News World MH17 anniversary: unanswered questions

MH17 anniversary: unanswered questions

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As families and friends prepare to gather in Canberra on Friday to commemorate the first anniversary of the MH17 disaster, they continue to endure the agony of not having answers to crucial questions surrounding the atrocity that claimed 298 innocent lives.

Who fired the missile that shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine? Will those responsible be identified and ever brought to justice? And how was the Boeing 777-200ER passenger plane allowed to fly over a war zone anyway?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will lead the national memorial service at Parliament House and unveil a plaque bearing the names of the 38 victims of Flight MH17 “who called Australia home”. Similar commemorations have been, or are being held in Malaysia and The Netherlands.

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In a statement released to The New Daily, Mr Abbott said all Australians mourned the loss of Flight MH17 in which the deaths of innocent people “outraged our sense of justice”.

“One year on, we will remember all those who died – especially the men, women, and children who called Australia home,” he said.

MH17 wreckage
Workers remove wreckage from downed aircraft MH17 months after the tragedy. Photo: AAP

As most of MH17’s passengers were from the Netherlands, Dutch authorities were charged with co-ordinating the recovery operation in war-torn Ukraine. Apart from two Dutch passengers, the remains of all victims are reported to have been found and identified.

The Netherlands also took the lead in the aviation safety and criminal investigations into MH17 but while both investigations will hopefully provide some answers for those left to grieve, much work still needs to be done.

The Dutch Safety Board is expected to deliver its top-secret final report into MH17 in October but its findings will only deal with the cause of the crash and not identify those responsible.

The task of finding and punishing the perpetrators rests with a joint criminal investigation team, which also includes Australian detectives.

Meanwhile, Australia has asked the United Nations to set up an international criminal tribunal to bring those responsible to justice. Russia, which is a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, has opposed the move, describing it as “counterproductive”.

Did Russia do it?

Amid all the claims, counter-claims and obfuscation surrounding the tragedy, there is broad acceptance that MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile.

However, who actually launched the devastating weapon remains a matter of great contention. The theory Western investigators most favour is that pro-Russian separatists – or even Russian soldiers from a Kursk army brigade – were responsible.

On the other hand, the Kremlin continues to peddle the view that MH17 was downed by a Ukrainian jet fighter while a state-run Russian weapons manufacturer confirmed last month that a BUK missile was indeed the culprit, but claimed it was fired from a region controlled by Kiev forces and not by separatists.

Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told reporters in Rotterdam last month that many “persons of interest” had been identified by the criminal investigation team but there were no definite suspects. He also said a dossier of evidence to enable any trial would not be ready before the end of the year at the least.

The political impact

Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin
PM Tony Abbott talks with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines at the APEC summit. Photo: AAP

The MH17 disaster fed into ongoing global outrage over the destabilisation of the Ukraine, resulting in the West portraying Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a pariah and imposing the strongest economic sanctions against Russia since the Cold War.

The sanctions, led by the European Union and the US, have targeted Russia’s oil companies and defence and technology industries and have put significant international pressure on Putin and his inner Kremlin circle.

Mr Abbott was one of the first Western leaders to stand up to Putin in what turned out to be a decisive turning point for his faltering leadership. Calling on Russia to support a “full and fearless” investigation, Mr Abbott told the Russian president that Australians “were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment”. He also famously vowed to “shirtfront” Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane late last year.

While Putin avoided any such Aussie physicality at the international get-together, he was certainly given the cold shoulder by some leaders and ended up leaving the summit earlier than scheduled.

Are our skies safe?

The MH17 disaster sent shockwaves through the commercial aviation industry and particularly highlighted the vulnerability of commercial aircraft flying over international trouble spots.

As it turned out, 2014 was one of the safest aviation years in history despite seven fatal commercial passenger plane incidents, including the highly-publicised disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines flight, MH370. The Boeing 777, with 239 people on board, is still missing despite one of the biggest and most expensive sea searches ever.

The Germanwings Airbus A320 which crashed in the French Alps on March 24 this year at the hands of a suicidal co-pilot again stirred up people’s fear of flying and prompted the first major worldwide review of pilot procedures and cockpit safety.

However, the reality is that the occurrence of commercial jet crashes is infinitesimal given global aviation carries something like three billion passengers on more than 37 million flights every year. In fact, based on the airline safety record in the US alone, a person’s chance of being in a fatal accident is estimated to be one in seven million.

How are the victims being remembered?

Lives cut short: Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin. Photo: Supplied

The national memorial service on Friday in Canberra will be held in the Great Hall at Parliament House. Mr Abbott will also unveil a plaque in the House of Representatives’ gardens bearing the names of “the men, women, and children who called Australia home”.

“This will serve as a permanent reminder that we will never, ever forget the innocent victims of Flight MH17,” Mr Abbott said in a statement to The New Daily.

The Australian flag will also be flown at half-mast on all government buildings as a mark of respect.

Among those who will be remembered at the service will be the Maslin children – Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8 – whose story is one of the most touching among the “Aussies” who were killed.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak led an emotional memorial at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last Saturday, with the Malaysian families of those killed demanding justice.

In the Netherlands, about 2000 grieving relatives will gather on Thursday at a private ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other top officials. Dutch flags will also fly at half-mast.

-with AAP

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