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The Latest: Ex-war crimes judge: Dutch report refutes Russia
Oct. 13, 2015
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The latest news on the report into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine last year. All times local.
Geoffrey Robertson, a former United Nations war crimes judge, said the Dutch Safety Board report on MH-17 is important because it refutes Russian "lies and propaganda" claiming the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a Ukrainian plane, not by a missile.
But he said the families of the victims still don't know what the next step will be in their quest for justice.
He says "the families must wait until the Dutch criminal report, which is due at Christmas or shortly afterward, which would try to identify those criminally responsible."
He said the International Criminal Court is unlikely to be able to prosecute those responsible but that murder or manslaughter prosecutions could be brought by the countries where the victims lived, including Holland and Ukraine.
Ukraine's foreign minister has defended the country's decision not to close its airspace on the day that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down, saying no one in Kiev knew that Russia had brought highly sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles into Ukraine.
Pavlo Klimkin told a news conference Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York that the government had consulted all Ukrainian authorities involved in risk assessments and found "no clue" that anyone even imagined this possibility before the July 17, 2014, attack.
The Dutch Safety Board said the plane was brought down by a missile fired from eastern Ukraine. Russia-backed separatists controlled that territory at the time. All 298 people aboard died.
Klimkin praised the Dutch report as objective, "fully unbiased and transparent," and said now the criminal investigation must show the chain of command and bring the perpetrators to justice.
A top Russian official says the Dutch Safety Board report into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is flawed.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Tuesday the "attempt to make a biased conclusion, in essence to carry out a political order, is obvious." The Dutch say the Buk missile that brought the plane down was fired from a specific territory eastern Ukraine — land that was held at the time by Russia-backed separatists.
Even before the Dutch report was released, the Russian maker of Buk missiles presented its own report trying to clear the separatists, and Russia itself, of any involvement in downing the plane.
Almaz-Antey contended that its experiments — in one of which a Buk missile was detonated near the nose of an airplane similar to a 777 — contradict that conclusion. The experimental aircraft's remains showed a much different damage pattern than the remnants of MH17, the company said.
Rebel leaders in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk refused to comment Tuesday on the Dutch report.
The report by the Dutch Safety Board on the final seconds of MH-17 gives a horrifying glimpse into what the plane's passengers and crew faced before they all died.
It says Buk missile fragments struck the plane at speeds of 4,500-9,000 kph (2,800-5,600 mph), "tearing off the cockpit" and instantly killing the two pilots and the purser. It says a "pressure wave" of hot air a few milliseconds after the blast caused a shock wave that may have been felt throughout the plane.
The missile explosion also caused a "deafening sound wave" and the airplane's sudden deceleration, then speeding up as it fell to Earth, "may have caused dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness." The report said outside temperatures were -40 to -50 degrees Celsius (-40 to -58 degrees Fahrenheit).
Some MH-17 victims were found without clothes on the ground. The report said the "powerful airflow" ripped them from their bodies. All 298 people on the plane died.
Dutch prosecutors leading the criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 say it's been tough finding eyewitnesses in eastern Ukraine to help build their case.
They say that means their probe will stretch into 2016.
In a statement released by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team building a criminal case to identify and prosecute the perpetrators, prosecutors say their work "depends largely on the testimonies of witnesses. It is not easy to find such witnesses, let alone to find them prepared to render a statement in a safe environment."
The team said it has already identified "persons of interest" in the probe, but did not identify them.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Buk missile, killing all 298 people on board, on July 17, 2014.
Malaysia's prime minister, speaking about the downing of MH-17, says the world "must move forward toward ensuring that those responsible are held accountable for this murderous act. "
Prime Minister Najib Razak says "15 months may have passed, but our commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice remains as strong as it was on that fateful day, 17 July 2014, when hundreds of innocent people lost their lives in a conflict that was not theirs."
Of the 298 lives lost when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a Buk missile, 43 were Malaysians.
The Malaysian leader also noted that no one was advised by the relevant authorities against any specific threats to aviation.
As war raged on last year in eastern Ukraine between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, Dutch Safety Board investigators say absolutely no one "gave any thought of a possible threat to civil aviation."
In a report Tuesday, the investigators said "the risks posed to civil aviation were not adequately identified. Neither by the state of Ukraine, nor by the operators, other states, and international organizations. Our investigation showed that all parties regarded the conflict in eastern part of Ukraine from a military perspective."
The investigators said Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine with a Buk missile, killing all 298 people on board, on July 17, 2014.
The Netherlands headed the investigation into the MH-17 airplane disaster since 196 of the 298 victims on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were Dutch, and Ukraine, in whose airspace the disaster occurred, agreed to let the Netherlands take the lead role.
Russia in July vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to establish an international criminal tribunal to investigate the airliner's destruction. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country "seeks justice" but that the resolution was politically motivated.
Any criminal charges will come later. A separate investigation by the Dutch prosecutor's office is charged with identifying suspects in the launching of the missile and building a case against them.
The White House is calling the release of the Dutch Safety Board's report on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 "an important milestone" in the effort to hold accountable those responsible for shooting down the aircraft in July 2014.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says the assessment of the White House remains unchanged: "MH-17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine."
The Dutch Safety Board identified an area of 320 square kilometers from which it said the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was launched. Though the board declined to comment further on the exact launch site, all the territory within the area it identified was in rebel hands at the time.
In a statement Tuesday by the White House, Price said the Dutch investigation was conducted in a professional manner and should serve as the basis for further investigation to identify those responsible for downing the aircraft.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on Russia to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Commenting on the Dutch Safety Board's final report, which concluded that the plane was shot down with a Buk missile, killing all 298 people on board, Rutte said Tuesday that a key priority "is now tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators."
He says the Dutch Safety Board report "is a new element and undoubtedly an important building block" in the international criminal investigation that is being led by Dutch prosecutors and detectives.
The Dutch Safety Board report says the Buk's impact was instantly fatal only to the three crewmembers in the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
It said the rest of the crew and the passengers died due to decompression, reduced oxygen levels, extreme cold, powerful airflow and flying objects.
But it added, "it cannot be ruled out that some occupants remained conscious" during the 60 to 90 seconds before the plane crashed.
The board said it is likely people "were barely able to comprehend the situation in which they found themselves...no indications were found that point to any conscious actions" such as text messages sent on mobile phones.
One passenger was found wearing an oxygen mask but it was "unclear how the mask got there," the board said.
The Dutch Safety Board identified an area of 320 square kilometers (124 square miles) from which, it said, the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was launched.
Though it declined to comment further on the exact launch site, all the territory within the area it identified was in Russia-backed separatist rebels' hands at the time of the July 2014 crash.
Russia has contended that if the plane was brought down by a missile, it must have been launched by Ukrainian government forces.
The official Dutch Safety Board report on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 says a missile exploded less than one meter (3.3 feet) outside the cockpit, killing three crewmembers inside and breaking off the forward section of the plane.
Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said the 15-month the investigation found the warhead was that used on a Buk surface-to-air missile system.
The investigation, however, did not conclude where the missile was fired from. MH17, carrying 298 people, was shot down July 17, 2014, while overflying an area of eastern Ukraine where government forces are fighting pro-Moscow rebels.
Joustra said that Ukraine authorities had "sufficient reason" to completely close the airspace in that area but "nobody gave a thought" to the possible threat to civil aviation.
Missile fragments found in the cockpit crew's bodies, as well as paint traces, enabled investigators to identify the Buk, Joustra said.
The Dutch Safety Board says Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile as it flew over eastern Ukraine.
It adds the plane should never have been flying there as Ukraine should have closed its airspace to civil aviation. It says "nobody gave any thought" to the risk.
The report issued Tuesday says states in civil conflict must do more in the future to protect passenger planes.
Dutch investigators have just unveiled a ghostly reconstruction of the forward section of MH17, the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last year.
Some of the nose, cockpit and business class of the Boeing 777 were rebuilt from fragments of the aircraft recovered from the crash scene and flown to Gilze-Rijen air base in southern Netherlands.
Journalists fell silent as the reassembled wreckage, much of it twisted and riddled with holes, was presented.
An official Dutch Safety Board report into the cause of the downing of the plane, in which 298 people were killed, is to be presented later Tuesday.
The father of a young man killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine last year says he was relieved to hear that those on board the stricken plane likely died almost instantly.
Rob Fredriksz was speaking after a presentation of the key findings of the 15-month investigation into the downing of MH17 that broke up in midair and plunged to the ground, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Fredriksz's son Bryce was killed in the disaster.
He says the key findings presented to families were, "That it was a Buk missile, made in Russia. That was clearly indicated. That Ukraine should have closed the air space and that the passengers absolutely felt and knew nothing."
He says some family members became emotional when they were shown an animation portraying the downing of the plane.
The presentation for families came ahead of the official publication of the report later Tuesday.
The cousin of a woman killed on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 says that the official investigation into the cause of the disaster last year has concluded that a Buk missile downed the plane.
Robby Oehlers, whose cousin Daisy was among the 298 people killed when the Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, says the conclusion was shared with family members at a meeting Tuesday,
He says, "It was a Buk."
Oehlers said it was "as quiet as a mouse" as Dutch Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra explained the conclusions of the 15-month investigation to family.
The meeting with families of victims came ahead of the official presentation later Tuesday of the investigation's final report.