Israel Stopped Defense Exports to Rwanda Six Days After 1994 Genocide Began

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A Rwandan refugee girl stares at a mass grave where dozens of bodies have been laid to rest in this July 20, 1994 file photo.
A Rwandan refugee girl stares at a mass grave where dozens of bodies have been laid to rest in this July 20, 1994 file photo.Credit: Reuters

Israel’s Defense Ministry director general froze defense exports to Rwanda six days after the genocide in that country began in 1994, leaving no justification for launching a criminal investigation against any Israeli official for possibly contributing to the mass murder, the state prosecution has said.

The prosecution’s comments came in response to a demand by attorney Eitay Mack, who had demanded such an investigation be launched on suspicion that Israel had continued to sell arms to Rwanda even after the scope of the intertribal warfare there had become clear. Mack’s request had been sent in September 2014, but he received a response only last week.

According to the prosecution, based on the documents it received from the Defense Ministry, the director-general at the time, David Ivry, had ordered defense exports halted to Rwanda – as well as to Burundi, which borders Rwanda to the south – on April 12, 1994. The prosecution stressed that the Israeli order was given almost a month before the UN Security Council ordered a military embargo on Rwanda on May 17 of that year.

The fighting there had begun on April 6, after the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a plane crash. The following day the prime minister of Rwanda was assassinated, and in the days that followed thousands more were killed in violence initiated by members of the dominant Hutu tribe.

Reports on the mass killings reached the media all over the world; on April 9, for example, the New York Times reported that thousands had been killed in Hutu attacks against the Tutsi minority. The violence lasted 100 days, and estimates of the number of people killed – primarily Tutsis – range from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people.

A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 Genocide prays over the bones of genocide victims at a mass grave in Nyamata, Rwanda Tuesday, April 6, 2004.Credit: AP

“There is no disputing that the massacre of the Tutsi people carried out in Rwanda in 1994 was a horrific crime against humanity,” wrote Rachel Matar, head of criminal investigations in the State Prosecutor’s Office. “If any evidence had been brought to us pointing to Israeli involvement in the genocide, then in theory there would be grounds for opening a criminal investigation despite the time that has passed. However, from the documents that were provided for our review by the Defense Ministry, there emerges no involvement, direct or indirect, by any Israeli official in the genocide perpetrated in Rwanda.”

In April the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against a Defense Ministry decision not to release any documents relating to defense exports to Rwanda during the period of the genocide. Mack, together with Prof. Yair Auron, had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Defense Ministry asking for details about Israeli arms exports to Rwanda between 1990 and 1995, but were refused, with the ministry saying that revealing such information “risks harm to the state’s security, to its foreign relations, to public security or to the security or safety of a person.” The ministry did say, however, that it had located relevant documents.

Mack and Auron appealed to the Tel Aviv Administrative Court, which rejected the appeal, and proceeded to the Supreme Court, which said that while there was certainly a public interest in the release of the information, the possible harm to state security overrode it. In fact, the response of the prosecution Mack received last week contained information of which neither he nor Auron were previously aware.

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