MH17 tragedy: a year on, families of Australian victims gather to grieve

A service in the Great Hall at Parliament House will mark 12 months since the plane was downed over Ukraine, killing 38 Australian citizens and residents

Australians who lost family members on flight MH17 over Ukraine a year ago say they hope a memorial service in Canberra on Friday will be “a useful part of the grieving process”.

The service, to be held in the Great Hall at Parliament House, coincides with the anniversary of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane that was carrying 298 people.

The victims included 38 Australian citizens or residents, and an international investigation into the apparent attack involving a surface-to-air missile is yet to publish its final report.

Paul Guard, who lost his parents Roger and Jill Guard, said nine people from his family would attend the service.

“We appreciate the support of the Australian community and bringing us together at this time,” he said. “I hope it’s a useful part of the grieving process for us.”

Before the service, Tony Abbott will unveil a plaque in the House of Representatives gardens on soil taken from the Ukrainian region where the plane came down.

The prime minister is due to address the service in the Great Hall, along with the governor general, Peter Cosgrove, the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and the MH17 special envoy, Angus Houston.

Families will have the opportunity to lay floral wreaths.

Abbott said the anniversary was a chance to “restate our support for the families and honour the lives of their loved ones”.

“There were 298 innocent people on this aircraft and their deaths offend our sense of justice,” he said in a statement.

“We grieve for all, but particularly for the 40 victims who called Australia home, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

“I thank the men and women who contributed to the response to MH17 for their professionalism and commitment. They ensured the victims of this tragedy were treated with dignity and respect, and that their families were provided with the best support we could give.”

Abbott has previously pointed the finger of blame at Russia, saying last year that Australia had information suggesting the plane was “destroyed by a missile from a launcher that had come out of Russia, was fired from inside eastern Ukraine and then returned to Russia”.

Houston, who led the Australian response to the MH17 downing, told the ABC’s 7.30 program on Thursday: “I regard it not as an accident, I regard it as a crime, and I think it is very important that those who are responsible for the outrage are brought to justice.”

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said the Australian government wanted the UN security council to establish an international criminal tribunal to try those responsible for bringing down MH17.

She said this call had support from Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine – the other countries investigating the incident.

Guard was cautious about the prospect of such prosecutions.

“I’ve said often that I find it unlikely that they’ll be able to find and actually prosecute the people responsible, but if it can be done that’s a worthwhile goal to deter others from doing something similar in future,” he said.

“My priority has always been to get the parties in the conflict to stop fighting and talk to each other and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.”


Daniel Hurst Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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