Thailand’s lead lawyer brought four days of hearings, thousands of pages of documents and hours of oral arguments at the International Court of Justice over territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple to a close on Friday by travelling back to where everything started.
“It is Thailand’s sincere wish to come to terms with the legacy of Southeast Asia’s colonial past,” Thai ambassador to The Hague and lead lawyer Virachai Plasai said in his closing remarks on Friday.
Lawyers for Cambodia and Thailand each had two days to put forth their positions on claims to the contested 4.6-square kilometres of land to the northwest of the temple.
Though Thailand was never colonised, the remarks about colonial legacy are not far off the mark. When judges make a decision at the end of this year about the border land surrounding the hilltop ruin, the ruling will likely depend on how much import they give to a map that is more than 100 years old.
Drawn up in the early 1900s, the French map, referred to as Annex I, placed Preah Vihear outside of Thailand and was used in the court’s 1962 decision to award the temple to Cambodia. After fatal clashes in 2008 through 2011 following the temple’s listing as a World Heritage site, Cambodia asked the court to reinterpret that decision.
In the hearings, Thailand argued that the map was not intended to serve as the border. Cambodia came back with the exact opposite reasoning.
“The general obligation,” said Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, speaking in French before the court on Thursday, “[is to] continue to respect the territorial integrity of Cambodia, territory delimited in the region of the temple and its surroundings by the line of the Annex 1 map...”
The decision is expected in October or November.
Whatever the ruling, Thai political writer Kavi Chongkittavorn said in an interview that the court’s live stream had “an immediate impact of unifying the polarised Thais”.