The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has announced Wednesday that it will prosecute three Russians and one Ukrainian man for their role in bringing down flight MH17. What does this mean from a criminal point of view and what consequences does this have for the suspects?
The MH17 process
- Four men are being prosecuted for knocking down MH17
- Sessions begin 9 March 2020 in the Schiphol court
- The suspects are: Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin (48), Sergey Nikolayevich Dubinsky (56), Oleg Yuldashevich Pulatov (52) and Leonid Volodymyrovych Kharchenko (47)
The JIT partnership between Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine has gathered enough evidence in recent years to prosecute the four suspects.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) carries out the prosecution. This will take place in front of the court in The Hague, with the extra secure room at Schiphol as the court location. This is common for a case of this size.
The Netherlands will be the prosecuting party, but in a treaty with Ukraine it is stated that the prosecution of possible suspects of taking down flight MH17 will take place for the benefit of all 298 victims ".
The criminal proceedings begin on 9 March 2020 at 10 a.m. It is said to NU.nl that the process is expected to last the rest of the year. This depends, among other things, on the presence or absence of the suspects and their lawyers. The first part of the process will in any case last from 9 to 13 March and from 23 to 27 March.
Hendrik Steenhuis is the chairman of the court that will be considering the crash of the MH17 flight. He was previously chairman of the court in the case against Geert Wilders.
Transporting 'deadly weapon'
Justice thinks the four men are responsible, among other things, for transporting the "deadly weapon", which resulted in the death of the 298 occupants of the aircraft. There were 196 Dutch people among them.
Their actions caused the death of the occupants, says Fred Westerbeke of the National Prosecutor's Office, "although they did not push the button themselves". He urgently asked the suspects to show up for the sessions on Wednesday, but the trial will also continue if they do not respond to this.
65OM prosecutes four men for MH17: Who they are and the suspicions
Men can be sentenced in absentia
But even if the suspects are not extradited, "it is of great importance if an independent judge in the Netherlands rules that the evidence is upheld," says Marieke de Hoon, criminal law expert at VU University Amsterdam, against NU.nl. "That is not only important for the relatives. But also for the state liability of Russia that is now being discussed."
According to Westerbeke, it does not matter what the intention of the men was. It may be that they thought they were taking down a Ukrainian plane.
"But a soldier does have the obligation to properly identify a target before firing a rocket. If you shoot a rifle rocket into the air without having the correct data about the identity of a device, then you consciously take the risk to take down a civilian plane, "says De Hoon.
In addition to being important for the relatives, a possible conviction can have consequences for the suspects. Even if they don't show up.
"That person has been convicted," says De Hoon. "That means that the freedom of movement of such a person is enormously limited. As soon as he goes abroad, the Netherlands can ask the country where he is going to be extradited. Such a person becomes very dependent on the favor of the Russian regime - and that can change over the years. "
See also: These men are wanted for their involvement in the MH17 air disaster
Proof against the men
The evidence against the people consists, among other things, of the discovery that MH17 was shot down with a Russian-made stoop-missile. The launch installation came from a Russian base at Koersk.
Several telephone taps, reconstructions based on the social media of separatists and other documents ensure that these four men can be designated as responsible persons.
For example, a separatist chats with a woman named Anastasia and hints that he is on a secret mission with the 53rd brigade in Ukraine. The woman recommends this by sending the colors of the flag of the country, after which he calls her "not only beautiful, but also smart". The JIT wants to get in touch with them so that he may be able to tell who the crew of the rifle rocket installation was.
"Crime scene was and is a war zone"
According to Westerbeke, their crime scene was and still is a war zone, and part of the investigation could therefore not take place. Another call was made on Wednesday for possible witnesses to the downing of MH17.
The four men who now have enough evidence against it are prosecuted for the death of MH17 resulting in the death of all passengers (article 168 of the Criminal Code) and for the murder of the 298 persons (punishable by law) in Article 289 of the Criminal Code).
Westerbeke has asked Russia to have the suspects interrogated by way of a formal request. Extradition has not been requested because both Ukraine and Russia do not extradite nationals according to their constitution.