Court declines to uncover Israel’s arms deal with Kigali

Saturday April 16 2016

Genocide memorial torch. The strength of

Genocide memorial torch. The strength of survivors, the resilience of Rwanda’s citizens and the contributions of its leaders and civil society have helped restore the nation’s spirit, bringing peace and security as well as social and economic opportunities for all Rwandans. PHOTO | FILE 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA

The Israeli Supreme Court on Monday last week ruled that records documenting Israel’s arms dealings with Rwanda during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi will remain undisclosed.

The ruling reported by The Times of Israel noted that Supreme Court judges cited Section 9 of Israel’s Freedom of Information Act, saying that releasing the documents would “harm national security and foreign relations.”

According to the publication, Israeli activist attorney Eitay Mack filed in 2014 a request with the Defence Ministry for the information on arms exports to Rwanda.

Mr Mack argued there was “a major public interest in having the information revealed, and that preventing its disclosure created a feeling that the respondents were preventing it due to extraneous considerations,” according to the court’s decision.

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Justice Neal Hendel and Justice Yitzchak Amit determined that despite the public’s right to know, there were pressing security and foreign relations concerns that prevented them from accepting the appeal.

This ruling, however, did not seem to bother the Rwandan government, which is reluctant to push its Middle East ally into releasing the documents.

The National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), which is charged with studying what happened and preserving documents on the genocide, said they do not have any knowledge of Israel’s involvement in the genocide.

“I don’t know anything about Israel’s involvement in the genocide and that is the position of CNLG. The countries that I know which provided arms to the government are France and Egypt. I know nothing about Israel,” executive secretary of CNLG, Dr Jean Damascène Bizimana, said in an interview.

“I am a researcher and I have not heard of this throughout my work. I do not have any evidence of any arms that were sent from Israel and if any information comes up, we shall discuss it at that time.”

Some Rwandan historians say they have evidence of Israeli firearms being used during the 1994 genocide. They also argue that no person or country should be exonerated from its role in the genocide.

“By declining to reveal the documents, Israel is raising suspicion regarding its involvement in the genocide. I think it was wrong for the Supreme Court to make that judgment,” Tom Ndahiro, a Rwanda historian said.

The case began in 2014 when Israeli Attorney Eitay Mack and historian Professor Yair Auron submitted a request to the Defence Ministry under the Freedom of Information Law, asking for details of Israeli arms exports to Rwanda between 1990 and 1995.

Their research, which culminated in the request, indicated that Israel could have shipped arms to Rwanda in spite of an international embargo placed by the UN against selling arms to the country at the time.

In his argument, Professor Yair Auron equated sending arms to Rwanda during genocide to arming the Nazis in Germany during the Second World War.

The duo denounced the Supreme Court ruling and vowed to continue fighting to “expose the truth and bring to justice Israelis who abetted the serious crimes committed in Rwanda.”

Rwandan historian Mr Ndahiro, noted that Israel should release the documents and erase doubts of its involvement.

“If their arms exports to Rwanda were just another normal trade, then there is no reason why they should not release the documents. Nobody is accusing Israel of participating in the genocide — it is just a matter of records,” he said. “But if the ruling is not challenged and everything remains the same, then we will suspect that there is something wrong and the suspicion will be justified.”

Edouard Kayihura, author of Inside the Hotel Rwanda, also challenged Israel to exhibit “good faith and transparency” by releasing the documents.

Rwanda and Israel are allies and have signed several bilateral agreements over the past couple of years.

Rwanda opened its embassy in Israel last year, but ties date back to just after the 1994 genocide.

On top of partnering in the “Never Again” campaign against genocide; both countries have signed several mutual economic agreements.

In May 2008, a Rwandan delegation was part of 500 businessmen from Africa who signed a trade and economic pact with Israel.

In 2014, Rwanda signed a bilateral co-operation deal with Israel seeking to boost economic and political ties, through which Israel would provide assistance in developing efficient production methods and irrigation systems for Rwandan farmers.

Rwanda has also been a beneficiary of Israeli led empowerment programmes for women in rural areas and has also sent farmers, investors and students to several workshops to Israel.

In January, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, her Israeli counterpart Tzipi and President of Israel Reuven Rivlin where matters of mutual interests were discussed. In her message, she reiterated that both nations share a “special friendship”.

Most recently, Rwanda since last year, has been in negotiations with Israel over the terms for accommodating refugees from Africa who are denied asylum in the latter country.