Today the Court sentenced the accused Kharchenko, Dubinskiy and Girkin to life imprisonment for causing Flight MH17 to crash and for the murder of the 298 persons on board. Defendant Pulatov has been acquitted.
The text delivered by the Court today has been published on rechtspraak.nl.
The press release appears below.
Life imprisonment for causing Flight MH17 to crash and for the murders of the 298 persons on board
Today the District Court of The Hague, sitting in the MH17 criminal case, sentenced accused Kharchenko, Dubinskiy and Girkin to life imprisonment for causing the crash of Flight MH17 and the murder of the 298 persons on board. Defendant Pulatov has been acquitted.
Weapon and place
On 17 July 2014 Flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine. As a result, 283 passengers and fifteen crew members were killed. In the view of the Court, it has been proven that Flight MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi in Ukraine. This field was located in separatist-controlled territory.
The Court has no doubt whatsoever that the MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from this farm field. This is clear from photographs of a smoke trail in the sky, statements by a protected witness, satellite images, intercepted telephone conversations and transmission mast data, photographs and videos of a Buk TELAR being brought in and removed, and examination of fragments in the remains of a crew member and in the truss and the groove of the aircraft. Investigation in the Netherlands and abroad has not revealed any traces of evidence tampering. Alternative scenarios, for example that the Buk missile was fired from a different area, are ruled out based on the evidence.
The Court has established that from April 2014 an armed conflict was in progress between the Ukrainian armed forces and separatist groups. One of those groups was fighting under the name Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
Abundant indications reveal that from mid May 2014, the DPR in fact took directions from the Russian Federation. As a result, the involvement of the Russian Federation in the conflict with Ukraine led the conflict to become an international one. In an international conflict, deployment of weapons may be allowed under certain circumstances. Soldiers from those countries may then invoke immunity (combatant immunity) and shall not be subject to criminal prosecution. However, as the Russian Federation and the accused deny such Russian involvement to this day, the DPR fighters cannot be considered to be part of the Russian armed forces. Therefore, they may not be granted immunity from prosecution.
Intent and premeditation
The question as to why the crew of the Buk TELAR aimed the Buk missile at Flight MH17 remains unanswered. This does not change the fact that the Buk missile was intentionally fired and aimed at an aircraft. A Buk weapon system is designed to shoot down aircraft and cannot simply be used at random. Such deployment requires preparation, including determination of and transport to a launch site. Firing the missile needs to be very deliberate and carefully considered in accordance with a technical procedure and requires a highly trained crew. The likelihood of persons on board an aircraft surviving an attack by a Buk missile is nil. Anybody who deploys a specialized, costly weapon such as a Buk TELAR will be aware of this. The crew appears to have thought the missile was being fired not at a civilian but at a military aircraft. Even in that case, there is intent and premeditation to shoot down that aircraft and take the lives of those on board.
Roles of the accused Kharchenko, Dubinskiy and Girkin
Firing a Buk missile is possible, only if the Buk TELAR is available and is placed on a suitable launch site. Accompanying and guarding a Buk TELAR while in transit to and at the suitable site is therefore a crucial task. In the opinion of the Court those entrusted with such a responsibility have such an essential role in the deployment of the Buk TELAR and in ultimately firing the Buk missile, that they may be regarded as co-perpetrators.
The Buk TELAR was brought to Ukraine at the initiative of the accused Dubinskiy, as commanding officer within the DPR. He was directly in charge of organizing and directing the transport of the Buk TELAR to and from the launch site. With respect to that transport, the accused Kharchenko had a direct and active role as executive commander, who in fact provided and arranged for the Buk TELAR to be accompanied. Kharchenko also ensured that the Buk TELAR was guarded and protected at the ultimate launch site. These active contributions on his part were so important for firing the Buk missile, that Dubinskiy and Kharchenko worked closely and deliberately as co-perpetrators together and with the crew of the Buk TELAR in the downing of Flight MH17.
Girkin was highest DPR military leader in operational terms and as such bore (final) responsibility for deployment of military resources in and for the DPR. Although highly plausible by virtue of his position, it has not been proven that Girkin had advance knowledge of the availability of the Buk TELAR that caused Flight MH17 to crash. As the highest-ranking military officer, however, he had the opportunity to decide whether to deploy a Buk TELAR. It may also be said that he found deploying this Buk TELAR and the consequence of fatalities to be acceptable. After all, extensive combat was already taking place under his authority, including downing aircraft and helicopters. He also actively endeavoured to make the Buk TELAR used on 17 July 2014 disappear as quickly as possible, rather than condemning its use. Because of his role, he is held to be responsible for causing the crash of Flight MH17 and the murders of the 298 persons on board.
Acquittal of defendant Pulatov
Pulatov was area commander and was tasked with maintaining a corridor from and to the Russian Federation. Defendant Pulatov was aware of the arrival and presence of the Buk TELAR. He met with the accused Kharchenko when he was accompanying the Buk TELAR and saw the Buk. What transpired or was said during that encounter remains unknown, and Kharchenko travelled on afterwards with the Buk TELAR without Pulatov. There is no evidence of active or crucial involvement on the part of Pulatov in deploying the Buk TELAR or in the assignment that accused Dubinskiy gave Kharchenko. Pulatov is known not to have been in the vicinity of the launch site at or around the moment that the Buk TELAR fired the missile. Nor are there any indications that he could have changed anything about this. He has therefore been acquitted.
Sentences of the accused Kharchenko, Dubinskiy and Girkin
The downing of Flight MH17 caused devastating destruction and took the lives of 298 people, with unforeseeably serious consequences for the relatives. The Court qualifies the attitude and dispositions of Kharchenko, Dubinskiy and Girkin, who have merely responded to the accusations from afar, as disrespectful and unnecessarily hurtful to the relatives. Causing the crash of Flight MH17 and the murders of all persons on board is such a serious accusation, the consequences are so devastating, and the attitude of the accused is so reprehensible, that a limited period of imprisonment will not suffice. All three accused are sentenced to life imprisonment. The Court has ordered the arrest of those convicted.
Claims for compensation
The 306 claims for compensation have been assessed according to Ukrainian law. Compensation for moral damages, including emotional damages, is granted for a total amount exceeding 16 million euros.
Under Ukrainian law same-sex partners are not entitled to claim compensation. The Court is not applying that exclusion, as it would violate the prohibition on discrimination.
The Prosecution has agreed that the reconstruction will remain available for additional investigation, until the judgments in these criminal cases have become final and conclusive.
The judgment in extenso in English will be available in the second half of December 2022.