Sunday, July 27, 2014

Justice at all cost for MH17

The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

Malaysia Airlines' special multi faith prayer service for the tragic and senseless loss of passengers and crew of MH17, at the Malaysia Airlines Academy in Kelana Jaya. - Filepic
States whose citizens perished in the tragedy can pursue the perpetrators in their domestic courts if their criminal laws have extra-territorial jurisdiction. 

SINCE Thursday, I have been thinking how horrible it must have been, the final moments of their lives, when they knew the plane was going down.

“Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts? Did they look each other in the eye, one final time, in a wordless goodbye? We will never know.

“In the last couple of days we have received very disturbing reports, of bodies being moved about, being looted of their possessions.

“Just for one minute, I want to say that I am not addressing you as representatives of your countries, but as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Just imagine you first get the news that your husband has been killed, and within two or three days, you see images of some thug removing the wedding band from their hands. Just imagine that this could be your spouse.

“To my dying day, I will not understand that it took so long for rescue workers to be allowed to do their difficult jobs. For human remains to be used in a political game?”

Those were the sad words of the Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, when he delivered his heart-rending speech at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on July 21 on the downing of MH17. More than two thirds of MH17 victims were Dutch.

Almost at the same time, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak managed to pull off a major diplomatic coup by quietly arriving at an agreement with the leader of the pro-Russian separatist group, Alexander Borodai, that finally broke the impasse and secured the release of the black boxes and remains of the victims of MH17.

“In recent days, there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel. And that I feel. But sometimes, we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome,” said Najib.

In this sense, Malaysia’s foreign policy, which is based on non-alignment and neutrality, may have just paid off.

Be that as it may, Malaysia must still register our absolute outrage, in the strongest possible terms, over the shooting down of MH17. At the time of writing this, investigators still do not have unimpeded access to the crash site and remains of some of the victims are reportedly still on the site.

But as the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put it aptly: “We must have answers, we must have justice, we owe it to the victims and their families to determine what happened and who was responsible.” 

Also, the UNSC Resolution 2166 on MH17 has demanded that “those responsible for this incident be held to account and that all States cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability”.

But sadly, men’s greatest sin is always forgetting about tragedies and not learning from them.

On Sept 1, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island over the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew on board were killed. General Anatoly Kornukov, who was then commander of Dolinsk-Sokol Air Base, Sakhalin, gave the order to shoot down KAL007 without verifying that it was a civilian aircraft.

In 1998, Russia’s president, Boris Yeltsin, even made him chief of the Russian Air Force. The Ukrainian-born Kornukov remained unrepentant throughout. He died early this month. Russia had neither apologised nor made any compensation.

On July 3, 1988, US navy missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf after mistaking it for an Iranian fighter jet. All 290 on board died. President Ronald Reagan and his deputy George Bush Senior refused to apologise. It was not until 1996 that President Bill Clinton’s administration finally expressed “deep regret” over the tragedy and paid the Iranian government US$131.8mil, of which US$61.8mil went to the victim’s families.