39 Australians were among the 298 men, women and children whose lives were tragically taken when MH17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine just over 12 months ago. Among our number were six children. Two religious leaders. Two doctors. A number of teachers. An award-winning fiction writer. A promising aerospace engineer.
Loved ones who by a cruel twist of fate became victims of an atrocity – the downing of a civilian aeroplane flying in commercial airspace on a routine flight. Millions and millions of people around the world place their trust in the security of civil aviation as a matter of course each and every moment of each and of every day.
Those who perished aboard MH17 were precious; each one mourned by heartbroken families and friends.
I have spoken to the Australian families over the past year and again as recently as the 12 month anniversary of this tragedy on 17 July last. Their loss is incalculable; their grief inconsolable. They are desperate for answers.
It is vital for them that those responsible for the deaths of their cherished ones are held to account for those actions.
Together with the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium, Australia requested that the Security Council establish an independent, international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for bringing down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The friends and families of those on board that ill-fated flight deserve justice. That is what the unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolution 2166 of 21st July last year demanded.
Our resolution and accompanying tribunal statute were designed to do nothing more and nothing less than translate into action that demand for accountability enshrined in Resolution 2166.
Our motivation was and is to provide justice to the families and to deter those who would threaten the safety of international civil aviation, for we must ensure that this never happens again.
In a world with an increasing number of violent terrorist groups and other non-State actors, many with sophisticated military capabilities, it is inconceivable that the Security Council would now walk away from holding to account those who brought down a commercial aeroplane.
The veto only compounds the atrocity.
Only one hand was raised in opposition, but a veto should never be allowed to deny justice.
The recital of discredited contentions and the anticipated excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost disdain.
The exercise of the veto today is an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their families and friends. Russia has made a mockery of its own commitment to accountability enshrined in Resolution 2166.
If Russia has evidence relevant to this matter, surely Russia would want it heard by a wholly independent and impartial tribunal set up by the United Nations Security Council, of which it is a member, and with a registar, prosecutor and judges appointed by the impartial Secretary-General. The tribunal would have operated in accordance with the highest international standards under the auspices of the Security Council, of which Russia is a member.
It has been alleged our request for the Council to act is premature. But the establishment of a prosecution mechanism before the completion of a criminal investigation is wholly in keeping with the Council’s own practice. The findings of the criminal investigation must be able to be delivered to a prosecuting authority and one that can conduct its own investigations.
In unanimously adopting Resolution 2166 last year, the Council demanded that those responsible be held to account and that all States cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability. Resolution 2166 sent a definitive message that there would be no impunity for those responsible.
Today, one member has prevented the Council fulfilling its commitment to the friends and families of the victims of MH17 and to the international community.
Those responsible may believe that they can now hide behind the Russian Federation veto. They will not be allowed to evade justice.
Australia deeply appreciates the support the resolution received from the overwhelming majority of Council Members, as well as from other grieving nations.
I make this pledge to the families and friends of those aboard MH17. Australia will continue to do everything we can to ensure the perpetrators of this barbaric act are held to account.
While we have found the Security Council’s door closed today, we have also found that the commitment to justice in the international community is strong.
On the back of this support, Australia together with the other members of the Joint Investigation Team will decide on an alternative prosecution mechanism to ensure that truth does prevail and those responsible for this unspeakable act are brought to justice. Rest assured there is no end to our determination in this regard.
Twelve months ago, the tragedy of MH17 shocked the world. Russia has used today’s vote to seek to politicise our quest for justice and should rightly be condemned.
In defiance of today’s veto, we will ensure that Resolution 2166’s demand for accountability and the cooperation of all States is implemented in full.
Thank you Mr President.
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