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UN Security Council Members Seek Tribunal to Prosecute Whoever Shot Down MH17

Russia has called the proposed tribunal a "grandiose political show."

by Samuel Oakford
Jul 14 2015, 6:15pm

Relatives of the victims of the MH17 passenger plane crash react during the Malaysia Airlines MH17 First Year Memorial Ceremony, in Kompleks Bunga Raya, Sepang, Malaysia, 11 July 2015. Photo by Fairy Ismail/EPA

Five countries — Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — have urged the UN Security Council to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine nearly one year ago.

Malaysia, an elected member of the Security Council, has circulated a draft resolution aiming to create such a body. According to diplomats, the five countries, who comprise the so called "Joint Investigation Team" that is focused on the crash, aim to bring the text to a vote by July 21 — exactly one year after the Security Council's first resolution on MH17.

Four days prior, on July 17 of last year, the Malaysia Airlines flight travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed roughly 25 miles from the Russian border, in Ukraine's Donetsk region. All 298 passengers and crew, died, including 196 from the Netherlands.

"The establishment of an international criminal tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter for this purpose would send a clear message that the international community will not tolerate acts that threaten international peace and security by endangering civil aviation," said Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

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Following the crash, suspicion immediately fell upon Russian-backed separatists fighting in the Donetsk region. Western governments blamed the Kremlin, which has supported the rebels as they battle the Ukrainian army. A preliminary report released by the Dutch Safety Board in September found that the plane was struck by a "number of high-energy objects." Western countries and the Ukrainian government say the plane was brought down by a "Buk" surface-to-air missile supplied by Moscow. Russia denies these allegations.

"The logic of the five [Joint Investigation Team] countries is that doing it now around the time of the first anniversary, before the investigation is concluded, allows one to sort of get away from any sense that this is going after one country or person," said one Council diplomat.

But Russia — that "one country" — has already made clear its displeasure with the proposed tribunal.

"Unfortunately, it seems that this is an attempt to organize a grandiose political show which only damages efforts to find the guilty parties," Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters last Thursday. Russia is one the Security Council's five permanent members, and wields a veto.

Related: New Report Offers More Evidence Separatists Used a Russian Missile to Shoot Down MH17

The July 21 resolution, number 2166, called for "efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident," and for "all States and actors in the region to cooperate fully in relation to the international investigation of the incident."

The Dutch Safety Board is expected to release its final report on the incident in October 2015.

Diplomats say the five Security Council members who support the proposed tribunal don't want to wait until October to approve — or at least try to — a tribunal, particularly if the existing investigation further implicates Russia.

"A tribunal established by the Council would ensure broad international support for prosecutions and would maximise the prospects of securing international cooperation, which will be necessary for an effective prosecution," said Australian Foreign Minister Bishop.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford

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