Belfast Telegraph

Thought for the weekend: Relatives of MH17 dead must get justice

By Canon Walter Lewis

It is nine days since the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, with the deaths of all 298 passengers and crew. For some four days after the crash, the corpses were left in the baking summer heat. There was a scandalous and shameful delay in taking prompt action to recover the bodies and show respect for the dead, and compassion for the bereaved.

In other circumstances, the conventional civilised norms would have been observed, and everything done to treat the dead with dignity. However, the prevailing circumstances in eastern Ukraine are far from normal. For some months, ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have taken paramilitary action to secede from the State and have set up autonomous Russian enclaves, with military support from Russia.

Virtually all the evidence points to the conclusion that the Russian separatists were responsible for the missile attack on MH17. Arguably, the secessionists may have thought they were attacking a Ukrainian aircraft. Instead, they downed a civilian plane and are now feeling the opprobrium and hostility of the international community. They could not have handled the tragedy of their own making more disastrously.

The Malaysian airliner was brought down in a war zone contested between Ukraine and the separatists backed by Moscow. How shocking it was to see that the site of the disaster was not sealed off immediately as a potential crime scene, respecting those who had died. Hopefully, more will be learned about the separatists' preservation of the crash site, and why there was a long delay in collecting the bodies. Moreover, that the perpetrators will be brought to justice for crimes against humanity.

This outrage has thrown into sharp relief the matter of respect for international law. For example, Russia flagrantly rejects the territorial integrity of Ukraine – revealed in its annexation of Crimea this year. And even the dogs in the street know the Russian military presence is very much in evidence in many parts of eastern Ukraine.

The shooting down of MH17 may be a wake-up call to the Russians in east Ukraine, and to their Kremlin backers to accept Ukraine's territorial integrity and to respect other people's right to life.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the principle of respect for others – issuing from the command of Jesus to love others as God loves us.

In this present instance, that principle of respect and love has been set aside by the perpetrators of mass murder.

It now remains for the international community to ensure that justice is done, and that the guilty are called to account for their actions.

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