, THE HAGUE, Jul 17 – Britain on Friday joined a chorus of countries calling for a UN-backed tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing flight MH17, as relatives remembered their dead in ceremonies on the first anniversary of the disaster.
All 298 passengers and crew — the majority Dutch — died on July 17 last year when the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, on a flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over rebel-held east Ukraine during heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Kiev and the West point the finger at the separatists, saying they may have used a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia to down the plane. But Moscow denies involvement and instead accuses Ukraine’s military.
“Justice must be delivered for the 298 innocent people who lost their lives,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement.
“That requires an international tribunal, backed by a resolution binding all UN member states, to prosecute those responsible.”
On Friday, the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper released new footage which it said showed Russian-backed rebels ransacking the luggage of dead passengers among the smouldering wreckage of the plane.
It said the video, smuggled out of the fighters’ Donetsk base and only obtained this week, was filmed by the rebels themselves as they captured what they initially believed to be a Ukrainian air force fighter jet they had shot down.
– Mourning the dead –
Flags will fly at half-mast in the Netherlands Friday as some 2,000 relatives and friends gather to mourn the victims of the disaster, while a national memorial ceremony was held in Canberra.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveiled a plaque in memory of those killed, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.
“Today we remember our dead, we thank those who brought them home. But most of all, we acknowledge the suffering of the bereaved,” he told the crowd, which included 120 family members of those who perished.
As relatives struggle to come to terms with their grief, the focus is shifting to tracking down the perpetrators and putting them on trial.
Malaysian relatives took part in an emotional memorial service in Kuala Lumpur last week, demanding justice and answers about who is responsible for the disaster.
The service was held a week ahead of the anniversary as it coincided with the Eid festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is usually a time for joyful family gatherings.
“The end goal is clear — to bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure they pay for this unforgivable crime,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement on the eve of the anniversary.
– Criminal probe –
The Netherlands has been tasked with leading the retrieval of victims’ remains and investigating the cause of the crash, as well as finding and punishing possible perpetrators.
Apart from two passengers, both Dutch, the remains of all other victims have been found and positively identified.
The Dutch Safety Board is expected to release a final report into the cause of the crash during the first week of October, but has stressed it will only address the cause of the crash, not the perpetrators.
The Board released a preliminary report last September saying damage to the plane’s forward fuselage and cockpit section appears to “indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside”.
A criminal probe by a joint investigation team consisting of Australian, Belgian, Dutch, Malaysian and Ukrainian detectives is underway.
Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke last month told journalists that many “persons of interest have been identified” but a dossier enabling a trial would not be ready before the end of the year at the earliest.
The UN Security Council has adopted resolution 2166 which demands those responsible “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability”.
Malaysia, the Netherlands and others have floated the idea of a UN-backed tribunal, an idea to which veto-wielding Security Council member Russia is opposed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that establishing an international tribunal would be counterproductive.
In his conversation with Rutte, Putin insisted that all investigations into the disaster should be completed before any decision can be taken on how to try the culprits.