Israel Won't Reveal Secret Files on Human Rights Situation in Eritrea, Court Rules

The Foreign Ministry refuses to release its opinion on the current situation in the African country, saying it would harm Israel's foreign relations

Eritrean asylum seekers holding a rally in front of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, June 2018.
Caron Creighton/AP

The Foreign Ministry will not be required to release secret documents and its official opinion on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Monday.

Judge Eli Abravanel ruled that the public importance of exposing the documents does not override the fears of damaging Israel’s foreign relations.

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The petitioners, a group of human rights activists working on behalf of asylum seekers in Israel, headed by attorney Itay Mack, asked in July 2016 for the ministry to release all the documents concerning asylum seekers from Eritrea in Israel. The ministry replied that it did not have in its possession “any agreement with Eritrea concerning its natives residing in Israel,” but did admit that an opinion on the matter of the human rights situation there does exist. Ministry representatives refused to release the opinion – composed of four internal documents – to the Israeli public, saying it could harm Israel’s foreign relations.

The judge noted that troubling statistics exist concerning the human rights situation in Eritrea and as a result “there is no doubt that a large public interest exists on the questions related to the relations between Israel and Eritrea, the human rights situation in this country and the status of its natives found in Israel.”

Abravanel also said that “releasing the information on these matters could very well contribute to public discourse on the question of the relations between Israel and Eritrea, and the fate of its natives in Israel as well, and the high importance of the request of the petitioners emanates from that.”

But ultimately the judge found that the ministry had no obligation to release the documents since other interests exist as well such as preventing damage to Israel’s foreign relations and preserving the freedom of internal debate within government bodies, “and these too deserve protection.”

The petitioners said they would file an appeal.