Thailand Denounces the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention

Posted on June 30, 2011


At the 35th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee earlier this week, Thailand announced its intention to denounce the 1972 World Heritage Convention.  Suwit Khunkitti, head of the Thai delegation to the World Heritage Committee, declared that Thailand would resign as a member country to the Convention due to the Committee’s consideration of a Cambodian management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

The International Court of Justice awarded Cambodia the 11th century Hindu temple in 1962.  The temple has been a source of conflict since, and there has been increasing violence in the last couple of years (see here and here). Most recently, the countries have engaged in a highly political disagreement over a management plan for the temple.  Suwit Khunkitti, the Thai natural resources and environment minister, explained that Thailand had to remove itself from the Convention after the Committee ignored Thailand’s concern that its consideration of Cambodia’s management plan would complicate the ongoing Thai-Cambodian border dispute.  Suwit explained:

“(The Committee) ignored (Thailand’s concern) and they did not care about our sovereignty and territory.  They cared only about the conservation of the temple. Actually, we told them that if Cambodia withdraws its troops from the temple, the conservation can go ahead. The troop withdrawal will allow the conservation to be done. No one will interfere with it. No damages will be done if no one fires from the site.”

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressing her deep regret regarding Thailand’s withdrawal.  Yesterday, Abhisit shared the contents of the letter with journalists.  In part, Bokova wrote:

“The World Heritage Committee did not discuss the management plan of the Preah Vihear temple nor did it request for any reports to be submitted on its state of conservation. Moreover, it needs to be clarified that UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre never pushed for a discussion of the Management Plan by the Committee…  The decision of the World Heritage Committee on the Preah Vihear Temple World Heritage site in Cambodia only reaffirms the need to ensure the protection and conservation of the property from any damage.”

The letter further encourages the two countries to use the 1972 Convention as a tool to support conservation, sustainable development and dialogue, and that Thailand “will carefully consider its future course of action in respect of this important Convention and will continue to be an active participant in the international cooperation for the protection of the world’s outstanding heritage.”

Earlier CPAL posts on Preah Vihear: Designation of World Heritage Sites Not Always a Happy Occasion and Preah Vihear Temple Again in the Crossfire.

For more information on the denunciation: Thailand leaves UNESCO World Heritage Convention and UNESCO Director-General regrets the announcement of Thailand’s intention to denounce the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

Thank you to Rachel Payne for contributing this post.