Russia Takes Ukraine to Human Rights Court over Russian Separatist Shootdown of MH17

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 file photo, the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is put on display during a press conference in Gilze-Rijen, central Netherlands. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke up high over Eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people on board. Any suspects in the …
AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office lodged ten complaints against Ukraine on Thursday in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), laying blame on Kyiv for, among other things, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which Russian backed separatists in Ukraine shot down in 2014.

Russia has never before lodged an interstate complaint with the ECHR, the Moscow Times noted. Its debut filing largely blasts Ukraine for a number of allegedly discriminatory practices, most of which came about as a direct result of Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian land.

The downing of the plane resulted in the deaths of 298 civilians on board when pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down the aircraft. International investigators concluded that a missile from the Russian military was responsible for the crash, but the Russian filing did not mention this detail and asserted blame rested with Kyiv for failing to secure its own airspace, presumably against intrusive elements like Russian missiles. The Kremlin does not acknowledge supporting militants in Ukraine.

Governments worldwide loudly condemned Moscow for the crash, with Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States among the most vocal. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Russia must be held accountable, describing the crash as “an egregious example of the Kremlin’s disregard for innocent life.” Such rhetoric, however, amounted to very little, as Russia still denies its role years later, despite investigative findings pointing to her culpability. Instead, the government has cast doubt on the Dutch investigation’s findings, labeling it biased and politically motivated. Thursday’s ECHR filing against Ukraine is only the latest of Russia’s efforts to deflect blame.

Though Thursday marked its first appearance as a complainant, Russia has extensive experience in dealing with the ECHR. Ukraine and the Netherlands have already filed their own cases against Russia in the ECHR accusing her of downing the airline. Both are currently pending and await a hearing in November of this year. A separate Ukrainian filing with the court against Russia in late February alleged the Kremlin organized the “targeted assassination” of its diplomatic personnel, among other grievances, many of which conspicuously resemble the complaints in Moscow’s Thursday filing. The February case marked Kyiv’s ninth ECHR case against Moscow.

Among the other major complaints, Russia accuses Ukraine of being responsible for:

  • Civilian deaths from the 2014 protests against Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, and those stemming from the ongoing civil war in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have formed two breakaway states. Moscow officially denies giving support to the militants.
  • Suppressing free speech, persecuting dissidents, and interfering with the media. The complaint ignored Moscow’s own, well-documented practices of interfering with the free press, which has increased dramatically amid coronavirus lockdowns and a wave of protests pertaining to Russia’s persecution of dissidents.
  • Discriminating against the Russian-speaking population in the country and limiting its use in official channels. The Russian language is the majority tongue in Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine. Ethnic Russians are Ukraine’s largest minority group, though their exact numbers are difficult to calculate given ongoing territorial disputes between the two nations.
  • Blocking the North Crimean Canal, which provides fresh water to the peninsula. Kyiv shut down the 250-mile canal in 2014 after the Russian annexation. The peninsula experienced a severe drought in 2020 and allegedly faces a ongoing water shortage.
  • Attacks on Russian diplomatic and consular personnel operating in Ukraine. Kyiv, likewise, has previously accused Russia of targeting its personnel in Russia and other nations.
  • Refusing to aid the Russian authorities in their “investigation” of Ukraine’s alleged wrongdoings.

The Prosecutor General’s office claimed in a statement that its goal in filing the complaint was to “restore peace and harmony in Ukraine” and that it expected an “unbiased and non-politicized” investigation from the ECHR, according to the Moscow Times.

“The claim intends to draw the European Court’s and the entire world community’s attention to the gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Ukrainian authorities,” it went on.

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