This week, court proceedings into downing Boeing MH17 in July 2014 in Donbas began. All 298 people on board - 283 passengers and 15 crew members - died. This catastrophe has become the largest in the history of aviation since September 11, 2001. This is the first international trial on finding those responsible for the tragedy, and the proceedings are held in the Netherlands.
The judges are:
- H. Steenhuis LLM
- D.A.C. Koster LLM
- C.I.H. Kerstens-Fockens LLM
- D.R. Glass LLM
- E.A. Poppe-Gielesen LLM
After the first day of the presiding judges, Judicial Spokespeople Yolande Wijnnobel and Paul Rouwen of the District Court of The Hague briefed the press, as CourtMH17 reported.
“Three judges would hear the merits of the case. They would put questions and take decisions. In light of the expected length of the trial, two alternate judges were also present in court. In the event that one of the sitting judges were to fall ill or be unable to continue hearing the case, he or she would be replaced by one of the alternates. The trial would, therefore, not have to be brought to a halt,” reads the message.
It was announced that hearings would take place on 8 June through 3 July 2020, 31 August through 13 November and 1 February through 26 March 2021.
During the first day of the session, the judges established who had appeared in court and whether the accused had been correctly summoned. They also took stock of whether the case file was complete, whether more was to be added to it and whether the defense had requested in this regard.
On the eve of the trial, representatives of the investigating authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine, and the Netherlands signed an Agreement on the extension of the work of the Joint Investigation Group (OSG).
The Joint Investigative Group from Ukraine included 4 representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the group was led by Gyunduz Mamedov, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who coordinates the work on the investigation of international crimes.
Prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse told the court afterward the accused "noted with delight that an aircraft had been shot down," as ABC.net reported. “None of the accused in the disaster — Russians Igor "Strelkov" Girkin, Oleg Pulatov and Sergei Dubinsky, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — were present in the courtroom. All four are believed to be in Russia. Only Mr. Pulatov sent a defense lawyer,” the outlet wrote.
"Why are these four? Girkin - because at that time he held the most important military post in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Dubinsky was his deputy, Pulatov - deputy for Dubinsky, and Kharchenko - because he was subordinate to Dubinsky. Thus it became possible to recreate a "single-chain" in this case, investigators believe," DW wrote.
If the defendants are not present at the trial, the case is heard "in absentia."
The judge said the trial was likely to stretch into next year, with the case file containing 36,000 documents and an enormous number of multimedia files, the 9news.com.au reported.
"They were in command of others; they directed the Buk-TELAR (missile launcher) to the launch location; they talked during intercepted communications about the need for a Buk to serve their cause and whether 'their' Buk had done its job… Groups that fight independently or do not respect the laws of armed conflict are therefore excluded (from legal protections), " Ferdinandusse told.
It was also reported that local residents of eastern Ukraine, where the tragedy happened, were been traumatized by the downing. "Many of them were directly confronted with the horrific consequences of the downing of flight MH17… Wreckage and bodies fell from the sky, sometimes straight through the roofs of their houses," Ferdinandusse said.
Prosecutor read out the names of all 298 people, and it took near 20 minutes to voice each.
"In more than one country in the world, mainly Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Philippines, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vietnam and South African, all mourn for the demise of their citizens," Dutch prosecutor Dedy Woei-A-Tsoi told the court.
Many word media outlets emphasized the deeply emotional moment of the trial – many relatives came to attend the hearings. They were free to leave the courtroom whenever they needed and that that would not disrupt the conduct of proceedings.
In connection with the start of MH17 case criminal proceedings on March 9, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne called on the Russian Federation to cooperate with the investigation.
The MH17 trial is a criminal case conducted in the Netherlands under Dutch law. The legislation was drafted to make it possible to try the suspects in the Netherlands. Any sentence handed down by the court will be enforced in accordance with Dutch law.