Five years on, will justice prevail for MH17?

Malaysian officials are working with investigators from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine to find the real perpetrators who brought down the Boeing 777

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by TMR FILE

IT HAS been five years since the unthinkable and brutal downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine.

The earth-shattering news broke on July 17, 2014, announcing at 4:20pm local time, that MH17 was shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile, killing 298 people on board.

They were innocent souls who were travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur — a trip that became the final destination to 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew members), 193 Dutch, 38 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons and few others from various countries.

“We are sad as it was something done on purpose, but we do not know who launched the rocket. We know it was a rocket, but we have yet to know who did it,” Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday. Meanwhile in a statement, the Transport Ministry said Malaysia’s resolve for accountability and justice will not wane.

“The government will continue to pursue those who were responsible for the heinous crime and secure justice for the victims.

“Malaysia will continue to work with the other members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and other grieving nations, as well as the international community in informing the progress to the next of kin in searching for accountability and justice,” the statement read.

Under JIT, Malaysian officials are working hand-in-hand with investigators from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine to find the real perpetrators who brought down the Boeing 777.

On June 19 this year, international investigators charged four people with murder over the shooting down of MH17. They are three Russian nationals — Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and one Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko.

The four pleaded not guilty of the accusations and will be tried on March 9, 2020, in the Netherlands.

However, they are likely to be tried in absentia as Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution.

Moscow has strongly denied any involvement in the downing of the airplane, despite investigation indicating that the BUK surface-to-air missile originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.

Prosecutors said Girkin was a former colonel of Russia’s Federal Security Service and was the self-declared defence minister in the separatist administration of Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

Dubinskiy was a former minister of Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU and Pulatov was a former soldier of the Russian special forces Spetsnaz-GRU.

For the sole Ukrainian suspect, Kharchenko, he was said to be a separatist in Donetsk.

Apart from the four men, JIT has also identified more suspects including four more individuals who are believed to have transported the BUK anti-aircraft missile system across the Russian-Ukrainian border.

As the story unfolds, many are of the opinion that it is rather convenient to blame Russia.

However, on any geopolitical incidents, opportunities are abound for parties to jump onto the scene and exploit the narrative.

As eloquently expressed by Dr Mahathir: “Blaming Russia for the shooting down of flight MH17 has always been the ‘script’ of an international political plot to attack the country”.

Above all, he said Malaysia, which was only invited later to join the JIT, wants convincing proof that Russia did it.

However, investigators have jumped into the conclusions from the very beginning and the issue has somehow turned political.

Regardless, whether it was Russia or other parties in the shadow who might easily be the real criminal, the trial next year is the beginning of justice for the fallen 298 on board, as well as their families and friends.

“After five years, it is finally clear that justice will be done. This is very important for the surviving relatives,” Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP.

In the course of nature, the truth will always win and it might just finally come to the surface this time.

Five years on, the story of MH17 will live somehow until the end of time.

And as any wise man would say in conviction, justice will prevail — slowly but surely.