It’s been three years since a passenger airliner was shot out of the sky over the beautiful fields of Ukraine in a war zone created by Russian and Russian-backed forces. On July 17, 2014, a terrorist act – plain and simple – was committed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was downed and all 298 passengers and crew were killed. The victims hailed from 17 countries – 189 of them from the Netherlands.
A year later, we saw newly released video footage of “separatists” sifting through the wreckage of the Boeing 777, realizing that this was a civilian aircraft, and then callously going through the belongings of the dead. It was a scene that Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said was “sickening to watch.”
Three years after the downing, the world is closer to knowing not only what happened, but also how it happened and who was responsible. Reports by investigators have said that Russian-led forces fired a Russian-supplied Buk anti-aircraft missile from territory controlled by “separatist” forces. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) determined that the Buk had been brought into Ukraine from Russia shortly before MH17 was shot down and then smuggled back into Russia. The investigative reporting group Bellingcat reported the Buk system’s movements in detail.
All along, Russia has denied it played any role, has obfuscated, offered alternate theories (e.g., a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down the plane) and presented faked “evidence,” and pointed the finger at Ukraine, saying that the country on whose territory the downing occurred bears responsibility. Russia and its proxies compromised the crime scene, tampered with evidence and denied investigators access. Moscow questioned the impartiality of the Dutch-led investigation, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution about a probe of the shootdown and opposed the idea of an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible. It continues to engage in disinformation.
Recently the JIT, which includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands, unanimously granted jurisdiction for the prosecution of those responsible for MH17’s downing to the Dutch courts. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders commented: “In this way, the JIT countries are jointly heeding the U.N. Security Council’s call to hold those responsible for this incident to account.” And Australian Foreign Minister Bishop urged Russia to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2166, authored by her country, which “calls on all states to cooperate to ensure that those responsible for the killing are brought to justice.”
As the third anniversary of the MH17 shootdown is marked around the globe, we mourn the dead and pray for their repose. We stand with the people of Ukraine, who, as President Petro Poroshenko noted, “took this catastrophe as a personal tragedy.” And we echo the words of Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin in seeking the truth and justice. Those who killed 298 innocent people, all those who were responsible in any way, must pay the consequences.