‘Truth, justice and accountability’: Australia seeks legal recourse for MH17 downing

By Melissa Coade

March 15, 2022

Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

The prime minister announced on Monday evening that Australia and the Netherlands would initiate legal proceedings against the Russian Federation in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for shooting down a plane carrying 298 innocent civilians.

Both Australia and the Netherlands are pursuing legal action under Article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation for the shooting down of the commercial plane MH17 in the east of Ukraine eight years ago.

The move is in addition to a Dutch national prosecution of four suspects for their individual criminal responsibility in the downing of Flight MH17.

In a statement, Scott Morrison said since 2018 Australia had maintained Russia was responsible under international law for the tragic downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight.

“Today’s joint action by Australia and the Netherlands is a major step forward in both countries’ fight for truth, justice and accountability for this horrific act of violence, which claimed the lives of 298 victims, 38 of whom called Australia home,” the PM said. 

The PM said there was overwhelming evidence that the commercial plane had been shot down by a Russian Buk-TELAR surface-to-air missile system that was owned by the Federation’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Military Brigade.

Australia and the Netherlands had also found evidence that the missile system was brought from Russia to an agricultural field in the separatist region of Donetsk, Ukraine, on the morning of 17 July 2014, and then transported back into Russia shortly after MH17 was hit.

Both nations argue that only a Russian-trained crew could have operated the missile system or an individual who was acting under Russian ‘instruction, direction or control’.

“The Russian Federation’s refusal to take responsibility for its role in the downing of Flight MH17 is unacceptable and the Australian government has always said that it will not exclude any legal options in our pursuit of justice,” Morrison said.

Negotiations between Russia, Australia and the Netherlands over MH17 came to a halt in October 2020 when the Russian Federation unilaterally withdrew from talks. Morrison said despite repeated requests by Australia and the Netherlands, Russia had continued to refuse to return to the negotiating table.

Morrison added that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s cruel and violent military invasion of Ukraine last month underscored the need to hold the nation to account for its ‘blatant’ violations of international law and the UN charter. It was another example, just like the downing of MH17, of the autocrat’s disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty and airspace.

“While we cannot take away the grief of those whose loved ones died as a result of Russia’s actions, the Australian government will pursue every available avenue to ensure Russia is held to account so that this horrific act never happens again,” Morrison said.


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