Australia launches MH17 legal proceedings against Russia

Lawyers Weekly Australia

The federal government, together with the Netherlands, has initiated legal proceedings against the Russian Federation for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.

In a statement issued on Monday, 14 March 2022, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced the proceedings, launched in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The joint action, together with the Netherlands, is a “major step forward in both countries’ fight for truth, justice and accountability for this horrific act of violence”, the PM, A-G, and Foreign Minister proclaimed.

The downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, over seven years ago, claimed the lives of 298 people, including 38 Australians.

Australia and the Netherlands will rely on “overwhelming evidence”, the statement read, that MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk-TELAR surface-to-air missile system, which was transported from Russia to an area under the control of Russian-backed separatists and which belonged to the Russian Federation’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Military Brigade.

Moreover, the two nations are alleging that the missile could only have been fired by the trained Russian crew of the Buk-TELAR, or at least by someone acting under their instruction, direction or control, and that the missile system was returned to the Russian Federation shortly after the downing of flight MH17.

Almost 18 months ago, Russia withdrew from negotiations with Australia and the Netherlands regarding the downing of flight MH17.

“The Russian Federation’s refusal to take responsibility for its role in the downing of flight MH17 is unacceptable and the Australian government has always said that it will not exclude any legal options in our pursuit of justice,” the government said.

“Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine and the escalation of its aggression underscores the need to continue our enduring efforts to hold Russia to account for its blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter, including threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty and airspace.”

“While we cannot take away the grief of those whose loved ones died as a result of Russia’s actions, the Australian government will pursue every available avenue to ensure Russia is held to account so that this horrific act never happens again,” the statement concluded.

The joint action, brought under article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, follows the Dutch national prosecution of four suspects for their individual criminal responsibility in the downing of flight MH17.