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Israeli prosecutor defends arms export to South Sudan

August 12, 2017 (TEL AVIV) – The Israeli government has defended sale of arms to South Sudan, arguing that there was no evidence showing that either an individual or entity committed a criminal offence by exporting weapons to the war-torn East African country.

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Arms and light weapons have been used by both warring parties in South Sudan to commit abuses (Photo courtesy of SSANSA)

The assertion, Haaretz daily reported, follows a petition seeking a criminal investigation into Israeli arms sales to South Sudan and the suspicion that it constituted war crime and crime against humanity.

The petition, filed by 54 Israelis, concerns the sale of Israeli-made Galil ACE rifles sold to a militia associated with the South Sudanese government. The petitioners, through their lawyer Eitay Mack, reportedly claimed Israeli officials who dealt with the issue should have understood that there were risks associated with the rifles’ export.

In 2015, a United Nations Security Council report about the conflict in South Sudan said photographs showed South Sudanese officers and soldiers using the Ace, an advanced version of the Galil assault rifle.

The rifle, the report said, were produced by Israel weapon industries.

The civil war in South Sudan has gone on for nearly four years amid allegations of human rights violations, including the use of child soldiers. According to the UN report, all branches of South Sudan’s security forces are using the Ace, in its battle against local rebels.

Both sides involve in the conflict have been accused of human rights violations, in the two-year war, in documented claims of ethnic cleansing, systemic rape, recruitment of child soldiers and more.

In response, however, the state reportedly requested that the petition regarding the sale of weapons to South Sudan be dismissed.

“No evidence has been found of any defect in the judgment of the relevant parties,” Rachel Matar, head of the criminal division in the state prosecutor’s office wrote in a letter the Haaretz daily obtained.

“The acts of any Israeli party whatsoever constitute suspicion of the commission of a criminal offense,” further added the letter.

The Isareli defence minister, Matar said, provided information to the state prosecutor’s office on exports to South Sudan, and that military exports are to be judged on “considerations of the protection of human rights and the political situation in the relevant region.”

Data on arms sales to specific countries are kept secret, but overall sales to Africa reportedly increased dramatically in the years following South Sudan’s formation.

In 2009, Israel reportedly sold just $71 million worth of weapons to the continent. In 2013, that number more than tripled to $223 million, and it reached $318 million in 2014.

South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Two year later, a civil war broke out after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar and ten others of planning a coup. The conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people and displaced over two million civilians into neighbouring countries.