Tightening international pressure on Vladimir Putin, the Netherlands and Australia began new legal action against Russia on Monday, holding it responsible for the shooting down of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 and the deaths of all 298 passengers and crew.
The decision to file a joint legal suit at the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) follows the collapse of informal negotiations between the three countries when Russia ignored diplomatic entreaties and withdrew unilaterally in October 2020.
The two countries say they are seeking “full reparations” and an apology from Moscow for the catastrophic injury caused – as well as the suspension of Russia’s voting power at the Montreal based ICAO, which sets the global standards for civilian air travel.
Russia has consistently denied any involvement in the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, despite an international investigation which concluded in 2015 that it had been downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
The ICAO case is separate to the murder trial under way in the Netherlands in which four suspects – three Russians and a Ukrainian – are accused in absentia of having individual criminal responsibility for the disaster in which citizens of 10 nationalities died, including 196 Dutch and 38 Australians.
In The Hague, Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra said the UN Security Council had been notified of the ICAO referral.
“The deaths of 298 civilians should not remain without consequences,” Mr Hoekstra said. “International law must and will be maintained. Current events in Ukraine underline the crucial importance of this.”
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison struck a similarly angry note. Describing the downing the Flight MH17 as "a blatant violation of international law", he said the "unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine" that began last month highlighted the need to "hold Russia to account".
The ICAO disputes procedure has been used only five times before. In this case, the action is being taken under Article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation and alleges that Russia is in breach of the Chicago Convention that underpins aviation law.
In the past, a referral to the ICAO has frequently been a stepping stone towards ultimately filing a case at the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Iran, for instance, filed an ICJ suit against the United States in 1989 in protest at the Americans' accidental downing of Iran Air Flight 655 the previous year.
Unrelated to MH17, ICJ judges are already deliberating on a request from Ukraine for urgent “provisional measures” to halt Russia’s invasion, which began three weeks ago.