Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is determined to blame the Russian government for the tragic deaths of 298 civilians, including 38 Australians, when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Abbott went as far as to threaten to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin during the November 15 and 16 G20 Summit in Brisbane.
But the families of German MH17 victims are taking a different tack. Reuters said on September 21 they were planning to sue Ukrainian authorities for allowing the plane to fly over a war zone, in which Ukraine's air force had been carrying out carpet bombings.
Reuters reported that Elmar Giemulla, a professor of aviation law who is representing three families of German victims, said that under international law, Ukraine should have closed its air space if it could not guarantee the safety of flights. Four Germans died in the crash.
“Each state is responsible for the security of its air space,” Giemulla said. “If it is not able to do so temporarily, it must close its air space. As that did not happen, Ukraine is liable for the damage.”
Giemulla said that by not closing its airspace, Ukraine had accepted that the lives of hundreds of innocent people could be “annihilated” ― and this was a violation of human rights.
For all the allegations by Western leaders such as Abbott, no serious evidence has been presented to prove Russian involvement in the shooting down of the plane. For its part, the Russian Union of Engineers has released a report it alleges shows the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
But regardless of who brought the plane down, the bombings carried out by the Ukrainian government ― themselves a war crime ― made any civilian flight an extremely dangerous risk.
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