Aggrieved nations look at forming own MH17 tribunal

An investigator inspecting the wreckage of Flight MH17 at a village in the Donetsk area of Ukraine on Sept 16.
An investigator inspecting the wreckage of Flight MH17 at a village in the Donetsk area of Ukraine on Sept 16.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Such an action among narrowed options to get justice for Malaysian jet disaster victims

SAINT PETERSBURG • Blocked by Russia at the United Nations, members seeking criminal accountability for the Malaysian jetliner destroyed in eastern Ukraine last year may create their own prosecution tribunal, Australia's Foreign Minister said.

Ms Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that such a tribunal was among the narrowed options now under consideration by the core group of nations that has been leading the effort for victim justice in the destruction of the jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

Ms Bishop said ministers from those nations - Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine - would meet at the United Nations next Tuesday, during the annual General Assembly meeting of world leaders, for further discussions.

"There are a number of permutations, and I can assure you there are a number of international criminal lawyers who are working on this," Ms Bishop said in an interview with The New York Times editorial board.

Citizens of more than a dozen nations were among the 298 passengers and crew, but Dutch, Malaysian and Australian citizens accounted for the majority of them.

NEXT COURSE OF ACTION

There are a number of permutations, and I can assure you there are a number of international criminal lawyers who are working on this.

MS JULIE BISHOP, Australia's Foreign Minister, on the options to secure justice

All were killed when the plane, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 last year, plunged into pieces in the eastern Ukraine countryside, apparently hit by a sophisticated missile.

Many countries, including the United States, Ukraine and Australia, have said they believe that Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine were responsible for the disaster.

The Kremlin has rejected those accusations as politically motivated. It has also argued that the investigation into the cause remains incomplete, and has suggested that Ukrainian forces may have been responsible.

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on July 29 that would have created a criminal tribunal to pursue the perpetrators. Ms Bishop, who attended that vote, was among those who expressed outrage at Russia and said the aggrieved nations would regroup to consider their next steps.

Since then, "we've narrowed the options", Ms Bishop said in talking about the creation of a special court. "This is the 'what's next'."

She said such a court, which does not require United Nations approval, could be established through a treaty "by all of the grieving countries".

The closest analogy to such a court, she said, was probably the Scottish panel established in the Netherlands to prosecute Libyan suspects after the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec 21, 1988, which killed 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground.

Ms Bishop said other options were also under consideration, including separate prosecutions in each of the aggrieved nations.

She also did not exclude the possibility of re-submitting the vetoed Security Council resolution once the official investigations into the cause of the MH17 disaster, led by the Netherlands, have been concluded later this year.

A draft report ruling out mechanical failure has already been circulated, she said, while the inquiry into precisely what felled the aircraft is still under way.

Nonetheless, she said, "nothing I've seen over the last 15 months has changed Australia's official view that it was brought down by a surface-to-air missile operated by Russian-backed separatists inside the Ukrainian border".

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Aggrieved nations look at forming own MH17 tribunal'. Print Edition | Subscribe