What's In Blue

Posted Mon 21 Jul 2014

Vote on Draft Resolution Condemning Downing of MH17

The Draft Resolution
This afternoon (21 July), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution condemning the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans are both expected to attend the meeting. (Australia, a non-permanent Council member, lost 37 of its citizens, and the Netherlands lost 193 citizens, the highest number from one nationality on the downed flight.) Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn was also expected to participate in the meeting.

Council members worked over the weekend to get agreement on a draft text proposed by Australia. The draft was first circulated to Council members on Saturday, 19 July and put in blue on Sunday following an exchange of emails. Russia then circulated its own draft resolution and asked the Presidency to put it in blue on Sunday evening. That evening, following an urgent meeting on Israel/Palestine, Russia asked for a discussion on its draft. As the Russian draft was largely based on the Australian draft, apparently agreement was reached on incorporating some of Russia’s amendments into the original Australian draft and a revised draft was put in blue. At press time there were still two draft resolutions in blue, as Russia had not formally withdrawn its version in blue although it did not appear that they were asking for it to be voted on. (According to rule 32 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure “draft resolutions shall have precedence in order of their submission.”)

It seems that the draft resolution has the wide support of most Council members, with 13 co-sponsoring it. Ukraine and those states that lost nationals will also co-sponsor. It also appeared that the revisions made to the Australian draft sufficiently addressed Russia’s concerns to avoid a veto.

In the initial exchange over the original draft, it seems China and Russia stressed the importance of not prejudging the outcome of the investigations. The initial text of the draft resolution contained a paragraph which condemned the “shooting down” of flight MH17. This was changed to “the downing” of the MH17 flight. This was likely done as some members insisted that no conclusions should be made until a thorough investigation is completed, making a the reference to “shooting down” unacceptable.

Questions were also raised about who should do the investigation and what the role of the Secretary-General should be. The issue of who would lead the investigation appears to have been particularly important to Russia. Its draft resolution specified that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would play a leading role and eliminated references to Ukraine’s efforts in convening an international investigation.

The Australian draft resolution condemns the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 claiming the lives of all 298 passengers and crew onboard of the aircraft and supports efforts for a ”full, through and independent” international investigation in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines. The draft resolution also recognises the efforts underway by Ukraine, in coordination with ICAO and other relevant international organisations and experts as well as states that lost nationals on board MH17 to convene an international investigation and calls on all states to provide any assistance needed for civil and criminal investigation of the incident.

A key focus of the draft resolution is on the importance of armed groups maintaining the integrity of the crash site, ceasing all military activities in the vicinity of the crash site, and providing safe and unrestricted access to the investigating authorities. It additionally calls on all states and actors in the region to cooperate fully with the international investigation, including with respect to access to the crash site.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s role, the draft asks the Secretary-General to identify possible options for UN support to the investigation and to report to the Council on relevant developments. It does not, however, indicate a timeframe for the options to be presented or suggest a regular reporting cycle.

Following the downing of MH17 on 17 July, the UK, supported by Lithuania, requested an urgent meeting on Ukraine which was held the following day. A press statement calling for a “full, thorough and independent investigation”, which had been circulated the day before, was adopted just before the meeting. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed during the meeting, and Ukraine as well as representatives from the members states that lost nationals on flight MH17 (Belgium, Canada ,Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand Philippines and Viet Nam) participated.

Feltman highlighted the need for an urgent resumption of a ceasefire and stressed that serious efforts need to be made to end the ongoing crisis. Council members at the meeting on 18 July generally condemned the incident and called for an immediate international investigation. Some members, most notably the P3, EU members and Australia directly blamed Russia for providing separatists with sophisticated weapons that could be used for the downing of an airplane flying at high altitude. Russia, on the other hand, questioned the decision of Ukrainian authorities to allow commercial aircrafts to fly over an area of active conflict and military operations. It also said Ukraine was responsible for monitoring the safety if its airspace. Australia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Philippa King made clear in her statement that the press statement that had just been issued by Council members was not enough and that Australia was planning for a draft resolution on the incident.

Developments on the Site of the Crash
Four days after the crash of MH17, there has not been any progress on a credible investigation of the crash. Complicating the investigation is the fact that air accident investigations are generally conducted by the country where the accident occurred. In the case of MH17, the airplane crashed in an area over which Ukraine has formal jurisdiction, but which currently appears to be under control of the separatists and so called Donetsk People’s Republic. Also, the crash site and the eastern part of Ukraine is currently a combat zone further complicating access for the investigators and jeopardising their safety.

Shortly after the crash, representatives of the OSCE had tried to gain access to the site of the crash but according to media reports their initial attempts were blocked by separatists in control of the area. On 20 July OSCE monitors were finally allowed to inspect the crash site. In the meantime it seems the separatists had collected the bodies and stored them in refrigerated train wagons in Torez, a town near the crash site.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced today that Ukrainian armed forces will stop all military operations in a 40 kilometer radius of the MH17 crash site. At the same time, media reports today indicate that the Ukrainian army has launched a heavy military attack on the city of Donetsk located some 80 kilometers away from the crash site.

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