On July 17, 2014, the Boeing 777 MH17 aircraft carrier took off from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on Thursday and was scheduled to land in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, the next day.
But the doomed flight took off into the air over the Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which is controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
All 298 people – 15 crew members and 283 passengers of 17 nationalities – on board were killed. Among the passengers were 196 Dutch nationals.
At the time, pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces were engaged in a tense conflict.
Ukraine and the West hold Russia and the rebels responsible for shooting down the plane. Investigators said the Buk missile used came from a Russian military base. Moscow has repeatedly denied this allegation.
Victims’ bodies and aircraft debris litter sunflower fields in eastern Ukraine – a region that eight years ago turned into a war zone as Russia’s war with its neighbour escalated.
After a lengthy investigation of the case, prosecutors said the alleged suspects — Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko and Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov — played a major role in supplying the missile that brought down the flight.
A Dutch court began hearing the criminal trial of the four men in March 2020 and judges are scheduled to deliver the verdict on Thursday from 1:30pm local time (12:30GMT).
Here are five things you need to know:
Why is judgment important?
Prechtjee van de Moosdijk, a spokesman for the Dutch public prosecutor’s office handling the MH17 case, told Al Jazeera the decision is significant because it’s the first time there’s been an independent ruling on what happened to the flight.
The court is ready to answer three questions: the first is whether the Russians provided the missile, the second is about where it was launched, and the third is the role of the suspects. These are cases we have been investigating for years, and tomorrow, when the judges give their verdict, it will be huge and bring justice to the innocent. ».
The MH17 tragedy is also a reminder that the war in Ukraine has been going on since 2014, said Marnie Howlett, professor of political science and lecturer in Russian and Eastern European politics at the University of Oxford.
“When we see this verdict on MH17, it is important for us to remember that what is happening in Ukraine so far is nothing new. The destruction of the MH17 and the loss of many lives was already a big sign that war might break out,” she told Al Jazeera.
Elle ajouté: « Quand nous regardons les nouvelles de la décision et voyons ce qui se passe en Ukraine maintenant, nous devons nous rappeler qu’il ne s’agit pas seulement d’un conflit of new mois mais d’une guerre de huit years.”
Who is accused?
The four men allegedly involved in the plane shooting were tried in absentia – a criminal case when the accused was not present in court – because they are at large.
At the time, Igor Girkin, whose nom de guerre was Igor Strelkov, was a colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
Sergey Dubinsky is also a former GRU officer, while Ukrainian Kharchenko commanded a combat unit in the DRC and reported to Dubinsky.
The three will be tried in absentia.
But Oleg Bulatov, a former Russian intelligence officer and Dubinsky’s deputy, agreed to be represented by his lawyers at trial.
According to Van de Moosdek, prosecutors have asked for long-term sentences for the four men who are most likely to be in Russia.
They are all on the wanted list and can be arrested based on the court’s ruling once their fate is confirmed. If they are found guilty – which we don’t know yet – they can be arrested again to serve their sentences. But as we know Russia does not allow this in its constitution, which makes the legal process difficult.
Van de Moosdek said that prosecutors and the defense team can appeal the court’s decision if they are not satisfied with the verdict.
And she added, “If there is an appeal, this means that the entire trial must be re-trialed with different judges, which delays the case for many years.”
According to the Reuters news agency, Bulatov’s legal team previously argued that the trial so far was unfair and not properly investigated.
What do the victims want?
Victims’ families have been waiting for this court decision for eight years, van de Moosdek said, and Thursday’s ruling could bring relief to many.
“We have held meetings with the families of the victims since the beginning of the case and made it our priority to share our findings from the investigation as well as inform them of the functioning of the Dutch judicial system,” he said. she told Al Jazeera.
“While many of them are aware that the suspects are at large, the families find it important that the court determine what happened and hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Bereaved families of the victims around the world are expected to gather outside a high security court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, where the flight took off, to hear Dutch judges deliver their verdict.
For those who were unable to attend, the court confirmed that the verdict, which will be delivered in Dutch, will be broadcast live and translated into English.
In addition, if the suspects are found guilty, the court must declare the final compensation applicable to the families of the victims.
Van de Musik said that amount could be between 30,000 and 40,000 euros ($31,000 to $41,500), but the victims’ lawyers had asked for a larger sum.
Is Russia on trial?
The ruling by the Dutch court MH17 comes at a tense time as Ukraine continues its fight against a Russian attack.
Howlett points out that while much of the discussion around the decision revolved around whether the suspects would be jailed or whether Russia would be held accountable, the fact that a judicial investigation was triggered in the first place.
Many countries such as Holland, Australia, Malaysia, etc. They have been involved in the investigation of the case and the ongoing trial is really important. She said the fact that foreign countries have already gone through these procedures to prosecute these individuals also shows that the West cares about and supports Ukraine in its war against Russia.
While the West believes in the rule of law, Russia does not support it. Thus, the ruling, whatever it may be, will not be supported by Russia, which leads to an escalation of political tensions. “But we have to wait and watch,” she added.
What can we learn from this case?
Eight years later, the MH17 case holds important lessons, according to Howlett and Van de Moosdek.
“This decision is important for people who have lost their lives, their families, and countries awaiting justice. But it is also a lesson to the West about the importance of being able to investigate this matter freely. This is something Ukrainians and others who have suffered from crimes are fundamentally fighting for right now.
“Having five countries legally cooperating in an investigation of a case can be a challenge,” said van de Moosdek. But there was good co-operation with each guide verified repeatedly and thoroughly.
“In the search for the truth, it is important to remember that the process can be lengthy, with thorough investigations. But in the end, this lengthy process is important not only for victims of crime, but for our communities as a whole.”
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