Rus­sia blocks Flight MH17 in­quiry


In a cal­lous but not un­ex­pected move to block an in­ter­na­tional in­quiry on the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine just a year ago, Rus­sia has ve­toed a res­o­lu­tion which would have set up a tri­bunal to in­ves­ti­gate the dis­as­ter which killed 298 civil­ians. The Malaysian civil­ian air­liner, a Boe­ing 777, was shot down by a Rus­sian supplied BUK mis­sile al­legedly fired by Rus­sian- backed sep­a­ratists fight­ing the Ukraine gov­ern­ment. Moscow blames the Ukraini­ans for the dis­as­ter.

Eleven of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s 15 mem­bers backed the draft res­o­lu­tion which would have set up a in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal to in­ves­ti­gate the tragedy. Be­sides Rus­sia’s veto, the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China, An­gola and Venezuela pre­dictably ab­stained on the vote.

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Sa­man­tha Power stated bluntly, “Rus­sia has cal­lously dis­re­garded the public out­cry in the griev­ing na­tions.”

The flight, which orig­i­nated in Am­s­ter­dam, was en route in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; a ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple killed were Aus­tralian or from the Nether­lands. Last year fol­low­ing the tragedy, the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the in­ci­dent and de­mand­ing that those re­spon­si­ble be brought to jus­tice.

The Malaysian spon­sored draft res­o­lu­tion, co-spon­sored by Aus­tralia, Ger­many, the Nether­lands among oth­ers in­cluded a pro­posed statute for a “In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for Malaysian Air­lines Fight MH17.”

Dutch For­eign Min­is­ter Bert Koen­ders stated, “our pur­pose re­mains to cre­ate a timely, de­politi­cized and cred­i­ble mech­a­nism to en­sure that the per­pe­tra­tors face jus­tice and are held to ac­count.” He ex­pressed his “deep dis­ap­point­ment” over the Rus­sian veto to stop the process.

Aus­tralia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop of­fered a sear­ing re­buke to Rus­sia, “In a world with an in­creas­ing num­ber of vi­o­lent ter­ror­ist groups and other non­state ac­tors ... it is in­con­ceiv­able that the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil would now walk away from hold­ing to ac­count those who brought down a com­mer­cial air­plane.” She added, “The veto only com­pounds the atroc­ity. Ex­cuses and ob­fus­ca­tion by the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion should be treated with the ut­most dis­dain.” Thirty nine-Aus­tralians were killed in the crash.

The MH17 air­liner was fly­ing at 37,000 feet over a rebel held re­gion of east Ukraine where both Rus­sian backed sep­a­ratists and Ukraine gov­ern­ment troops were in­volved in heavy fight­ing.

Why Moscow-sup­ported sep­a­ratists would even have ac­cess to or for that mat­ter know how to op­er­ate a high-al­ti­tude sur­face to air mis­sile is a ques­tion. Equally in the midst of a bit­ter ground bat­tle, why would ei­ther side de­cide to ran­domly fire upon a civil­ian air­liner pass­ing eight miles above? Though Moscow has ac­cused the Ukraini­ans, most ev­i­dence points to the mis­sile be­ing fired by the rebels.

The Im­par­tial­ity

So here’s the point. If Moscow is so con­vinced the Ukraine gov­ern­ment forces com­mit­ted the atroc­ity, why not then al­low an im­par­tial in­quiry to gather ev­i­dence and try to prove the case? Rus­sian del­e­gate Vi­taly Churkin, in a lengthy re­but­tal, as­serted, “What are the grounds to be as­sured of the im­par­tial­ity of such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion?” He coun­tered, what he called “ag­gres­sive pro­pa­ganda in the media.”

But by block­ing such an im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion the fin­ger of guilt, by de­fault, points to Moscow.

Still Rus­sia would rather face a lin­ger­ing media pre­sump­tion of guilt rather than an in­ter­na­tion­ally es­tab­lished ver­dict of guilt.

New Zealand For­eign Min­is­ter Mur­ray McCully stated that while the coun­cil had pressed for a con­sen­sus res­o­lu­tion he lamented that this is not a case “which can be seen in shades of gray; ei­ther we fol­low a path of ac­count­abil­ity or there is im­punity. “

Ger­many’s del­e­gate Har­ald Braun put the mat­ter in per­spec­tive, “To­day this Coun­cil has ut­terly failed the vic­tims, the fam­i­lies and the friends of the 283 pas­sen­gers and 15 crew mem­bers killed, among them 4 Ger­man cit­i­zens, in the down­ing of MH17. But this does not mean that the per­pe­tra­tors can tri­umph and hope for im­punity. We the griev­ing na­tions, will not rest un­til they are held ac­count­able.”

Am­bas­sador Power warned, “The United States be­lieves firmly that those who car­ried out this un­speak­able crime can­not re­main un­named and un­pun­ished ... there can­not and will not be im­punity.”

Ukrainian For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin added rhetor­i­cally; “There can be no rea­son to op­pose this un­less you are a per­pe­tra­tor your­self.” John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of “Di­vided Dy­namism: The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China” (2014).

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