Netherlands launches court case against Russia over MH17 downing


The Netherlands has launched a European Court of Human Rights case against Russia over the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, in the latest escalation of its efforts to force Moscow to take responsibility.

The Hague said it was bringing the legal action to pursue “truth, justice and accountability” for the almost 300 people killed after their aircraft was hit over eastern Ukraine by what a Dutch-led international probe concluded was a missile from a Russian-based military unit.

“Achieving justice for 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” said Stef Blok, Dutch foreign minister. “By taking this step . . . we are moving closer to this goal.”

The case is likely to further intensify tensions between the Netherlands and Russia, which denies the allegations against it. It could also be an important test of the authority of the Strasbourg human rights court, after skirmishes with Russia over the implementation of a previous ruling against it over the nationalisation of the Yukos oil company.

The Dutch government said it was bringing the Strasbourg court case to force Russia to account for its “role in the downing of Flight MH17” six years ago next week. It added that it attached importance to continued meetings with Russia on the matter of state responsibility for the disaster, in which almost 200 Dutch nationals died.

“The purpose of these meetings is to find a solution that does justice to the enormous suffering and damage cause by the downing of Flight MH17,” the Dutch foreign ministry said.

Four defendants whom Dutch prosecutors alleged held senior posts in pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine at the time of the MH17 downing are currently being tried in absentia in the Netherlands on charges of murder and of causing an aircraft to crash.

Dutch authorities released detailed evidence last year that the Boeing was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile system brought over the border into Ukraine. They have also accused Moscow of trying to meddle with the investigation, but have not formally charged Russia over the downing. 

Russia’s foreign ministry said the ECHR case was “yet another blow to Russian-Dutch relations” and accused the Netherlands of displaying “the anti-Russian logic to which the technical and criminal investigations were subject.”

“This step will only lead to further politicisation and make the search for truth more difficult,” the ministry said.

Russia’s justice ministry said the ECHR had not informed it of the Dutch application and said the court should begin by assessing the case’s “acceptability”, possibly over several years. 

“Russia categorically rejects accusations of its involvement in the Boeing crash over Ukraine, which is a territory not under Russia’s jurisdiction in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights,” the ministry said. 

The Strasbourg-based human rights court is the main guardian for human rights in Europe. Its jurisdiction covers the 47 countries that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights, including Russia.

But under amendments passed in a vote last week, Russia’s constitutional court may annul international court rulings if it deems they contradict the constitution. The constitutional changes, which also allow President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his rule of two decades until 2036, strengthen a similar law Mr Putin signed in 2015. 

The Council of Europe, which oversees the European human rights court and convention, said all its members were bound by the court’s judgments.

Russian officials claim Moscow will not abandon its European human rights convention obligations and will only void international rulings in exceptional cases. Since 2015, the constitutional court has done so twice: once in 2016 over a case about prisoners’ right to vote, then to overrule an ECHR ruling in 2017 awarding €1.9bn of damages to former shareholders of Yukos.

Russia made another legal change, allowing Moscow to ignore international arbitration decisions, shortly after the Netherlands upheld an award of €50bn to former Yukos shareholders by a tribunal in The Hague in February.

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