European human rights court will examine Russia's role in MH17 downing
One year after a hearing on the merits of Dutch and Ukrainian complaints against the Russian Federation, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has decided it will consider Russia's culpability for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Additionally, the court will also handle individual complaints filed by the relatives of the airline crash's victims. The Boeing 777 was transporting 298 passengers and crew when a Russian-made Buk missile ripped the aircraft into three pieces as it flew above eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
The Dutch government accused Russia of violating three articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, specifically Article 2, which protects the right to life, Article 3, which prohibits torture and inhumane treatment, and Article 13, which guarantees a right to an effective remedy when violations take place. This was "in respect of the downing of flight MH17," and Russia's conduct "in the aftermath of the incident, and in relation to the investigative steps taken by the Dutch authorities and the Joint Investigative Team," the court said in the introduction of its verdict.
"The Court concluded that there was sufficiently substantiated prima facie evidence, notably in the material gathered by the JIT, to support the allegations of the Dutch Government under Articles 2, 3 and 13 and the complaints were declared admissible," the court said in a statement. The decision to take on the case is final. The court's Grand Chamber will rule on the merits of the case at a later date.
It will be the first time that the ECtHR rules on the extent in which a country may be held responsible for its role in a plane crash. The court in Strasbourg can order Russia to pay compensation for damages caused by the crash. Representatives of the Netherlands and Ukraine were present in the court, but table provided for the respondent nation, Russia, was left empty despite all countries having been informed of the date in which the ruling was to be read.
The flight departed Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport that morning and was flying towards Kuala Lumpur when it was shot out of the sky. A criminal case heard by the district court of The Hague found three people guilty. Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Chartchenko were convicted in absentia late last year, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Oleg Pulatov, who was the only one of the first four suspects to be represented by a defense attorney, was acquitted.
Six years after the crash, the Netherlands filed an application to have the case heard at the European Court of Human Rights. The court heard arguments on the case's admissibility on January 26, 2022, with the Netherlands arguing that Russia was responsible for the crash as it was effectively in command of military personnel fighting in eastern Ukraine at the time. The Netherlands said that the evidence from the criminal trial sufficiently showed that Russia was not only involved, but in charge.
Russia countered that there is no such thing as control in a war zone like eastern Ukraine. It said that the Ukrainian separatist rebels were in control. Russia also argued that Western countries have shown bias because of their support for the Ukrainian government.
A majority of ECtHR justices that presided over the application said that the MH17 case should be heard by the court as Russia was indeed in control of the territory at the time of the crash. The court unanimously dismissed Russia's claim that the allegations are illegitimate, and that the court does not have jurisdiction. It also said that the case could still be admitted despite being beyond a six-month time limit due to the need to first determine what happened and investigate the cause of the crash before filing the case.