Upholding decisions by a district court and the Defense Ministry, justices find that state security needs outweigh public interest.
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the denial of a Freedom of Information request to make public documents about Israeli defense exports to Rwanda at the time of the 1994 genocide in that country.
In 2014, attorney Eitay Mack and Prof. Yair Auron submitted a request to the Defense Ministry under the Freedom of Information Law, asking for details of Israeli arms exports to Rwanda between 1990 and 1995. In 1994, hundreds of thousands of members of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered by the Hutu majority during Rwanda’s civil war.
In their request, the two wrote, “According to various reports in Israel and abroad, the defense exports to Rwanda ostensibly violated international law, at least during the period of the weapons embargo imposed by the UN Security Council.” The Defense Ministry refused the request, saying this information “was not to be divulged.”
Mack and Auron appealed this decision to the Tel Aviv District Court, sitting as a court of administrative affairs. In December 2014 the court upheld the ministry’s decision, saying that providing the information would “with near-certainty” undermine state security and international relations. Mack and Auron then appealed to the Supreme Court.
“There is no doubt that the State of Israel and the defense and foreign ministries knew very well what was going on in Rwanda in real time, just as the entire world knew,” the two wrote in their appeal, adding that the government “continues to impose on the Israeli public a denial of Israeli involvement in the genocide there.” Mack and Auron argued that the lower court did not consider the public interest in publishing the information.
But the Supreme Court panel, comprising Court President Justice Miriam Naor and justices Isaac Amit and Neal Hendel, unanimously rejected the appeal. Amit wrote that although in principle “there is public interest in the requested information,” it did not tip the scales in favor of revealing it. The ruling states that the court was shown, ex parte, certain materials by the state that led the justices to conclude that the Defense Ministry decision was based solely on relevant considerations.
“We found that under the circumstances the disclosure of the information sought does not advance the public interest claimed by the appellants to the extent that it takes preference and precedence over the claims of harm to state security and international relations,” the court wrote.
“The ruling is mistaken and immoral. The State of Israel only loses from it,” Mack said after the verdict was issued. “At no point during the proceedings was there a denial that there were defense exports during the genocide; the Defense Ministry found the official documents about it and the justices examined them. In our opinion, it is this continued concealment that harms state security and its international relations. We will continue to fight to expose the truth and bring to justice those Israelis who abetted the serious crimes committed in Rwanda,” Mack said.