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World Court Dismisses Djibouti Case Against France
AMSTERDAM, June 4, 2008 – France was not obliged to hand over to Djibouti details of a probe into the death of a French judge in the Red Sea state and did not infringe immunities by pursuing its officials, the top U.N. court ruled on Wednesday.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague rejected a case brought by Djibouti against its former colonial ruler in connection with the death of Bernard Borrel, whose charred corpse was found in Djibouti in 1995.
A French court last year ordered the trial of two close aides of Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has denied involvement, and accused France of politicizing the case.
Djibouti authorities initially said Borrel, who was working as a consultant at the country's Justice Ministry, had committed suicide. But Borrel's widow has accused high-ranking local officials of involvement in his death.
The Borrel case is sensitive for France because Djibouti is home to its biggest military base in Africa and because of fragile relations with its former African colonies.
A French magistrate sought last year to question Guelleh -- who at the time of Borrel's death was chief of staff for then-President Hassan Gouled Aptidone -- but under French law, as a serving head of state, he could not be made to testify.
International arrest warrants were also issued for two of Guelleh's aides: Public Prosecutor Djama Souleiman Ali and secret services head Hassan Said Khaireh.
Ali has dismissed allegations that Djiboutian authorities were involved in the judge's death and accused France of racism and continuing to behave like "old colonialists".
In 2006, Djibouti asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to resolve the dispute over France's refusal to hand over judicial records relating to the investigation and over its summons of "internationally protected nationals".
But the ICJ said in its ruling on Wednesday that France was not obliged under international law to transmit the case file, but had failed to meet its obligations by failing to give Djibouti its reasons for refusal to do so.
It ruled that France had not attacked Gulleh's immunity because he was only invited to testify, not obliged to do so.
In relation to the arrest warrants against Guelleh's aides, the court ruled: "There are no grounds in international law upon which it could be said that the officials concerned were entitled to personal immunities, not being diplomats."
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson)