By MIKE CORDER – Associated Press Writer
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Djibouti opened a case against France in the World Court Monday, asking the UN tribunal to force Paris to hand over its investigation into the mysterious death more than 12 years ago of a French judge.
In opening arguments, Djibouti argued that France was violating international law on diplomatic immunity, as well as two bilateral accords, by withholding evidence about the death of Bernard Borrel, whose half-burned body was found in the former French territory on Oct. 19, 1995.
Borrel was an adviser to the Djibouti Justice Ministry. His widow has said if France is not allowed to finish the investigation the truth may never come out.
Siad Mohammed Doualeh, Djibouti’s envoy to Switzerland, told the International Court of Justice that his government «is not asking the court to get involved in the Borrel case,» only to condemn France for violating international law for not sharing evidence.
France is to state its case starting on Thursday.
An initial Djibouti investigation found that Borrel’s death was a suicide. But the judge’s widow, Elisabeth Borrel, unhappy with that finding, pressed French authorities to open their own investigation.
Before six days of hearings at the International Court of Justice, she said
Djibouti should not be allowed to take over a French murder probe into her husband’s death because senior government officials have been implicated. The probe into Borrel’s death has reached the office of Djibouti’s president.
Djibouti filed its case with the Hague-based court in 2006. It is asking that the court order France to turn over the investigation dossiers and withdraw summonses against government officials, including President Ismael Omar Guelleh, to testify as witnesses in the probe.
Autopsies were carried out in 1996 and 1997 by French officials and Borrel’s body was exhumed for further tests in 2002, at which point investigators said they could no longer rule out the possibility he was murdered.
France has continued investigations in «the case against X for the murder of Bernard Borrel» and Borrel’s widow has accused Guelleh, Djibouti’s first elected president, of involvement in her husband’s death, which occurred more than three years before Guelleh took office.
Guelleh has strenuously denied the charge 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, Djibouti said in papers filed with the World Court.
Doualeh told the 15-member UN court that to «clear up the circumstances of the death of Judge Borrel» France must share evidence of the case under a 1977 «cooperation and friendship» treaty and a 1986 accord on «mutual assistance in criminal matters.
Elisabeth Borrel did not appear at the hearing of the court which only takes submissions from governments. But in the run-up to the opening day she has said the court, known as the World Court, must not turn the case over to Djibouti, saying the authorities there were not «neutral.
She said the French would be forced to close their inquiry if the matter went to trial in Djibouti.
«I want to know what happened there. I want to know it by means of the French justice system. Not out of racism,» she said in a telephone interview.
Djibouti will continue its presentation on Tuesday in the court’s wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice. France will give its side of the dispute on Thursday and Friday. A second round of hearings is scheduled for Jan. 28-29.
The court, the United Nation’s highest judicial organ, will likely take months to reach a decision.
Associated Press writer
Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.