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France Says It Has No Obligation To Hand Over File On Judge's Death To Djibouti
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, January 24, 2008 – France has no obligation to give Djibouti evidence it has gathered in an investigation into the mysterious death of a French judge in the African country, its lawyers argued before the World Court Thursday.
What began as a potential criminal investigation in 1995 has risen to the U.N.'s highest court
for resolving disputes between nations, as Djibouti demands access to court papers from its former colonial master while France insists it has no reason to hand them over.
The case is sensitive because a French court has summoned government officials in Djibouti, including the country's president, to testify as witnesses in their investigation into the possible murder of Bernard Borrel.
«Apart from the judicial aspects of this case, we are speaking of the murder of a man, the suffering of a family,» said Edwige Belliard, representing France.
Djibouti , a former French territory on the Horn of Africa, brought the case at the court, arguing earlier this week that France is violating international law by withholding evidence about Borrel's death.
It said that a 1986 bilateral convention on mutual assistance in legal matters obliges France to turn over an investigating judge's dossier into the Borrel case.
But Belliard, director of legal affairs at France's foreign ministry, said France can refuse the request on the grounds that the dossier contains «classified material.
“The right to refuse, under certain conditions, the communication of a file seems ... established incontrovertibly in the convention of 1986,” Belliard said.
Borrel was acting as an adviser to Djibouti's Justice Ministry when the charred remains of his body were found in October 1995.
An initial Djibouti investigation ruled the death a suicide, but his widow pushed French authorities into opening an investigation that concluded he was likely murdered.
Borrel's widow Elisabeth says that if France is not allowed to finish the investigation the truth may never come out.
Before this week's hearings she said that because of the possible involvement of President Ismael Omar Guelleh and other top officials, Djibouti should not be allowed to take over the French probe.
Djibouti wants the Hague-based court to order France to turn over the investigation dossiers and withdraw summons against Guelleh.
Guelleh has strenuously denied involvement in Borrel's death and in turn accused France of trying to destabilize his country, which is a key Western ally in the war on terror.
Mohamed Saleh Alhoumekani, a former officer in Djibouti's presidential guard, has testified that Borrel was murdered and implicated the Djiboutian Head of Intelligence and the Chief of Staff of the National Police Force, according to papers filed with the U.N. court, formally known as the International Court of Justice.
On Monday, Djibouti representative Siyad Mohamed Doualeh told the 15-member panel that to «clear up the circumstances of the death of Judge Borrel» France must share its evidence.
Six days of hearings are scheduled to end next Tuesday and the court will likely take months to consider its ruling.