Toward Justice for the MH17 Victims and their Families

a plane wing
Flying. Source: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) puts it clearly, “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Any violation of the basic principles of human dignity and rights thus presents an obstacle to freedom, justice and peace. Article 3 of the UDHR, arguably one of the key articles of our interdependent world’s main human rights instrument, states unequivocally, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” The 298 fellow humans who were blasted out of the sky by a Russian missile four years ago to this date shared our common human dignity and universal right to life.  On that fateful day in July of 2014, the Boeing 777 airliner servicing Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was struck by a Buk surface-to-air missile controlled by Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade, based in the city of Kursk. The Joint Investigation Team, a Dutch-led international probe, concluded in May 2018 that the missile had been brought from Russia into an area held by Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and was filmed several times on July 17 and 18 in that area.

On July 15, 2018, the G7 foreign ministers issued the following statement in advance of the anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, and in advance of the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki:

“We, the G7 foreign ministers, of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, are united in our condemnation, in the strongest possible terms, of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a civilian aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

“MH17 was carrying 298 crew and passengers, nationals of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

“We fully support the work of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), an independent criminal investigation led by the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. The JIT’s findings on Russia’s role in the downing of MH17 are compelling, significant and deeply disturbing. The G7 recalls that UN Security Council Resolution 2166 demands that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability. We are united in our support of Australia and the Netherlands as they call on Russia to account for its role in this incident and to cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of MH17 and their next of kin.

“In a rules-based international order, those responsible for unacceptable actions, such as the firing or launching of the BUK missile of Russian origin, which intercepted and downed a civilian aircraft, must be held accountable. To this end, we call on Russia to immediately engage with Australia and the Netherlands in good faith to explain and to address all relevant questions regarding any potential breaches of international law.

“We express once again our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of MH17. We stand together against the impunity of those who engage in aggressive actions that threaten the rules-based international order, anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstances.”

It may be that the citizens of the free world will never know what President Trump and President Putin talked about in their secret get-together in Helsinki. From the little that we do know we cannot tell whether or not the MH17 human rights atrocity was part of what Trump and Putin discussed. Neither President has mentioned it during their joint press conference or at any time thereafter until now. Prior to the G7 statement, Russia has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the international probe despite multiple request by the international community to do so. If both Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin remain silent on the matter this might give the impression that both men are colluding on obstructing the international community’s mission to achieve justice for the victims of MH17 and their families. Silence can spawn fake news. President Trump would do well to let the American people know whether or not he reiterated the call for Russia’s full cooperation with the international probe directly with Mr. Putin. He should also let the world know what he intends to do from now to see to it that this call is heeded by Russia.