On July 17th 2014 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. On board were 283 passengers and 15 crew members. Among the passengers were 196 Dutch nationals.
The criminal investigation is aimed at identifying the suspects and is conducted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). In the JIT the Netherlands Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Dutch National Police work together with police and judicial authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. The purpose of the criminal investigation is to establish the facts, identify those responsible for the crash and to collect evidence which can be used in court.
When in a criminal investigation two or more countries are cooperating, there are rules to be followed so that the results of the criminal investigation of the one country can be used in the criminal investigation(s) of the other country or countries. Furthermore, there are also rules to see to it that certain investigative activities may be carried out in one country for the benefit of another country. When countries have a common goal in their investigations, they may also decide to join forces. For this purpose a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) can be formed. In the criminal investigation into the MH17 disaster, such a JIT was set up. In this JIT, the countries which were hit the most, i.e. the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and Belgium are working together with Ukraine, where the crash took place.
The results of the criminal investigation should meet the standards we set in the Netherlands for an investigation. This also applies to the other participating countries. The requirements for a criminal investigation are different in each country. This means that there is a lot of consultation going on within the JIT about what the rules are and how in certain countries evidence is gathered. The cooperation within the JIT enables Dutch and Australian police officers to be active on Ukrainian territory, together with Ukrainian investigation officers.
Right at the start, the position of Ukraine in the Joint Investigation Team was discussed with the Ukrainian authorities. After all, Ukraine itself is a party to the armed conflict in which flight MH17 was shot down. Arrangements have been made to ensure the independence of the investigation. In this respect it was agreed that the investigation will be conducted jointly and that the results will be scrutinised continuously by the other members of the JIT, so they cannot be challenged at an international level. A team of Australian and Dutch investigation officers is permanently present in Ukraine, in the so-called Field Office.
The Joint Investigation Team has examined all human remains, personal belongings and wreckage of the airplane which were found in the vicinity of the crash site for the purpose of establishing the cause of the crash. The traces that were found and secured are being compared and examined by experts. Experts in many areas (such as weapons experts) have been consulted and information has been requested from different countries. The Joint Investigation Team is still identifying and hearing a large number of witnesses on a daily basis.
Apart from the cause of the crash, the investigation is also aimed at identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators. Therefore, investigation should be focused on roles and intent regarding the shooting down of flight MH17 as well. In this respect, the JIT depends largely on the testimonies of witnesses. Both the investigation into the perpetrators and their eventual arrest are complicated matters and will be time-consuming.
In an info-graphic the Joint Investigation Team provides a summary of all aspects of the investigation.
The two investigations have a different goal. The JIT investigation focuses on the prosecution of the perpetrators and the OVV investigation’s purpose is to draw safety lessons from the accident for future use. Both the JIT and the OVV investigate the cause of the crash. In addition, the OVV looks at the decision-making process concerning the determination of the flight routes to be followed and the availability of passenger lists of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. The JIT investigation is aimed at identifying the suspects.