Australia and the Netherlands initiate UN action against Russia over flight MH17

SYDNEY / AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Australia and the Netherlands said on Monday they had launched joint legal proceedings against Russia at the United Nations aviation agency over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 eight years ago.

A Boeing 777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when rebel-held eastern Ukraine was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 on board.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Russia was responsible under international law and that passing the matter over to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization would be a step forward in the fight for the victims, including 38 Australians.

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The Dutch government said the UN Security Council was informed of the move.

“The deaths of 298 civilians, including 196 Dutch, cannot and should not remain without consequences. The current events in Ukraine underscore the vital importance of this,” Foreign Minister Wubke Hoekstra said in a statement.

The rare measure comes under an article of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Chicago Convention that aims to protect civilian aircraft from weapons fire. It was added in 1984 after a South Korean airliner was shot down by Soviet fighters the previous year.

The UN move is separate from the Dutch murder trial of four suspects due to their individual criminal responsibility.

compensation

Australia said it was seeking full compensation from Russia for the injuries and suspending Russia’s vote at the International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets standards for civil air travel.

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Although it has no regulatory authority, the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization is at the heart of a global aviation safety system that operates across political barriers. According to the agency’s website, dispute procedures have only been used five times.

Morrison said Russia’s “unprovoked and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” that began last month highlighted the need to hold Russia accountable for what he described as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Australia and the Netherlands said they would rely on evidence that the MH17 was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile system that was flown in from Russia under the control of Russian-backed separatists, and returned to Russia after the downfall.

Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation,” has always denied involvement in MH17 and has promoted a range of alternative theories, which international investigators have dismissed as unsupported by evidence.

Negotiation

While the outcome at the ICAO is uncertain, experts said the move may be seen as another way to force Russia into negotiations over the accident, even as it continues to deny any involvement.

In previous cases, a formal ICAO discussion was also seen as a step toward filing a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as Iran did against the United States in 1989 over the 1988 shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australia and the Netherlands pursued negotiations with Russia in good faith, but that Russia unilaterally withdrew in 2020.

The Netherlands said last year it wanted to bring Russia back to the negotiating table, but did not rule out legal action.

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It was not immediately possible to obtain a comment from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

A verdict in the murder case, which involves three Russians and a Ukrainian who are still at large, is expected later this year. None of the defendants appeared in the Dutch court.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Tim Hever. Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Hugh Lawson

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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