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After Russia's U.N. Veto, Countries Seek Court For Downed Flight MH17 Prosecutions

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The five countries investigating the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine a year ago are considering setting up an independent international tribunal after Russia vetoed attempts to establish a U.N.-backed court to prosecute suspects.

Russia deployed its permanent member’s veto in the United Nations Security Council on Monday, blocking an attempt to establish an international court.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in July 2014 with 298 passengers on board, two-thirds of them Dutch. It crashed in Ukrainian territory held by Russian-backed separatists.

Ukraine and many western countries believe it was downed by Moscow-backed separatists who had mistaken it for a military aircraft. No suspects have yet been named.

Malaysia, The Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine are now exploring alternative options, including trials in international and national courts.

“One option is to have an international tribunal backed by the five countries,” said a spokesperson for the Dutch Foreign Ministry. “Another option being discussed is to have a court established by the U.N. General Assembly.”

A third option under discussion involved a trial in national courts of one of the five countries, all of which lost large numbers of citizens in the crash. The discussions were taking place in national capitals and at the United Nations, the spokesperson said.

A U.N.-backed court could be given the power to issue arrest warrants valid in all countries, meaning a country that refused to hand over a suspect could be found in breach of the law. A court backed by a limited group of countries would be unlikely to have the same power.

The Dutch prime minister said he was disappointed after Russia was the only country in the 15-member Security Council to vote against the proposal. Three countries abstained.

“A U.N. tribunal would have ensured that there was the broadest possible support for the prosecution process,” he said, adding that the five countries would now discuss alternatives on both national and international levels.

An ad hoc Scottish court was set up in the Netherlands to try the perpetrators of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Libya, which harbored the suspects, was only prepared to hand them over to a court based outside Britain.