Country Report Djibouti November 2006

The political scene: France issues arrest warrants against senior Djibouti officials

On October 2nd a French court in Versailles issued international arrest warrants against two senior Djibouti officials who are alleged to have been involved in covering up the murder of a French judge, Bernard Borrel, in 1995 (May and August 2005, Outlook for 2006-07: Political outlook). Djibouti's chief prosecutor, Djama Souleiman, and the government's security chief, Hassan Said, had previously refused to appear before the court voluntarily for questioning, claiming diplomatic immunity. They are accused of putting pressure on a key witness to withdraw his testimony and also of seeking to discredit the witness. The issuing of arrest warrants is a significant escalation in the long-running scandal that has clouded relations between France and its former colony for many years.

The French court carried out a lengthy investigation into the mysterious death of Mr Borrel in Djibouti in 1995, which was inconclusive. However, the Djibouti government declared that his death was suicide. There is speculation that Mr Borrel may have uncovered evidence of Mr Guelleh's personal involvement in arms smuggling and terrorism, and the investigation has increasingly implicated Mr Guelleh himself in the alleged murder. Last October Djibouti suspended its treaty of judicial co-operation with France as a precaution against the risk of international arrest warrants. In January Djibouti referred the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, accusing France of violating its international obligations by refusing to provide Djibouti with the case files on the public inquiry held in France. The French court is reluctant to do this because of Mr Guelleh's tight control over Djibouti's courts and his alleged involvement in the case. France has accepted the ICJ's competence to examine only the procedural issue of its refusal to hand over key evidence.

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