Relatives of those who died in the MH17 air disaster in 2014 have spoken of their relief at Thursday’s Dutch court ruling in which three of the four suspects were sentenced to life in prison for shooting down the plane, killing all 298 people on board.
Peter van der Meer, whose three daughters aged 12,10 and 7 were killed in the crash on their way to a holiday in Indonesia with their mother, told broadcaster NOS that ‘I am happy with the verdict, but I am aware, yet again, that I no longer have my daughters.’
The verdict is not a comfort, he said. ‘I have just left the court room and then you pause and realise that three have been found guilty but that I have still lost my three daughters. It does not soften [the pain] but it does help.’
‘I am satisfied,’ said Hans de Borst, who wears the ring used to identify his daughter Elsemiek. ‘All the defence arguments were swept away. But my grief will never go. I won’t get Elsemiek back. But having followed the entire trial, this will bring peace, I hope.’
Piet Ploeg, chairman of the relatives group Stichting Vliegramp MH17, said he was pleased that the court explicitly discussed Russia’s role and with the way it had filtered out disinformation.
‘We know the truth has been established by a neutral, independent court,’ he said. ‘And that is important for all the relatives, from an international perspective as well.’
Australia has already called on Russia to ‘surrender its nationals’, none of whom are currently in custody.
‘We have gone through the legal procedures and we would call on Russia to extradite those who were involved and those who were found guilty so that justice can be done,’ prime minister Anthony Albanese told a press conference.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a reaction to the verdict that the decision is about more than ‘three murderers’.
‘Russia lied a lot about this catastrophe, but nevertheless, the key facts were established,’ he said. ‘Now the perpetrators have been convicted and there is a basis to convict the culprits at a higher level, too.’
Russia, however, has described the verdict as ‘politically motivated’ and said it will go down in history as ‘one of the most scandalous in the history of legal proceedings with its extensive list of oddities, inconsistencies and dubious arguments,’ news agency AFP reported.
But Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, whose team collected open source evidence on the disaster, told the BBC the trial had shown indisputable proof of Russia’s involvement and that he believes the events of 2014 and 2022 are linked.
‘I think there should have been more military support for Ukraine, there should have been more sanctions, there should have been a stronger response than we saw at the time,’ he told the broadcaster. ‘There could have been preventative measures that would have saved a lot of lives.’
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