Charges over MH17 are a relief

The Joint Investigation Team presents the first results of its criminal probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Picture: Freek van den Bergh/Getty Images
The Joint Investigation Team presents the first results of its criminal probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Picture: Freek van den Bergh/Getty Images

FORMER foreign minister Julie Bishop says grieving families will be relieved three Russians and a Ukrainian have been charged over the MH17 tragedy, almost five years after the Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down in a war zone.

There were 298 people killed, including 38 Australians, in July 2014 when their plane was downed as it flew over a part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.

“I welcome this progress in the investigation of the shooting down of MH17 with the naming of these four individuals to be prosecuted for their role in what was a despicable crime,” Ms Bishop told ABC Radio National on Thursday.

“And I think it will be a relief to the families who deserve answers as to how their loved ones died aboard that plane.”

Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday charged Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonie Kharachenko over the July 17, 2014 disaster in eastern Ukraine.

All four were officials in the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic and were allegedly responsible for the Buk missile launcher being brought into the area from Russia.

As foreign minister, Ms Bishop led a push for the international community to have access to the crash site, located where Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed armed separatists had been fighting.

She also doggedly pursued justice for the victims and their families.

Julie Bishop continues fight for justice for families of MH17 victims

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the charges against its nationals as “absolutely unfounded” and criticised investigators for using “dubious sources of information” and ignoring the evidence provided by Moscow in order to “discredit the Russian Federation”.

But Ms Bishop said the team investigating the incident, which includes police from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and the Ukraine, have been “extremely thorough and diligent and independent.”

“Russia has long waged a disinformation campaign against the joint investigation team,” she said.

“There have been cyber attacks targeting the investigation.

“But I have full confidence in the joint investigation team’s independence.”

Having spoken directly with Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, Ms Bishop said she has seen no evidence that would undermine what the investigations have found.

“At no time did any Russian leader, whether it be their ambassador, their foreign minister or President Putin, reveal to me any information that would dispute the findings of the joint investigation team,” she said.

Russia should now comply with a United Nations resolution that mandates states co-operate with the investigation, she stressed.

“I know the Australia government would be urging Russia to co-operate in good faith with this investigation and release any information that it has to support the prosecution,” she said.

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The four men who have been charged will be tried – likely in absentia, because Russia and the Ukraine don’t allow the extradition of their citizens – in The Netherlands on March 9.

Ms Bishop is confident even if the men don’t appear in court, the culmination of processes underway – including one aimed at holding Russia as a nation to account for the incident – will bring justice.

“I have confidence that through these complementary but separate processes, those responsible will be held to account,” she said.

“People boarding commercial planes must feel safe that their flights won’t be brought down by military force operating somewhere in the world.”

Ms Bishop’s successor Marise Payne said the laying of charges for what was a “despicable act” was a significant step to getting justice for the families of the dead.

“While we cannot take away the grief of those who lost loved ones, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure justice prevails,” she said in a statement.

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