Djibouti’s Somewhat Silly Case Against France is Rightly Rejected by the ICJ

by Julian Ku

The ICJ issued a decision today in a relatively inconsequential and somewhat silly case brought by Djibouti against France in the ICJ relating to a French criminal investigation of the 2002 death of a French judge in Djibouti. Djibouti alleged that France had violated its obligations under a 1986 Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and a 1977 Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation Treaty by failing to execute letters rogatory from Djibouti seeking the case file of the French criminal investigation and by violating the immunities of its top governmental officials.

The background here is that the French investigation has led to charges against two top aides to the Djibouti president. Oh, and Djibouti just happens to be the location of France’s largest military base in Africa. So France specifically gave consent to the ICJ’s jurisdiction, even though it did not have to under the ICJ Statute or any other treaty it has with Djibouti.

The ICJ found it had jurisdiction but found that the failure to execute the letters rogatory did not violate the 1986 Convention, although the failure to explain why such letters were not executed did violate said Convention. Nor did France’s investigations of top Djibouti officials violate the customary laws granting such officials immunity and the 1973 Treaty on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes for Internationally Protected Persons.

Thus, France’s only violation was failing to explain why it did not execute Djibouti’s letters rogatory. But the ICJ then found that the only remedy necessary at this point is the ICJ’s finding of such a violation, which constitutes “appropriate satisfaction” for Djibouti.

At the end of the day, this is the type of not very important or particularly persuasive case which should not really have been brought, or if brought, should have been dismissed more quickly. There was no very serious argument here that France violated the extremely vague 1986 convention, and there is no argument at all that it violated the 1974 Protected Persons convention.

The ICJ made quick work of this case (at least under its own standards), resolving it only 18 months after it was filed in January 2006. But even 18 months is still kind of ridiculous for a case which seemed to have no serious chance of success for Djibouti.

On the other hand, one might find the ICJ process a real success, because it allows the two parties (Djibouti and France) to dump a messy problem into the ICJ basket, separating it from other aspects of their bilateral relationship. In this view, the longer the ICJ takes, the better.

2 Responses

  1. The French Djibouti dynamic is an old rich and complicated one and I agree with Julian that the ICJ is playing a “peacemaking” role where all the normal ways the two countries deal with things seem to have sprung a leak.

    I wonder if there will be a post here on the Obama nomination win for a major US party and reaction in the world. I am seeing this is big international news with international law implications and I am bewildered that no post has gone up 36 hours out. Maybe I am just on a short news cycle.



  2. Obama is still a ways from the presidency. I agree that his election would have major IL implications, but we’re not there yet, by a long shot.

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