The downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine with complete loss of life was foremost a human tragedy of unspeakable sadness. This should be borne in mind as a war of words intensifies over who is to blame and what the consequences could be for international relations and commercial aviation. Any determined use of the incident by adversarial nations to push their agendas would be rightly viewed as offensive.
The 298 passengers and crew on the fateful flight from Holland bound for Malaysia were in all probability victims of war. Recovery of bodies is usually the first concern. Their families would ordinarily have first claim on coordinated efforts, even in a conflict zone, to confer upon the dead a dignity due to them. But even after two days, the scattered remains lying in wheat and sunflower fields in the summer heat were only just being gathered up. Looting and tampering with evidence happened instead, while access to the contested location in eastern Ukraine was restricted by callous rebels.
The indignity has been compounded by an attempt by the Russian government to disclaim its role in the Ukraine civil war, which clearly was a factor in the incident. A rush to judgment on the American side concerning culpability for the crash of Flight MH17 and stridently nationalist media in both countries are worsening a downward spiral in relations. It bodes ill for the world to have the two nations with the biggest nuclear stocks facing off.
The governments of Malaysia and Holland, the two countries with the most passengers on the flight, have been rational in their response, pending establishment of the facts. For Malaysians, this was an unbearable loss coming months after the disappearance of Flight MH370. The world's sympathies are with them. The tragedy also raises questions about commercial aircraft's routine practice of flying over conflict zones. The aviation industry is once again getting a jolt from safety concerns and the prospect of higher costs in avoiding direct but hazardous routes.
It is not in dispute that a missile brought down MH17. Which side in the Ukrainian hostilities fired it, or if there was Russian complicity, must be ascertained to the satisfaction of all. But the stakes are so high that the facts may never be disclosed. Placing the recovered flight and voice recorders with the office of the United Nations Secretary- General would be the best way to launch an impartial investigation. If the United States or other nations have conclusive electronic evidence on the firing of the missile, the facts ought to be presented. The people of the world, not least the victims' families, are owed the truth. Answers are needed for lessons to be drawn, and healing to begin.