The following is my preface to a short e-book regarding the dispute over the sovereignty of the temple of Preah Vihear (as it is called by the Cambodians) or Khao Phra Viharn (as it is known by the Thais).
My initial thoughts were that Thailand, having lost a court case in the international arena in 1962 was simply refusing to honour the spirit of that decision.
Thai nationalists claimed the area around the temple had been stolen by way of a biased court during the tumultuous years of the Cold War. They suggested the eminent jurists charged with making a fair and impartial decision had been influenced by the geo-political landscape of the period, not by the merits of the case.
Having read the oft-repeated but usually summarised International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision, made in 1962, the only conclusion that could be reached was Cambodia had triumphed fair and square in a legal battle with her much larger and stronger neighbour.
I kept thinking Thailand was acting like the schoolyard bully, determined to have its way and sulking and pouting until it achieved this aim.
So, I decided to try and obtain as much primary source information about the case as I could, study it, and, hopefully, put forward a cogent argument to dispel the erroneous Thai belief that they had somehow been cheated out of what was rightfully theirs.
By the time I read all the various submissions and the lengthy legal opinions penned both for and against the ICJ decision by five of the judges who sat on the case, I changed my mind.
I am now of the firm belief the ICJ erred in its decision to award Cambodia sovereignty over Preah Vihear.
Of course, this is only my personal opinion. It doesn’t make me right, nor, for that matter, does it make me wrong. Had the ICJ jurists found unanimously in favour of Cambodia, I doubt I would ever have considered an alternative point of view.
Yet, three especially prominent members of the panel saw fit to disagree with their peers.
Interestingly, all three were non-Europeans: a Chinese, Argentinian, and Australian. Given their national histories, it might have been expected they would support the ‘underdog’ Cambodia; instead, they favoured Thailand.
The nine judges who favoured Cambodia applied a Latin phrase which translates as ‘he who keeps silent is held to consent if he must and can speak’. This was the central premise on which they based their rejection of Thailand’s arguments.
The nine judges claimed Thailand’s failure to protest the inaccuracy of a map purporting to show the international boundary with Cambodia constituted tacit acceptance of the line as established by a 1904 Treaty.
For me, as for the three dissenting judges, it was the discovery of an important and salient mapping error that turned the tide in favour of Thailand. This error, which was only uncovered because of the court case, put a completely different slant, as far as I was concerned, on the end result of the case.
In what follows I have tried to disseminate as impartially as possible the important points made by all the judges, both for and against the decision.
Find the e-book here: