Australia has been given a chance to directly make its case against Russia over the downing of Flight MH17.
The United Nations aviation council has voted to hear Australia and the Netherlands’ case against Moscow over the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight nearly nine years ago, the Albanese government has said.
The doomed plane was blown out of the sky on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 while it was flying over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border during the Donbas war between the two eastern European nations.
All 298 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 777 were killed after it was struck at 33,000 feet with a Russian ground-to-air missile and broke apart while it was still in the air.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the International Civil Aviation Organization Council’s decision to hear Australia’s case against the Kremlin as an “important step” to hold to account the perpetrators of a “horrific act of violence”.
“We have maintained since May 2018 that the Russian Federation is responsible under international law for the downing of Flight MH17,” the ministers said.
“We now look forward to presenting our legal arguments and evidence to the ICAO Council as we continue to seek to hold Russia to account.”
Senator Wong and Mr Dreyfus said Australia was committed to seeking truth, justice, and accountability for the victims.
“Our thoughts remain with those who lost their lives, their families and loved ones,” they said.
Australia has been calling for Russia to surrender the three men responsible for downing MH17 since they were convicted of murder in absentia in a Dutch court last year.
The District Court of The Hague in November found Russian nationalists Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
A fourth defendant, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted.
Shortly after the verdict was delivered, Senator Wong accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “harbouring murderers”.
An international team of investigators headquartered in the Netherlands said last month it had found “strong indications” Mr Putin had personally signed off on a decision to supply the missile that downed MH17.
But members of Joint Investigation Team said they had insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Putin or any other suspects and they would suspend their inquiry after more than eight years, saying “all investigative options have now been exhausted”.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the downing of the flight, and Australia and the Netherlands are now hoping to pursue justice through the International Civil Aviation Organization Council.
The United Nations aviation council’s decision came as the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin on unrelated allegations relating to the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The ICC alleges the president is responsible for war crimes and released a statement on Friday accusing him of the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia from the time the conflict began on February 24 last year.
Russian commissioner for children’s rights Maria Lvova-Belova is also wanted by the ICC for the same crimes.
Moscow has denied the allegations and called the arrest warrants “outrageous”.
The warrants are unlikely to result in much except for potentially hindering Mr Putin’s international travel plans, given the ICC can only exercise its powers within countries that recognise its jurisdiction.
Russia isn’t one of them.