Calls grow for UN court on MH17 despite Russian opposition

Netherlands and Malaysia want international tribunal on who downed airliner over eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen outside Shyrokino village, near the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, yesterday. Photograph: Sergey Vaganov/EPA

Ukrainian servicemen outside Shyrokino village, near the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, yesterday. Photograph: Sergey Vaganov/EPA

 

The Netherlands and Malaysia want a United Nations tribunal to be set up to prosecute those suspected of shooting down a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine last year, despite Russian opposition to an international investigation.

With the approach of the July 17th anniversary of a disaster that killed all 298 passengers on flight MH17, 193 of whom were Dutch citizens, pressure is building on Moscow and the separatist militia it supports in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Kiev, the United States and many international experts believe that separatist militants shot down the Boeing 777 using a high-tech Buk surface-to-air missile, probably delivered to the rebels – along with many other weapons – by Russia.

The militants initially declared that they had destroyed a Ukrainian military cargo aircraft at the same time as MH17 disappeared from radar screens, but later withdrew the report after the identity of the downed aircraft became clear.

Theories

“A UN tribunal is the best option for prosecuting those responsible for the MH17 disaster, as it is the best chance to get them before a court of law,” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said yesterday after a Dutch cabinet meeting. “We also have plan Bs if this approach doesn’t work, both national and international, but this is the route that would be the best. And that’s why we are exploring that possibility first.”

Mr Rutte made the announcement the day after Malaysia told the UN Security Council that it would soon submit a resolution to establish an international tribunal on the MH17 disaster.

Kuala Lumpur’s envoy to the UN, Ramlan Bin Ibrahim, said a UN court would “provide the highest degree of legitimacy for the trial and prosecution mechanism for MH17, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice”. Diplomats said Malaysia’s proposal was supported by Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium, which are seeking “criminal accountability” for the downing of the aircraft.

Investigative team

“We are not yet far enough that we have formal suspects identified or are ready to arrest suspects,” Fred Westerbeke, the Dutchman leading the investigation, said this week.

He said he was confident that a trial would eventually take place, and added that “a large group of people have been identified as persons of interest”.

Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said last month that a push for an international court on MH17 was “counter-productive”.

“We are against it,” he said. “Now we must wait until the end of the investigation rather than adopt hasty resolutions on creating a tribunal.”