ICJ gives landmark decision in favour of Cambodia

13 November, 2013

Sir Frank Berman QC was one of the lead counsel for Cambodia in the case against Thailand at the International Court of Justice over the Temple of Préah Vihear, where the Court has pronounced a unanimous Judgment in Cambodia’s favour. This is a ground-breaking case, in which the Court for the first time in its history has given a formal detailed decision as to how a prior Judgment should be interpreted, in this instance one dating back to 1962, in which the Court had decided that the Temple belonged to Cambodia.

The 900-year-old temple is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits on a 1,700-ft escarpment in the Dangrek Mountains, close to the border between Cambodia and Thailand. The border was settled by a Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1904, and marked on a series of maps drawn up between then and 1907, but there has been a long-standing rift between the two countries over where it runs in the Temple area, which Thailand had occupied before Cambodia gained its independence in 1953. The 1962 Judgment declared the Temple to be situated in Cambodian sovereign territory, and ordered Thailand to withdraw from its vicinity, but did not define the area concerned.

When serious hostilities erupted in the wake of UNESCO’s decision to list the Temple in 2008, claiming lives and damaging the Temple itself, and leading to the displacement of thousands of people, Cambodia returned to the International Court asking it to exercise a special jurisdiction under its Statute to interpret the 1962 Judgment. The Court has now decided that under the 1962 Judgment Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole promontory on which the Temple stands including the valley to its west, and terminating to the north at the 1907 map line.