NEW YORK: Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution Wednesday that sought to set up a special tribunal to try those responsible for shooting down flight MH17 over Ukraine.
Eleven of the 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, which had been drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
Russia exercised its veto. Angola, China and Venezuela abstained. The Council session began with a moment’s silence in honor of the 298 people killed in the July 17, 2014 disaster.
The resolution was supported by Britain, France and the US, which accuse pro-Russian separatist rebels of shooting down the Boeing 777 with a Buk surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia.
Moscow denies involvement and blames the Ukrainian military. On Wednesday, its ambassador Vitaly Churkin launched into a lengthy defense of Russia’s actions, dishing the blame onto others.
Churkin said Russian investigators had been denied equal access to the crash site and criticized what he said would have been criminal prosecution carried out “in a closed fashion.”
“What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation?” Churkin asked in a speech to the Council, lashing out against “aggressive... propaganda in the media.”
Western powers on the Council, as well as Australia and the Netherlands, whose citizens together with Malaysia accounted for most of the victims, castigated Russia for its veto.
They insisted the veto would do nothing to silence efforts to seek international justice for the perpetrators.
“It is tragic that Russia has used the privilege entrusted to it... to frustrate international peace and security,” said US ambassador Samantha Power.
“The United States believes firmly that those who carried out this unspeakable crime cannot remain unnamed and unpunished,” Power added.
“There cannot and will not be impunity.”
‘Veto compounds atrocity’
Thirty-nine Australians perished on board MH17. The country’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attended the Council vote in person, delivering a stinging rebuke on Russia.
“In a world with an increasing number of violent terrorist groups and other non-state actors... it is inconceivable that the Security Council would now walk away from holding to account those who brought down a commercial airplane,” she said.
“The veto only compounds the atrocity,” Bishop said. “Excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost disdain.”
She pledged to the families and friends of the victims that “Australia will continue to do everything we can to ensure the perpetrators of this barbaric act are held to account.”
She said Australia and other members of the joint investigation team would decide on “alternative prosecution mechanism to ensure that truth does prevail and those responsible for this unspeakable act will be brought to justice.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders expressed his “deep, deep disappointment” and said his thoughts went out to the families of the victims who had placed hope in the creation of a tribunal.
Most of the passengers on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were Dutch. The flight was downed over rebel-held east Ukraine during heavy fighting between Kiev’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin accused Russia point blank. “There can be no reason to oppose this unless you are a perpetrator yourself,” he said.
“This tribunal is about the truth. If you are afraid of truth you are definitely on the wrong side.”
Before the vote, Malaysia’s transport minister appealed to the Council to adopt the resolution and said a tribunal would be best placed to “deliver justice to the families of the victims.”
“All those who travel by air will be more at risk if the perpetrators are not held to account,” Liow Tiong Lai said.