdom of Cambodia submitted to the Court, by an Application filed in the Registry, a Request for interpretation of the Judgment rendered by the Court on 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand). In that Judgment, the Court had ruled that “the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” and that “Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any military . . . forces . . . stationed . . . at the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory”. In 2008, on Cambodia’s request, the Temple was included on the list of World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Following that inclusion, several armed incidents took place between the Parties in the frontier area close to the Temple. On the same day that it filed its Application, Cambodia, stressing the urgency and the risk of irreparable damage, also filed a Request for the indication of provisional measures. In its Order of 18 July 2011 on that Request, the Court ruled that it could exercise its power under Article 41 of the Statute and indicated provisional measures requiring, among other things, both Parties to withdraw their military personnel from a “provisional demilitarized zone” surrounding the Temple, as defined in the Order. In that Order, the Court observed in particular that “a difference of opinion or views appears to exist between [the Parties] as to the meaning or scope of the 1962 Judgment” and that “this difference appears to relate” to three specific aspects of the said Judgment : first, to the meaning and scope of the phrase “vicinity on Cambodian territory” used in the second paragraph of the operative clause of the Judgment ; next, to the nature of the obligation imposed on Thailand in the second paragraph of the operative clause of the Judgment, to “withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers”, and, in particular, to the question of whether this obligation is of a continuing or an instantaneous character ; and, finally, to the question of whether the Judgment did or did not recognize with binding force the line shown on the Annex I map as representing the frontier between the two Parties.
On 21 November 2011, within the time-limit fixed for this purpose, Thailand filed written observations on the Request for interpretation submitted by Cambodia. The Court then decided to afford each of the Parties the opportunity of furnishing further written explanations, pursuant to Article 98, paragraph 4, of the Rules of Court. It fixed 8 March 2012 and 21 June 2012 as the respective time-limits for the filing of such explanations by Cambodia and by Thailand. Those pleadings were filed within the time-limits thus prescribed. In accordance with the same provision, the Court also decided to afford the Parties the opportunity of furnishing further oral explanations at hearings held in April 2013. Following the conclusion of those hearings, the Court began its deliberation.
In the Judgment delivered by it on 11 November 2013, the Court recalled that Cambodia’s Request for interpretation was made by reference to Article 60 of the Statute, which provides that “[i]n the event of dispute as to the meaning or scope of [a] judgment, the Court shall construe it upon the request of any party”. After examining whether the conditions indicated in Article 60 were satisfied, the Court concluded that there was a dispute between the Parties as to the meaning and scope of the 1962 Judgment. The Court then turned to the interpretation of the 1962 Judgment. In determining the meaning and scope of the operative clause of the original Judgment, the Court first pointed out that, in accordance with its practice, it would have regard to the reasoning of that Judgment to the extent that it sheds light on the proper interpretation of the operative clause. The Court noted that the principal dispute between the Parties concerned the territorial scope of the second operative paragraph, namely the territorial extent of the “vicinity” of the Temple of Preah Vihear.
The Court considered that, in view of the reasoning in the 1962 Judgment, seen in the light of the pleadings in the original proceedings, the second operative paragraph of the 1962 Judgment required Thailand to withdraw from the whole territory of the promontory any Thai personnel stationed on that promontory at the time. Accordingly, the Court found that the term “vicinity on Cambodian territory” had to be construed as extending at least to the area where a police detachment had been stationed at the time of the original proceedings. The Court observed that that finding was confirmed by a number of other factors, and in particular by the fact that the area around the Temple is located on an easily identifiable geographical feature, namely a promontory. In the east, south and southwest, the promontory descends by a steep escarpment to the Cambodian plain. The Parties were in agreement in 1962 that this escarpment, and the land at its foot, were under Cambodian sovereignty in any event. To the west and north-west, the land drops in a slope, less steep than the escarpment but nonetheless pronounced, into the valley which separates Preah Vihear from the neighbouring hill of Phnom Trap, a valley which itself drops away in the south to the Cambodian plain. The Court considered that Phnom Trap lay outside the disputed area and the 1962 Judgment did not address the question whether it was located in Thai or Cambodian territory. Accordingly, the Court considered that the promontory of Preah Vihear ends at the foot of the hill of Phnom Trap, that is to say, where the ground begins to rise from the valley.
In the Court’s view, the reasoning followed in the 1962 Judgment showed that the Court considered that Cambodia’s territory extended in the north as far as the line on the map annexed to Cambodia’s pleadings in the original proceedings (the “Annex I map”), which the Parties had accepted. Accordingly, the Court found that, in the north, the limit of the promontory is the Annex I map line, from a point to the north-east of the Temple where that line abuts the escarpment to a point in the north-west where the ground begins to rise from the valley, at the foot of the hill of Phnom Trap.
The Court then examined the relationship between the second operative paragraph and the rest of the operative part. It considered that the territorial scope of the three operative paragraphs is the same : the finding in the first paragraph that “the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” must be taken as referring, like the second and third paragraphs, to the promontory of Preah Vihear.
Lastly, the Court observed that the Temple of Preah Vihear is a site of religious and cultural significance for the peoples of the region and is now listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In this respect, the Court recalls that under Article 6 of the World Heritage Convention, to which both States are parties, Cambodia and Thailand must co-operate between themselves and with the international community 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. In the context of these obligations, the Court emphasized the importance of ensuring access to the Temple from the Cambodian plain.
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