Will the killers of 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 ever be brought to justice? Dutch leaders and families of the victims now fear that the pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine who, it is widely believed, shot down the commercial airliner last year, killing all of the passengers and crew, may have just been granted amnesty for their alleged crime — before investigators even have a chance to identify the culprits.
Their fears were triggered by a new ceasefire agreement signed Thursday after lengthy negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, between leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany, and announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin said that the ceasefire in the bloody 10-month conflict that has so far claimed at least 5,000 lives — thousands of them civilians — is scheduled to take effect on Sunday. In fact, Germany’s intelligence services reportedly estimate the number of deaths in the Ukraine civil war at 50,000 — 10 times the number estimated by authorities in Kiev.
Obviously, ending the massive bloodshed is an unparalleled priority — but a condition of the ceasefire, as outlined in the final agreement, is an amnesty agreement that Dutch officials say would cover the rebels who may have blasted Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 out of the sky on July 17, 2014.
The cease fire deal reached Thursday contains a clause that appears to pardon war criminals in the rebel-held Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, though it makes no specific mention of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
“Providing pardon and amnesty by way of enacting a law forbids persecution and punishment of persons in relation to events that took place in specific parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine,” reads a translated version of the agreement, as reported by the Dutch news site NL Times.
Flight MH17 took off from Schiphol Aitrport in Amsterdam and was almost three hours into its 11-hour, 40-minute flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it was apparently shot down. Of the plane’s 298 passengers and crew, 173 were Dutch, and Dutch investigators have taken the lead in trying to figure out exactly what happened to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200.
The plane was shot down over the pro-Russia rebel stronghold of Donetsk, near the Russian border. United States and German intelligence agencies have pinned the blame squarely on the rebels there, and video evidence appeared to show a “Buk” anti-aircraft missile launcher being transported into the region earlier that day, then away, presumably back across the Russian border in the period following the disaster.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said he is attempting to get the passage regarding “amnesty” in the ceasefire deal “clarified.” And family members of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 victims have already sent Koenders a letter demanding that “those responsible be identified, prosecuted, and punished,” regardless of the ceasefire agreement.
[Image: Rob Stothard/Getty Images]