Statement to the United Nations Security Council
Thank you, Madam President.
And thank you Mr Feltman and Foreign Minister Timmermans for your briefings. I extend Australia's gratitude for the professionalism and empathy that the Netherlands has shown in responding to this terrible incident. And I particularly thank Minister Timmermans for his personal commitment and compassion and Malaysian Foreign Minister Aman for his vital contribution to recovery efforts. We welcome their presence here today.
Almost two months ago the Council adopted resolution 2166 unanimously.
This Council's vote that day reflected the outrage of the international community in response to the shooting down of a commercial aircraft in commercial airspace over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Resolution 2166 voiced our collective condemnation of this horrific act, and our determination to hold those responsible to account.
The resolution expressed full support for a thorough and independent international investigation into this atrocity in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.
And we demanded that armed groups in control of the crash site refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the site and provide safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the appropriate investigating authorities.
At that time I called on Russia to use its influence over those armed groups in control of the crash site to allow full and safe access for recovery of remains and personal belongings and investigation efforts.
Within days of the downing, and in accordance with the provisions of the Chicago Convention, Ukraine agreed to a Dutch-led investigation, meeting the International Civil Aviation Organization's guidelines – an independent investigation with broad international participation drawing upon experts from Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as from the European Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Ukraine moved quickly to provide support for recovery efforts at the crash site, despite the ongoing conflict, with the actions of armed separatists restricting and at times preventing access to the site.
Due to Ukraine's efforts to comply with its obligations under Resolution 2166, Dutch, Australian and Malaysian experts were able to spend six days in late July searching the crash site. Our experts did a remarkable job, carrying out their demanding forensic work in the midst of a conflict zone.
This international team, supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was able to access areas of the crash site that had not previously been searched, and recover remains and a substantial amount of personal effects belonging to those on board MH17.
In the end, the security conditions became too dangerous to continue, and the external destabilization of eastern Ukraine intensified. But those efforts resulted in the collection of invaluable evidence to support an effective investigation.
I acknowledge the efforts of the Dutch Government in coordinating the dignified repatriation of the MH17 victims to Eindhoven Air Base that gave some comfort to the grieving families. I commend the Dutch Government's strong leadership of the criminal investigation.
Authorities in the Netherlands have worked painstakingly to identify the victims. As of today, 19 September, 225 victims have now been identified by the Identification Commission in The Hague, including a number of Australians.
Substantial progress has been made, but the identification process has been slow given the circumstances of this crash. This is no consolation to the families and friends from around the world, including from Australia, who are grieving the loss of their loved ones and are yet to bring them home.
Australia welcomes the release on 9 September of the preliminary report from the Dutch Safety Board. The first official account of the tragedy was prepared in strict accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation guidelines.
The report draws on data from the black boxes, satellite imagery and photos from the crash site. Its findings are based on an objective analysis of the available evidence. This is vital for a transparent and accountable investigation.
It is a welcome step forward in achieving the full, thorough and independent international investigation demanded by Resolution 2166.
In accordance with Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention, the preliminary report does not attribute blame or liability for the incident – this is the role of the multinational criminal investigation led by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, which is currently underway. Lest there be any misunderstanding, this is the domain of the criminal investigation.
The Australian Government's initial assessment was that MH17 had been shot down by a surface to air missile. The preliminary report has not reached any conclusions, but certainly the aircraft damage shown in the report is consistent with our view.
We continue to demand that international investigators be allowed to return safely to the crash site of MH17, consistent with Resolution 2166. And Australia is committed to returning to the site, when it is safe to do so, and in the company of our Dutch and Malaysian partners.
We are deeply concerned by reports that OSCE observers were gravely endangered during the course of a recent agreed monitoring mission. The observers were shelled en route to the site, and later threatened with violence by armed groups. These incidents show that it is still unsafe to return to the site.
And let me be clear – the security situation around the site – and in much of eastern Ukraine has deteriorated because of Russian support to armed separatists groups. That support continues and it must cease.
In adopting resolution 2166 this Council demanded unanimously that those responsible for this atrocity be held to account. The international community – and above all the victims' families – expects that this will happen.
And this must happen.