When you look at the role of antiquities for Cambodia’s place in the world, not only for the tourism industry, but for the link the old temples represent for Cambodians with their own cultural heritage, their importance transcends even politics.
So says Bretton Sciaroni, who has been a legal advisor for four out of the last five Cambodian delegations to the World Heritage Committee, since 2008.
“This issue rises above politics for Cambodians. Cambodia has a rich cultural history which can be seen in all the temple complexes and traditional Khmer dance. The fact that we have the World Heritage Committee meeting this year shows that issues of cultural heritage rise above politics, something all Cambodians appreciate regardless of political affiliations,” Sciaroni said.
The American legal advisor and senior partner of Sciaroni & Associates says the fact that Cambodia agreed to host the World Heritage Committee in the middle of an election year shows how important it is to Cambodia’s leaders.
“Cambodia has wanted to host the annual meeting of WHC for a number of years but circumstances didn’t permit it until this year. The great amount of interest that Cambodia has in the protection of cultural heritage can be seen in the fact that Cambodia agreed to host the WHC meeting in the middle of an election year, when many government officials are focused on the elections,” Sciaroni said.
Sciaroni has been personally involved in the dispute with Thailand over Preah Vihear since it was inscribed as a World Heritage site.
“In 1962 the International Court of Justice clearly stated that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia. The Thais dispute the maps that were used in the decision and the Thais say they own the land up to the temple.The maps used in 1962 clearly show where the border is,” Sciaroni said.
“I am very optimistic that Cambodia will prevail. Hearings were held in April in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the decision will be published by this fall,” he said.
He said Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had help improve relations between Thailand and Cambodia.
“Since Yingluck Shinawatra became Prime Minister, despite this controversy, relations with the Thais have improved and we hope that the International Court of Justice decision will settle this issue once and for all,” Sciaroni said.
Sciaroni’s own firm has been involved in the return of ancient statues removed from Cambodia during the 1970s. Sciaroni’s colleague and Managing Partner Matthew Rendall is serving as a witness for the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York to provide legal analysis and historical research.
On behalf of Cambodia, the US Attorney’s office has filed suit say the statue was a looted artifact.
Famous auction house Sotheby’s had been preparing to auction the statue, which originated in the Koh Ker Temple in Preah Vihear Province, on behalf of Belgian clients who had possession of it.
“Sotheby’s said they had no idea it was a looted artifact,” Sciaroni said. “Somebody had to get a truck in there to get it out.”
Sciaroni said his firm works for the Cambodian government on many different issues.
“Our firm has always had a commitment to Cambodia larger than just servicing our clients and we work with the government on many different issues. Cambodia’s hosting of the World Heritage Committee is a great chance to showcase Cambodia to the world to thousands of people who have never been here before, and they will be able to go back to their respective countries and speak knowledgeably about what a wonderful place Cambodia is to visit. Whenever we can get people to visit Cambodia, everybody wins,” Sciaroni said.