Bitter Week For Families As Evidence To Be Read In MH17 Airliner Trial

On 7 June, a court in the Netherlands began hearing evidence against the four fugitive suspects in connection with the MH17 Malyasian airline crash. The four suspects – Russian nationals Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – are suspected of being key pro-Russian separatists and are now attending the trial in The Hague. 

The scheduled passenger flight, MH17, was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down on 17 July 2014 and crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.  This was Malaysian Airlines second aircraft loss in 2014, after the disappearance of Flight 370 on 8 March, and is also the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident to date. The countries that had lost citizens aboard include the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada, and New Zealand. 

According to BBC, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has vowed to bring the person who “pushed the button to fire the missile” to justice. The Dutch government has set three priorities: repatriating and identifying the victims, establishing the cause of the crash, and conducting a criminal investigation.

The blackboxes of the aircraft show that the plane was shot down by a massive explosive decompression caused by shrapnel from a missile. In October 2015, Dutch investigators further supported this with a final technical incident report that confirms MH 17 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile from a Buk system in eastern Ukraine. Some airlines had begun avoiding the eastern Ukrainian airspace in early March 2014 due to safety concerns from an armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and it is likely that the Russian rebels mistook the commercial aircraft for a Ukrainian military transport.

Russia has repeatedly disputed the investigators’ findings while asserting false claims to present to the court and to the public. For example, BBC reports that photoshopped images with dates and altered satellite pictures were presented by Moscow as alternative facts in the days after the crash. Additionally, Russia has refused to extradite its citizens and the international participation in the aftermath to reach a resolution has been widespread. In July 2018, the G7 issued a joint statement demanding Russia “account for its role” in the downing of the MH17. In 2019, the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) foreign ministers from Australia, Malaysia, Belgium, and the Netherlands met in New York to discuss and reflect on their joint efforts to establish the truth about the tragedy. 

According to an open source investigation by RFE/RL, the next steps for the trial after the presentation of the case materials include the summations of the prosecution and the defense. In September, the court expects to hear from the relatives of victims, who will speak about the experiences of losing a loved one. The last hearing for this year is planned in November, and if there are no new complicating developments that could extend the trial, a verdict is expected to be reached by the end of the year. Overall, it is important that international cooperation continues in order to finally bring justice in light of this global tragedy.