Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing 777, was shot down over the eastern region of Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam capital to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014, killing all on board. The disaster happened during a conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The Netherlands has long argued that Russia played a key role in the air disaster. Now, the European Court of Human Rights says the Netherlands’ case is admissible and can be heard.
In reaching this decision, the European Court of Human Rights found that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands were, from May 11, 2014 and up to at least January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. The court also found that Russia had a significant influence on the separatists’ military strategy; that it had provided weapons and other military equipment to separatists on a significant scale; that it had carried out artillery attacks upon requests from the separatists; and that it had provided political and economic support to the separatists.
The court has declared that “the evidential threshold for the purposes of admissibility had been met in respect of the complaints of the Government of the Netherlands” concerning the downing of MH17 and that the case will therefore be heard. The ruling to hear the case is a clear indicator that the European Court of Human Rights believes that Russia can be held accountable, although a full verdict – which could see Russia compelled to pay damages to victims’ families – is likely to be years away.
In November, 2022, two Russian men and one Ukrainian man were convicted in absentia for murder following the shooting down of Flight MH17. All three men have been given life sentences for helping to arrange the transport into Ukraine of the Russian military missile system that was used to shoot down the plane. The intention had been to shoot down a military plane.
In early March 2014, pro-Russian protests began across eastern regions of Ukraine, including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (“Donbass”). Some of the protestors formed armed groups and the violence rapidly escalated, with pro-Russian separatists seizing public buildings. In mid-April, the government of Ukraine launched an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” to re-establish control over territory controlled by the separatist armed groups. On May 11, 2014, the separatists held “referendums” in the territory they controlled and subsequently declared the independence of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Lugansk People’s Republic”. The fighting intensified and on July 17, 2014 Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was downed near Snizhne, in the Donetsk region. All 298 civilians on board were killed.
An October 2015 report by the Dutch Safety Board concluded the aircraft was “shot down over the eastern part of Ukraine” and noted that “a Russian-made Buk missile hit the front left of the plane causing other parts to break off”. The report said airspace over eastern Ukraine should have been closed during the conflict which was a precursor to Russia’s full-scale invasion.