University of the District of Columbia Law Review


Sally Tyler


Occupying a mere 4.6 kilometers on the frontier betweenThailand and Cambodia, the temple of Preah Vihear maintains secondary importance in the pantheon of ancient Khmer architecture to the more celebrated complex at Angkor. Even so, it has been the source of tremendous conflict throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. This conflict claimed the lives of both civilians and soldiers in 2011, and forced the dislocation of tens of thousands of villagers. Encompassing questions of cultural heritage and border demarcation, Preah Vihear has grown as a symbol of identity and self-direction within both Thailand and Cambodia. The 1962 International Court of Justice ("ICJ") decision, which was meant to resolve the territorial issue, instead created ambiguities that led to more conflict, allowing political parties in both nations to manipulate the decision toward their own ends. A subsequent 2013 ICJ interpretation has set thes tage for the parties to develop a process to cooperatively manage the site and conflict surrounding it. The path taken by the two nations to achieve long-term resolution of the Preah Vihear conflict may serve as a bellwether for potential resolution of other regional conflicts within Southeast Asia, and as a measure of the ICJ's effectiveness in cases of transnational border conflict.

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