Much like one of the de-legitimizing scenarios facing Israel, over the past month and a half, Rwanda, one of Israel’s emerging close friends, experienced something that the Israeli Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs should heed closely.
On June 20th, Rwanda’s intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Karenzi Karake, was detained at Heathrow Airport at the request of a Spanish magistrate, based on a fraudulent and politically-motivated indictment for war crimes issued in 2008. He was detained at a maximum security prison before being released on £1 million bail pending an extradition hearing in October.
General “KK”, as he is fondly known by his countrymen, is hailed in Rwanda as one of the heroes who stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi just over 21 years ago. Furthermore, General Karake was also instrumental in stopping another genocide when he led the UN Mission in Darfur between 2007 and 2009. This, while he was being indicted in absentia at the very same time in Spain. At the time, the U.S. State Department described the indictment as a “bloated political tract” that “invented mass killings” and “distorted the established record”. Interpol refused to accept the Spanish warrants because they were manifestly political.
The British government denied that the arrest was political, claiming a legal obligation to enforce an EU arrest warrant. Yet General Karake was in the UK on an official visit and travelling on a diplomatic passport, and had visited Britain and other EU countries on numerous occasions since 2008 without incident.
In a surprise hearing earlier this week, the British magistrate dramatically threw out the extradition case after the Crown Prosecution Service, acting on behalf of Spain, conceded that General Karake had not be charged with an extraditable offence under English law. General Karake was freed unconditionally, and is now on his way home to Kigali.
The case continues in Spain, though final dismissal of the indictment by the Spanish Supreme Court is expected in due course, after the Spanish legislature narrowed the conditions for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in 2014.
In the words of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “the truth really is stubborn, it just chooses its moment.”
The implications of this affair merit careful study in Israel. The absurdity of the case is all too familiar to us, and illustrates the growing tendency to use international law as a tool of political propaganda and unconventional warfare.
This indictment against General Karake and 39 other Rwandan officers was issued by a Spanish magistrate, Fernando Andreu Merelles, who never visited Rwanda. Shockingly, the “facts” asserted by the judge are identical to hate-fueled, genocide-denying propaganda from the 1990s which claimed that the Tutsi had engineered a genocide against themselves as part of an elaborate plan to seize power and exterminate the Hutu majority.
These denialist claims continue to be echoed today by the politicians and militias that carried out the genocide, and increasingly also by partisan journalists, activists, and lawyers. In fact, a 2009 report led by the UN Group of Experts on DRC proved that the two Spanish NGOs behind the indictment had been providing political and material support to the FDLR for years. Aside from being the descendants of the Génocidaires of 1994, the FDLR is one of the world’s most notorious armed militias, engaging in violence, murder, torture, and rape, earning them their place on various lists of terror organizations and International Criminal Court arrest warrants.
Over the years Rwanda has extended full cooperation to the Spanish authorities in pursuit of justice for the Spanish victims.
This situation is very relevant to Israel’s current struggles in the face of international “lawfare,” as such attempts at de-legitimization have come to be called. Israel has long-known such actions targeting its former and current political and military leadership, including the following three well-publicized incidents. In 2005, then-retired Maj. Gen. Doron Almog stayed aboard his El Al flight in London, after receiving information that a warrant for his arrest was issued by local authorities. In 2009, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni cancelled official visits to the UK following similar threats. Most recently this year, former Minister of Defense and IDF chief Shaul Mofaz, was also under threat of arrest while visiting the UK.
In fact, also in 2008, the very same Spanish judge reviewed the actions of then-Defense Minister Binyamin “Fouad” Ben Eliezer, then-IDF chief (and current Defense Minister) Moshe Yaalon, then-Air Force chief (and future IDF chief) Dan Halutz, and five additional senior Israeli officials. In this case, the Israelis were accused of violating international law in their targeted killing of Salah Shehade, then-head of Hamas’ military wing and terrorist mastermind who had the blood of hundreds of Israelis on his hands.
The ludicrous charges lobbed at Israel and Rwanda in their separate but similar struggles against de-legitimization are a serious security challenge – not only to these two states, but to all who are currently engaging in asymmetric warfare against terror organizations. The very people responsible for defending their countries against terrorism and genocide are falsely accused of those very same crimes, being treated as aggressors rather than being hailed as heroes.
The Rwandan officer and the Israeli leaders are all victims of concerted efforts to exploit universal jurisdiction for political ends. Considering that universal jurisdiction’s most significant precedent is the Nuremburg Tribunals following the Holocaust, it is ironic that it is being abused by those who seek to undermine the fundamental right of states to defend their citizens against violent aggression, terrorism, and genocide. Let’s not be fooled – these are actions that undermine the legitimacy of a country and its entire leadership by those who, from the beginning, refuse to accept their legitimacy to democratically lead a people. We cannot allow the integrity of such absurd actions, where facts are ignored, when kangaroo courts remove the blindfold of justice, and when the international community succumbs to politicized, slanderous claims.