Russia will have to answer to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the disaster of flight MH17. The court in Strasbourg will hear a complaint from the Netherlands against Russia. It is the first time that an international court has considered responsibility for the plane crash.
The Netherlands holds Russia responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch people, were killed.
In 2020, the Netherlands filed a complaint against Russia with the ECtHR. According to the Netherlands, Russia played an important role in the downing of MH17. The Netherlands believes that Moscow has not conducted enough investigations and has not cooperated sufficiently with Dutch requests for criminal investigations. Frustrating the investigation and systematically denying and spreading disinformation causes extra suffering for the next of kin.
The European Court first had to decide whether to deal with the complaint. This can only be done once all legal remedies in the country being sued have been exhausted. Because there is little confidence in the independence of the Russian judiciary, the Netherlands immediately went to the court in Strasbourg.
If the court ultimately finds Russia guilty, it will be of great political significance. It may also order Moscow to pay damages. The verdict could be years away.
Russia unsuccessfully tried to prevent the court in Strasbourg from taking up the case. It claimed it had nothing to say in eastern Ukraine when the Buk missile that killed MH17 was fired from there in 2014. According to Moscow, the rebels were in control of Ukrainian territory.
The Netherlands argued at the court that Russia did indeed have a say in eastern Ukraine at the time. The country is strengthened in this by the verdict of the Dutch court in the MH17 criminal trial. Last November, three suspects were sentenced to life imprisonment because they were involved in bringing in, transporting and deploying the missile. The judge ruled that Russia had “effective control” over the rebel territory and was therefore closely involved in the disaster.
Let chance go
No Russian delegation showed up at the court this afternoon. “Russia misses the chance to take the stage again to spread its view of the facts,” says international criminal justice expert Marieke de Hoon.
Like last year, when both parties were allowed to tell their story before the judges. Then the Russian delegation explained its own interpretation of the facts in detail and tried to pin the blame on Ukraine, to the fury of MH17 relatives.
But Russia would not be allowed to speak in court this time and would have to rely on the many assembled journalists, De Hoon recalls. The court merely reads its decision and then hammers it down. Moreover, the country describes the ECtHR as a partisan ‘fake court’, used by the West to blacken Russia. Moscow has been ignoring the court in Strasbourg for years and has withdrawn completely since last year.
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