Court approves Russia human rights trial over downing of flight MH17

Judges rule Russia eligible for trial for alleged war crimes in Ukraine because of its effective control over separatist-held areas

Human rights judges have said cases against Russia for the shooting down of flight MH17 and other alleged war crimes can proceed to trial, as they ruled that separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine were under the effective control of the Russian Federation.

All 298 people onboard the Malaysian airlines flight travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when it was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile while flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014 during the war in Donbas.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for 196 of those killed, is seeking to bring a case against Russia for violations of the European convention on human rights in relation to the atrocity.

On Wednesday, the European court of human rights (ECHR) ruled that it could proceed as Russia had effective control over separatist areas in eastern Ukraine from 11 May 2014 until at least 26 January 2022 (when the admissibility hearing in the case took place). The judges cited Russia’s military presence in the region, its degree of influence over the separatists’ military strategy, the supply of weapons and military equipment to them, as well as political support.

The ECHR said the fact that Russia ceased to be a party to the European convention on human rights in September was irrelevant, as the events took place prior to that date.

The Dutch justice minister, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, tweeted: “Very good news: the judgment of the European court of human rights is another important step in finding the truth and justice for the victims and their relatives of flight.”

The Strasbourg court reached the same conclusions in relation to applications by the government of Ukraine in relation to the conflict in Donbas, including alleged unlawful military attacks against civilians and torture of civilians and Ukrainian soldiers. However, the judges said that whether complaints about the bombing and shelling of areas outside separatist – and effective Russian – control could fall within Russian jurisdiction would need to be examined at trial.

They noted that there are around 8,500 individual applications pending in relation to events in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, the Sea of Azov and the invasion by Russia which began in February 2022.

Ben Emmerson KC, international counsel for the government of Ukraine, said the ECHR judgment “shows that President Putin cannot escape the long arm of international law”.

He said the decision meant that despite Russia no longer being a party to the European convention on human rights, the ECHR “nevertheless retains the legal jurisdiction to hold Russia accountable, to make legally binding findings of Russian culpability, and to award reparations for Russian war crimes, including the murder of Ukrainian civilians, the shooting down of the passenger flight MH17, the torture and murder of prisoners of war, the destruction and unlawful appropriation of private property, the kidnapping by Russian forces of three groups of orphaned children and their compulsory transfer to Russia.”

In November last year, a Dutch court found three men guilty of the murder of the 298 people onboard flight MH17. The Russian nationals Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and a Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko were handed life sentences but remain at large.


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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