MH17 UN criminal tribunal vetoed by Russia in blow to Australia

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Trevor Collens Julie Bishop with other leaders outside the UN Security Council. Photo: James Massola
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The text messages driving Bishop to seek justice

New York: Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have launched a blistering attack on Russia after it killed off a UN push for an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The Russian veto – the sole dissenting vote on the 15-member UN Security Council – came despite 11 nations voting to establish the tribunal and just three nations, including China, abstaining.

Ms Bishop didn’t hold back after Australian hopes were dashed by vote, declaring it had compounded the atrocity that occurred when flight MH17 was shot down a year ago, killing 298 people, including 39 Australians.

A strident Ms Bishop told the Security Council it was “inconceivable” that, in a world with a growing number of violent terrorist groups in it, “the Security Council would now walk away from holding to account those who brought down a commercial airline”.

“The vote only compounds the atrocity.”

Mr Abbott said Russia’s veto was “outrageous”.

“By its actions today, Russia has shown complete disregard for the families’ right to know who was responsible and to see these criminals face justice,” he said in a statement.

“Russia had an opportunity to join the international community in this effort. Its actions reinforce concerns Russia is protecting the perpetrators and continuing to assault the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

After months of diplomacy, weeks of lobbying and days of meetings, it was – as expected – Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin who dealt the fatal blow to the push to establish an independent criminal tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the airliner, signalling his nation’s veto in the early hours of Thursday morning (Australia time).

“The exercise of the veto today is an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their family and friends,” Ms Bishop said. “Russia has made a mockery of its own commitment to accountability enshrined in resolution 2166.

“Those responsible may believe that they can now hide behind the Russian federation’s veto. They will not be allowed to evade justice.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin went even further than Ms Bishop during the Security Council session, telling Russia there could be no reason to oppose this unless it was, in fact, the perpetrator.

And Malaysian Transport Minister Dato’ Sri Liow Tiong Lai, who introduced the resolution on behalf of Australia, Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium and his own nation – the five countries cooperating in the joint investigation team [JIT] – said  the world had been shocked when MH17 had been shot down a year ago.

“A year ago the [Security] Council demanded accountability in resolution 2166, it is now timely for the council to take action… and pursue the cause of accountability for the senseless killing of those aboard MH17.”

After the Russian veto, Mr Liow said the “council is now taking a step back and sending the wrong message to the victims’ families and loved ones… the council has failed”.

After the vote, Ms Bishop, Mr Klimkin, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders and Mr Liow held a joint press conference at which they pledged to pursue alternative prosecution methods to ensure those responsible were brought to justice.

Mr Koenders hit back at Russian claims the push to establish the tribunal was premature and said there “are various options for prosecution at national and international level..prosecution will take place”.

“We will continue in our efforts, we won’t let the veto weaken our resolve,” he said, adding that the JIT would remain united and find a way a legal alternative to ensure prosecution.

In a speech that attempted to justify his nation’s veto, Russian UN representative Vitaly Churkin said the investigation had been “carried out by members of the JIT in a closed fashion”.

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