by Ashlee Pitts
Every day tens of thousands of planes take flight worldwide. Families pack their bags for vacations, professionals enjoy much-needed time-off, students return home from college and many are looking for just a quick weekend getaway. Countless airports are filled with heart-felt “hellos” and tearful “goodbyes”. On 17 July 2014, a Boeing 777 of Malaysia Airlines was violently struck and disintegrated into flames as 298 innocent civilians fell over 30,000 feet and lay scattered around a warzone. What should have been a smooth-sailing thirteen-hour flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia resulted in an international crime scene.
The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) is leading the investigation with the assistance of a team of international investigators. 193 of the passengers were Dutch nationals making them the vast majority of the victims. With Amsterdam Airport Schiphol being the flight’s departure point and the majority of the victims being Dutch, these two factors could be contributing reasons as to why the Netherlands is heading the investigation. The DSB released its preliminary report on 9 September 2014. In the press release accompanying the preliminary report the Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board Tjibbe Joustra made a statement saying that the MH17 crash has “shocked the world and raised many questions. The Dutch Safety Board wishes to determine the cause of the crash, for the sake of the loved ones of the victims and for society at large”.
Although the DSB’s final report pertaining to the cause of the crash will not be released until October of 2015 all signs seem to point towards the pro-Russian separatist military forces in Eastern Ukraine. With their assault weapon capabilities and resources within the Russian government, the separatists’ claim that they do not possess such advanced weaponry goes without validity. They were quick to blame the crash on the Ukrainians and claimed Ukraine possesses a Buk missile which has not been proven. A Buk surface-to-air missile system vehicle was seen being transported to the Russian border not long after the crash. The Buk missile launcher that typically carries four missiles was missing one.
A Buk surface-to-air missile system is a weapon created in the Soviet Union in 1979 and is still manufactured in the Russian Federation. The Russia-backed separatists have given no explanation for the missing missile despite the fact that a crash occurred in a rebel controlled area in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. As the blame game continues, the DSB works towards accepting all pieces of evidence, testimonies and versions of the event to come to the most accurate conclusion. Even if the DSB manages to put the pieces of this tragedy together, there is no scientific way to discover motive. The persecutors, and only the persecutors, will be able to provide that information.
Caught in the Crossfire
The crash of the Malaysian airliner forced the world to take a closer look at the conflict within Ukraine. The commercial airliner landed in Ukrainian territory where violence and hostility ensued in light of Russia’s intervention. The violent presence of the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has been met with heavy criticism and condemnation from the international community. All 298 passengers who were fatally injured in the crash originated from 10 different countries, five of which are member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Those member countries include the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. NATO has closely monitored the crisis in Ukraine and has believed to have found the source of not all but a large bulk of the weapons being brought into the region. A substantial amount of arms being transported into Ukraine are fully supported by the Russian military; a military that has the second largest military budget in the world behind the United States. The EU has condemned Russia for the influx of heavy artillery and weaponry making its way across the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The annexation of Crimea and Russian-sponsored military intervention in Ukraine has resulted in violent armed conflict and a wave of economic sanctions placed on Russia from various countries around the world most notably the United States. President Vladimir Putin has denied invading Ukraine but the wealth of evidence that the international community has acquired has proven otherwise. It has become very clear to the international community without Putin’s admission that he intends on taking Ukraine – by any means necessary. Regardless of whether or not the separatists are eventually held responsible for the downing of MH17, the crash occurred due in part to their involvement in the region. If this conflict had not taken place MH17 flight would have reached its destination in Kuala Lumpur. Dutch investigators have found no evidence pointing to possible technical, operational or mechanical issues, nor any abnormalities of the plane. To add merit to this claim Dutch investigators have also determined that the cause of the crash came from the exterior of the plane in the form of numerous heavy objects. While there is a mountain of facts that are indisputable at this stage in the investigation, many aspects of this debate are still in the realm of theories and speculation. Without the international community’s candidness and ability to exercise diplomacy in good faith, on this issue at least, we will remain at a standstill.
There are far more questions than answers when discussing the downing of MH17. Why was this commercial airliner flying over an open and well-documented conflict zone? Who are the perpetrators and where did they purchase and obtain such a sophisticated weapon that is suspected to be a Buk surface-to-air missile? Was the airliner mistaken for a military carrier? Why were the victims left to decompose for weeks in the Ukrainian summer heat? Why were international investigators restricted from entering the crime scene? All the while, the families of the victims wait in agony with the hope that they would eventually receive their loved ones’ remains so that he or she can have a proper funeral. What we know for certain is that many of the friends and relatives of the victims are left to mourn without closure and in the absence of justice. No individual or group has come forward to take responsibility for the crash.
Airline shootings like the one of MH17 are rare. With rare moments come new possibilities for society to develop and find ways to correct an issue in order to ensure that it is not repeated in the future. Every country has their allies and own vested interests and those factors are taken into account tremendously when exercising diplomatic relations with other countries. Even so, with the amount of lives that have been snuffed out in this case whether it be purposeful or accidental, the victims deserve to have the person or people responsible for their death punished for their crime. Conducting illegitimate backroom deals and negotiations to possibly cover up the actual evidence exposing the perpetrators of this crime is adding insult to injury. It is saying that political capital and alliances are more important than the lives that were destroyed and that they were simply collateral damage in a geopolitical conflict in which they had no part. It sends a message to the friends and families of the victims that their closure and peace of mind are not worth the risk of breaking political and diplomatic alliances.
It has been a year since the crash of flight MH17. As people from around the world continue to question and come to terms with this tragedy, some are seeking swift justice and retribution for those responsible for this grave indifference for human life. Prosecuting those responsible for the crash will never bring the victims back nor will it reverse the pain of their loved ones. Prosecution is about much more than punishment or revenge but more so the closure that the loved ones left behind so rightfully deserve.
Wayan Sujana, 24, of Indonesia was one of the 298 passengers killed in the crash. He was an intelligent and remarkable young man with a kind heart and amazing spirit. I am proud to have called him my friend.