Update: Since the initial publication of this article, Russia has vetoed the draft resolution proposing an international tribunal to investigate the downing of flight MH17. The vote was held in a Security Council meeting on July 29th.
Russia opposes a draft resolution on the establishment of a criminal tribunal to investigate the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 last year. News sources report that Russian officials call the draft resolution “counterproductive” and “an attempt to organize a grandiose, political show, which only damages efforts to find the guilty parties.”
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine in July last year in an incident that killed all 298 passengers and sparked an international crisis. The flight was headed from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and most of the passengers were Dutch nationals. Western countries and the Ukraine have accused Ukrainian rebels of the shooting and Russian authorities of supporting the rebels.
A draft resolution on the establishment of a tribunal to investigate the events was distributed to the Security Council last week. It is backed by Council member Malaysia and supported by non-members the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine and Australia. Russia quickly dismissed the draft, citing bad timing and accusing the backers of the draft of trying to make a “political show”.
Among the critical voices from the Russian Federation is UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin who said Friday that he sees “no future whatsoever” for the draft resolution. Russia has also denied that the state supplied the Ukrainian rebels with the weapons system claimed to have been used to fire on the aircraft.
A final report by Dutch investigators is expected shortly. The initial report, published in September last year, established that the aircraft had been hit by a “number of high-energy objects”, suggesting it was shot down.
“A tribunal established by the council would ensure broad international support for prosecutions and would maximize the prospects of securing international cooperation, which will be necessary for an effective prosecution” Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, said in support of the current draft resolution.
The downing of MH17 drew heavy attention last year as it concerned not only Russia and the Ukraine but also Malaysia, the Netherlands and several other states whose nationals were among the killed. It followed only months after another Malaysian Airlines flight went missing en route to Beijing, causing fear among passengers. There are no links between the incidents, however.
New Zealand has outlined an ambitious plan for change as the country assumes a month-long Presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Among the goals of the plan laid out by Foreign Minister Murray McCully are restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and lobbying for veto reform.
On the veto issue New Zealand publicly supports the French initiative, first put forward by France in 2013. It calls for the permanent five members (P5) of the UNSC (China, France, Russia, UK and USA) to refrain from using the veto when it comes to mass atrocity prevention. The initiative follows widespread criticism over the way the veto has been used to prevent the United Nations from taking action in conflicts like Syria and Ukraine, among others.
“France have put forward an idea that they should all voluntarily surrender the veto by agreement in areas where mass atrocities arise, and we think that is a really good idea,” says Mr McCully in an interview with TV3 News. “It doesn’t involve anything binding. It’s something the P5 members should think about.”
New Zealand is currently six months into a two-year term on the Security Council after successfully campaigning against Spain and Turkey last year. New Zealand will serve as President again in 2016.
While it is improbable that this July will be the month that the P5 decide to limit their power to prevent international interventions and sanctions, having the presiding country speak up in the veto question has brought it back to the top of the agenda. With more and more countries both inside and outside the UNSC in favour of the French initiative, pressure is growing on the P5 to somehow restrict their veto rights.