UD. 1 October 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky.

Justice is still a long road for MH17 victims while Russia’s injustice to Crimean Tatars steps up a gear.

The MH17 truth confirmed

This week, international investigators officially confirmed what has been clear from the start. 

The Buk missile that shot down Malaysian airlines flight MH17 was transported into East Ukraine from Russia, and fired from a site in separatist-controlled territory. As discovered by open media satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts, a Buk missile launcher entered Ukraine from Russia and returned the next day.

“Based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation,” chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen told a news conference on Wednesday.

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has also narrowed the missile launch site down to a specific field near the village of Pervomaiskyi, which was then in rebel hands. 

The field, showing a large scorched area, has previously  been photographed and identified by several western media outlets as the most likely launch site.

Prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls during their news conference. They said witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos. 

The launch site was pinpointed by “many witnesses”, prosecutors said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the preliminary findings “an important step on the road to the ultimate goal: finding and prosecuting the perpetrators”, whereas the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his country sought “firm action” so that those responsible “will be brought to justice”.

JIT prosecutors have established the identities of about 100 people “linked to the crash or the transport of the Buk” missile, but cannot yet determine who could be held criminally responsible. 

What is still unclear and will have to be established is who gave the order to move the missile launcher into eastern Ukraine, and where the order for it to be fired came from. 

While there is a determination to prosecute those responsible, it is very unclear that this will ever be possible, particularly as it would require Moscow to hand over suspects. And since Russia vetoed the creation of an international tribunal at the United Nations in July 2015, it is unclear what kind of court could eventually hear a trial based on the investigation’s evidence.

“Nothing to accept or deny”

Fully predictably, Russia maintains its stance that no weapons were sent to Ukraine and no Russian troops are in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave flat denials in an interview with Hardtalk, saying that the investigation was proof of “bias and political motivation.”

“We’ve been ruling out the fact that any Russian weapons were shipped to Ukraine, any Russian army members, any Russian troops were inside Ukraine. And we’re still ruling out that possibility.”

No-one else, however, appears to be in any doubt. 

Dutch investigators say that even if Russia provided the ‘new’ radar evidence it released on Monday, the overwhelming weight of evidence is conclusive and they are unlikely to change their minds.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement, “Today’s initial criminal report offers clear evidence that the missile was Russian-made, and launched from within territory held by Russian-backed separatist groups. We ask that Russia now engages constructively with the findings and ongoing investigation.”

That, however, seems very unlikely. 

Commentators have said that an admission of any liability from Russia will either take many years or would require a complete change of both regime and political approach.

Crimean Tatar repression tightens

As we go to press, on 29th September,  the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will hold a session to consider an appeal against a complete ban on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars. 

The Mejlis is the representative and executive body of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Since the annexation of Crimea, the Mejlis and Crimean Tatar activists have faced a series of repressive actions by the Russian – backed authorities in retaliation for their continued opposition to the annexation.

Currently 17 Crimean Tatars are in prison for various falsified accusations of terrorism and subversion. 

In spring 2016 the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Mr. Ilmi Umerov became subject to a politically motivated prosecution by the Russian state, was forcibly taken from the cardiac unit where he was under observation to Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Simferopol. 

The act of punitive psychiatry against Ilmi Umerov lasted for 21 days in clear contravention of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

15 February 2016 marked a new stage of repression of Crimean Tatars, when the Mejlis was declared an extremist organization and illegal on the territory of Russia. 

A telling fact is that the Ministry of Justice of Russian Federation included Mejlis in the list of banned organizations prior to the verdict of the court. If the verdict remains unchanged, after today’s appeal, 2500 democratically elected representatives of the Crimean Tatars will acquire the status of extremists and will become an automatic target of law-enforcement agencies. 

Amnesty International has documented the numerous ‘disappearances’ of Crimean Tatar activists and has voiced concern about reprisals against the Crimean Tatar community.

“The suspension of the Mejlis makes the fate of those members of the Crimean Tatar community who have remained in Crimea even bleaker as they are now at even greater risk of intimidation, harassment and criminal prosecution,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Crimean Tatar representatives and the Ukrainian government have called on western governments to raise the issue of human rights in Crimea, saying that a ban on the Mejlis is de facto a ban on freedom of association for the whole Crimean Tatar community. 

The concerns are magnified since no human rights organisation is permitted to have a permanent mission in Crimea and there are no independent media outlets operating in the peninsula.

While Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars are united against the threat to the Crimean Tatar community, it is extremely unlikely that the Russian Supreme Court will do anything other than confirm the ban on the Mejlis, which will allow the Russian authorities to abuse human rights in Crimea with impunity.

Babyn Yar remembered

This week marks 75 years since Nazi troops and their collaborators massacred almost 34,000 Ukrainian Jews in Babyn Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv. 

Ukraine is marking the anniversary with a week of events, which included an official visit from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, although his visit was curtailed because of the death of former Israeli PM and president Shimon Peres.

On 27 September, Ukraine’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada, held three hours of hearings on the events of Babyn Yar, which were attended by dozens of MPs, dignitaries, and the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 

There were two notable firsts: Ukraine’s Brooklyn-born chief rabbi Yaakoc Dov Bleich became the chief rabbi of Ukraine to speak on the floor of the Ukrainian parliament, while Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, of Kyiv’s Brodski Synagogue, blew the shofar on the podium.

Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) President Eugene Czolij also addressed the parliamentary hearings on behalf of the 20-million-strong Ukrainian diaspora led by the UWC and its organizations in over 50 countries, and paid tribute to the innocent victims of Babyn Yar.

“I believe that this year’s remembrance of the victims of Babyn Yar will stimulate the resolve of the international community to prevent crimes against humanity from being repeated, including the continued gross violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and human rights in Crimea and Donbas.” 

Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, said during commemorative events that the sorrow of the Jews was also Ukraine’s sorrow.

“We, Ukrainians, are very aware of the sorrow of the Jews, and perceive it as our own. We know how for years and decades the hearts ache for those who died in World War II. [The] Memorial at Babi Yar must become a symbol of unity, a symbol of honour and respect for all Ukrainians, regardless of nationality.

“Together we are building a Ukraine, where there is no place for anti-Semitism. 

“It is important that all of humanity remembers the bloody facts of the Holocaust, about the dangers of hatred, bigotry and racism”.

On this occasion, it seems appropriate to end News From Ukraine with words written by Itsik Kipnis in 1944, on the third anniversary of the massacre.

“The sky is so clear, it is so good to feel the warmth and richness of the autumn colours, the golden leaves on the trees and on the ground… Did the city really glow in this way under the Germans? Impossible! And the road to Babyn Yar three years ago?  Did the sun really not pale at the sight of that horror? “


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