MH17 Crash Trial Begins in Netherlands

  • Six years have passed since the tragedy, but the pain of survivors remains.
  • Three Russians and a Ukrainian are charged with bringing down the plane and the murder of 298 people.
  • The four are believed to be in Russia, and Russia refuses to extradite them.

July 17 is a day which lives in infamy for many Dutch people. It was on this day that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, was destroyed over Ukraine in a ground-based rocket attack by a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people onboard. Most of the victims were Dutch citizens, which is why the trial, that began Monday, is being held in Amsterdam.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed.

Pro-Russian separatist rebels were fighting in Eastern Ukraine against Ukrainian military forces at the time the MH17 was shot down. Six years have passed since the tragedy, but the pain of survivors remains, and they all want to know the details of the incident and punish the perpetrators. Who was responsible for firing the rocket and who ordered it? What was the role of the Russian leadership supporting the separatist rebels in Ukraine? These are a number of questions that the survivors hope to answer during the trial.

Following the catastrophic incident, the JIT, in partnership with the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine, Australia, and Belgium, began investigating the case and gradually amassed evidence that is now being tried in the court. The plane owned by Malaysia Airlines was manufactured by Boeing.

The War in Donbass is an armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. In the aftermath of the Euromaidan movement and the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, protests against the newly formed government took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, an area commonly collectively called the “Donbass.”

They have listened to tens of thousands of recorded phone calls in recent years, interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and initiated numerous technical investigations. Investigators have so far charged four people. Three of the defendants are former Russian intelligence officers from the separatist Donetsk regional government. The fourth defendant is a Donetsk resident who commanded a military unit.

Investigators say the rocket fired from a base inside pro-Russian territory shot down MH17. Russia, however, denies the allegations. In its indictment, the JIT international team has formulated two specific charges against the defendants: causing the aircraft to crash and the murder of 298 people onboard.

Russia regards the allegations as baseless and biased, and dismisses them as unfounded. The Kremlin has so far denied any involvement. Russia’s position has two reasons: one, that Russia wants to avoid compensation, and another that Russia generally rejects the fact that it is engaged in war in eastern Ukraine.

The trial began in Amsterdam on Monday, with two weeks scheduled for initial proceedings. The case itself is expected to take years. Investigations are underway to clarify the details of the disaster, but there are numerous obstacles. One of which is that the defendants— three Russians and a Ukrainian— are believed to be somewhere in Russia, and that Russia refuses to extradite them. The four are, thus, being tried in absentia.

Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew on the flight and now heads a foundation for MH17 victims, put it bluntly. “It’s a bloody shame that the four suspects are having a good time and parties in Russia, but we can’t do anything about it, they won’t be extradited. It’s a fact that we will have to deal with.”

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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