THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands and Ukraine argued Wednesday that a high-level European court should hear their cases seeking to hold Russia accountable for human rights abuses in the Eastern Ukraine, including the 2014 downing of an airliner that killed all 298 people on Council.
Lawyers representing the Dutch government told the European Court of Human Rights in the French city of Strasbourg that Russia had effective control over rebel forces in eastern Ukraine when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot on July 17, 2014.
The preliminary hearing on the admissibility of the Ukrainian and Dutch cases against Russia opened amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over the huge buildup of troops in Moscow near the border with Ukraine and fears of conflict.
Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Maliuska told the court that events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014 foreshadowed the current crisis.
He told the court that his country faced “a coherent or long-term policy of the Russian Federation aimed at bending Ukraine to Russian interests and leading it away from its path to Western values and civilization. This policy continues to this day.
An international investigation has concluded that a Buk missile transported from a Russian military base in Ukraine shot down the Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The missile launch system was then returned to Russia, the investigation found. At the time, pro-Russian separatists were fighting Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.
Dutch lawyer Babette Koopman said the Dutch government had concluded that the missile launch system “was provided by Russia with a crew to the separatists”. The Buk missile was launched from an area under effective Russian control and by, or at least with the assistance of, Russian state agents.
Koopman told the judges that relatives of the plane’s dead are still awaiting an admission of responsibility and the fact that none has been made “has added and continues to add to the next of kin’s already immense grief.”
Maliuska went to court to personally defend the cause of his government. He told judges that after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Moscow used “this same traveling circus of professional separatists” in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies any involvement and its lawyer Mikhail Vinogradov has urged the court to declare the cases inadmissible.
If the Dutch and Ukrainian cases are ruled admissible by the court’s judges, it will likely take them years to come to a conclusion.
Relatives of some of the victims were in court on Wednesday. Ahead of the hearing, they held up a banner outside that read “Awaiting Answers and Accountability” printed on flight number “MH17”.
Three Russians and a Ukrainian are on trial in the Netherlands for their alleged role in the attack in a criminal case separate from the hearings in Strasbourg. None of the four appeared for a trial in the Netherlands.
In a statement, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra called Wednesday’s hearing “an important step in the Netherlands’ pursuit of justice for the victims and their loved ones.” This is and will remain a priority for the government.