The Dutch and Australian investigators, along with OSCE monitors, finally reach MH 17 plane crash site


‘Shooting down of plane may be a war crime ’ says UN High Commissioner of Human Rights

The UN Secretary-General issued a statement at UN Headquarters on July 30 stating that he was deeply disturbed to learn that forensic teams and investigators in Donetsk who are tasked to probe the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 continued to be impeded from accessing the site and carrying out their critical work due to heavy fighting in the area of the crash site. In addition, Ban Ki-moon stated that ”there are victims remains yet to be found and that key pieces of evidences remained at the site and that the families of the victims of this horrific tragedy deserve closure and the world demands that they must be allowed to conduct their work.”

But, the Dutch and Australian investigators, along with OSCE monitors, have finally reached the crash site after nearly two weeks. The article that follows focuses attention on the latest up-to-date information on the downing of MH 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew aboard, the independent, international investigation that has been initiated, and comments by members of the international community calling for justice on a global scale. The plane may have been shot down in eastern Ukraine, but its outrage has gone global.

On July 30, Yuriy Sergeyev, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations in New York held a press briefing on the current situation in Ukraine concerning the investigation of the Malaysia Airlines Fiight MH 17 crash. Ambassador Sergeyev reported the following: “On July 21, the President of Ukraine ordered the Counter terrorist operation forces to ensure a 40 km safety zone from place of the airplane crash, as well as to stop all military activities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In addition, on July 24, Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Netherlands signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the investigation of the MH 17 crash. Under the Memorandum, taking into account the fact that the majority of victims of the disaster are Dutch citizens, Ukraine, as a country where the tragedy happened, delegates the authority to the Netherlands to investigate this case. It is secured by the Agreement between the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine and the respective agency of the Netherlands.”

In addition, the Memorandum stated that “the Netherlands shall coordinate the investigation of all circumstances of the tragedy and shall be responsible for its holding under Annex l3, part 5 of the Chicago Convention. The Netherlands shall as well ensure the participation of other parties concerned, particularly Ukraine, as country where the tragedy took place, Malaysia, as a country-owner of the aircraft, the United States, as a country-manufacturer of the aircraft and, finally, the ICAO.”

On July 25, Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Australia signed the Agreement on sending of Australian personnel to Ukraine in connection to the MH17 crash. Australian personnel which will be sent to Ukraine under the Agreement will be providing security of the crash site.” The Agreement was ratified by the Parliament of Ukraine, At the same time, despite the dreadful tragedy with Malaysia Airlines aircraft, the Ambassador emphasized that “terrorists have not stopped violent actions and still continue bombing of the site with the purpose to destroy evidences.

He urged the international community to apply maximum political pressure on Russia in order to make it to withdraw the terrorists from Ukraine, to allow the Ukrainian and international experts to grant full and unimpeded access to the crash site and actively promote the comprehensive investigation into the tragedy.”

During the press briefing, Ambassador Sergeyev stated that he welcomed the latest statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We agree that the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine may amount to a war crime.” In terms of cooperating with the investigating teams, the Ambassador said that the Ukrainian authorities are rendering all possible assistance to the foreign investigation teams. Ukraine has provided “all necessary technical equipment and personnel to hold the investigation and forensic examinations, as well as all means to repatriate the victims’ bodies to theirrespective countries.”

The ambassador quoted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko when he stated…”having shot down the aircraft, militants committed three crimes: the terrorist act of firing a missile at the civilian aircraft, offensive mistreatment of the dead bodies, particularly their removal, as well as elimination of the evidence and hindering the work of not only the Ukrainian commission of inquiry, but also the international experts of the ICAO commission.,” The Permanent Representative of Ukraine, in referring to the so-called “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic” in a statement, said that “it must be recognized as a terrorist organization not only in Ukraine, but also the whole world.” He indicated that “cooperation with them must be considered as support for terrorism.”

In looking back at the resolution that was passed by the 15 member UN Security Council on July 21, the resolution called for “an independent, international investigation and an immediate halt to military activities in the area. It also demanded that the armed groups allow an investigation according to the established procedures of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other international bodies, providing safe, unrestricted access to “appropriate investigating authorities”, as well as to the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Shown here are some of the comments made by UN Security Council members and other Member States regarding Resolution 2166 (2014) on the Malaysian jet crash. What they had in common was that they were all calling for a full, credible, unhindered investigation on the incident which has global significance.

Samantha Power (United States) said that the resolution was necessary as there had been a lack of cooperation from some Member States to support unimpeded access to the site. According to the US Ambassador, images had shown armed thugs walking around the site, crunching debris, and carting away evidence which had been condemned around the world She added, “however, there had been too little condemnation from the Russian Federation, which had blamed air traffic controllers and Ukraine, among others.

The Russian Federation could use its influence on the armed groups to stop evidence tampering and allow full access, as well as to agree on a ceasefire and sit down with President Petro Poroshenko, That would demonstrate its willingness to take steps to end the conflict.”

Franciscus Cornelis Gerardus Maria Timmermans, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, from which some two thirds of the victims originated, acknowledged his country’s grief and outrage at the downed flight, as well as despair over the “excruciatingly slow process” of securing the crash site and recovering the victim’s remains. The priority was to bring those bodies home, he said, however, there had been disturbing reports of bodies being moved about and looted for their possessions.

He said it was beyond his understanding why it took so much time for rescue workers to be allowed to do their work, or why human remains could be used in a political game. Images of victim’s luggage being opened or their passports being shown had turned the Netherland’s grief into anger, and he demanded unimpeded access to the terrain and respectful treatment of the crash site.

Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, speaking after the vote said the resolution was an unambiguous response by the international community to the deplorable act of the downing of the flight. Her nation, she explained, was devastated by the loss of so many of its citizens, recounting stories of those people who had died, including children returning with their grandfather from holiday, as well as international HIV/AIDS experts on their way to a conference.

However, grief had turned to outrage at the difficulties of investigators in accessing the site. The resolution demanded that armed groups in control of the site provide safe access immediately for recovery of the bodies. Furthermore, those armed groups should stop any actions that compromised the integrity of the crash site.

Hussein Haniff of Malaysia underscored that no amount of measures would ever compensate or assuage the grief and suffering of the families and loved ones of the victims. It was incumbent that the United Nations honour those killed by undertaking a full, thorough and independent investigation into the downed flight.

After informing the Security Council that his country would dispatch a team on July 18 to help investigators, that team had arrived in Kiev on Saturday, July 19, joining other national teams from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, known as the Joint International Investigation Team.

However, he said, the team had yet to be given full access to the crash site, and that was unacceptable. Lithuania’s Dainius Baublys extended condolences for the victims, and said that their remains must be treated with dignity. He looked forward to a thorough and independent investigation. “Impunity will not go unpunished,” he stressed, regretting any tampering at the crash site. The Secretary-General should provide support to the investigation, as requested in the resolution, as quickly as possible. He strongly criticized the human rights record of the separatist rebels and called on the Russian Federation to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbours.

Mark Lyall Grant (United Kingdom), expressing grief over all those lost, including 10 from his country, said that the victims were owed what was demanded In the resolution. He said what had been happening at the crash site was ”sickening”, as the separatists had shown little regard for the bodies or a proper investigation.
Investigators must have immediate access and those responsible must be held accountable. He said the background of the event was Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and called for that effort to end.

Canada’s Guillermo Rishchynski, welcoming the 17 July statement by the Trilateral Contact Group, said, however, that declarations were not enough. The Russian Federation and pro-Russian militants must match words with deeds and cooperate fully with the investigation. Pointing to President Putin’s continued support for the armed groups in the area, he said that the President had the ability to end the conflict by ending his support to pro-Russian forces and the build-up of troops on the Ukrainian border, as well as by withdrawing his troops from Crimea and using his country’s “considerable influence” to broker a ceasefire.

Heino Thomas (Germany), mourning the loss of life on the Malaysian Airlines flight, including four German citizens, expressed shock at mounting evidence that the airliner was shot down, calling that an outrageous crime and deeming the current handling of the crash site “abominable”. He called for unhindered access for international experts and monitors, allowing the immediate start of a thorough investigation, as well as a guarantee against further tampering with possible evidence. He added that the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire must be reciprocated immediately by the separatists. He also expected the Russian Federation to bring its influence to bear on the separatists to help bring an end to the fighting and full support to the investigation.

In remarks made on July 21 following the unanimous adoption of resolution 21660 on the Malaysian Jet Crash, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said that all of Ukraine was mourning and expressing sorrow at the embassies of the countries that had lost citizens in the aircraft’s downing, Today’s resolution would help to facilitate the necessary investigation of the crash. INTERPOL and Russian experts had been invited to participate, and he called on the Russian Federation to use its influence on those in control of the site to ensure access to it

Ann Charles
Ann Charles is UN Bureau Chief of "Baltic Review" based in New York City. She covers diplomatic activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the world body's work in human rights, education, culture, the environment, and tourism, among other global concerns.

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