Malaysia expressed disappointment Wednesday after Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an international tribunal to prosecute those suspected of downing a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane last year in eastern Ukraine that left all 298 passengers dead.
Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said after the 15-member council voted on the resolution that an independent international court could be set up to try the perpetrators who brought down flight MH17 on July 17, 2014.
“We are thinking of forming a multi-state international court or using the national court,” Liow told BenarNews in an interview.
The Netherlands and Australia, which together with Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine drafted the resolution, have offered proposals to prosecute the suspects, and “we will look into them and discuss” beginning this week, he said.
Russia, one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members with veto powers, cast the lone "no" vote while 11 council members voted for the resolution. The three others, China, Venezuela and Angola, abstained.
“We are disappointed because the families of the victims will now have to wait longer and uncertain how justice will be done,” Liow said.
The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for nearly 200 of the ill-fated passengers, along with Malaysia and most Western countries had pushed for the tribunal, saying it would have the authority to investigate impartially and extradite suspects from whichever country was harboring them.
The hunt for justice
The United States and many international experts believe the Malaysian plane was destroyed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels fighting in the area.
Russia has dismissed the theory, with state media saying the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or a warplane.
Malaysia and the four other countries behind the U.N. Security Council resolution said they would forge ahead to bring justice to the victims. The five nations are also members of an investigative team that had been gathering evidence and talking to witnesses in eastern Ukraine despite fighting in the area where the aircraft was shot down.
“We won’t let a veto weaken our resolve,” Liow said, adding that they were considering various options.
“What has happened today is regrettable but it cannot bring to an end our endeavor to prevent impunity,” he said. “There are various options for prosecuting those responsible at both international and national levels. So now we will start focusing on those options carefully and tirelessly.”
“The perpetrators, wherever they come from, must be held to account,” he said. “They must not be able to escape punishment. While we cannot take away the grief of those who lost their loved ones, we will do everything in our power to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Liow said. “We will not rest until all the facts are known and justice is served.”
The Netherlands is carrying two investigations into the plane’s shooting – one is led by the Dutch Safety Board seeking to determine the cause of the crash, and the other by the Dutch prosecutor’s office, charged with finding suspects behind the aircraft’s downing.
The safety board’s results are due in October.
Liow told BenarNews that the culprits could be prosecuted soon thereafter.
“Once this report is out, we will not waste any time to prosecute those responsible.”
A year ago, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that demanded that those responsible "be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability."
Russia had offered its own draft that demanded justice for those responsible for the crash without calling for a tribunal, the Associated Press reported.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote that such a tribunal risked not being impartial and being subject to media "propaganda," and he called past tribunals for the Rwanda genocide and the violence in the former Yugoslavia "expensive," according to AP.
Meanwhile, Liow said Malaysia has sent a team to verify whether plane debris washed up on an Indian Ocean island could be part of another Malaysian plane that disappeared in March last year carrying 239 passengers and crew from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing.
Most of the passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were Chinese.
The discovery of the plane debris on the French island of La Reunion has given rise to expectations that it could be part of the missing aircraft.
"Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can further confirm whether it belongs to MH370," Liow said.
"So we have dispatched a team to investigate on this issue and we hope that we can identify it as soon as possible," he added after the U.N. Security Council debate.
The two-meter (six-foot) long piece of wreckage, which seemed to be part of a wing, was found by people cleaning up a beach, Agence France-Presse reported.
No part of the jet has ever been found. Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.