Sunday, July 20, 2014

The victims of MH17 deserve better than this

On Thursday we heard the first reports that a Malaysian Airlines plane had crashed in the Ukraine, followed by even more disturbing news that the cause of the disaster was likely a surface-to-air missile. This was sad (and worrisome) enough, but what has followed has been even harder to believe: pro-Russian separatists have purposely made it difficult for investigators to reach the site of the crash, the bodies of the victims were left to lie where they fell in an open field, and there appeared to be evidence of looting at the site by local people.

Meanwhile the New York Times reported this morning that there are large groups of volunteers picking their way through the wreckage, potentially destroying or removing key pieces of evidence which may be vital to any investigation. And there are reports that the rebels have moved the bodies to another location, also under separatist control.

For the families and friends of those who perished it is a personal tragedy. For investigators, the global aviation community, governments whose citizens were killed, and the flying public, any delay in the investigation leaves unanswered important questions. This situation is also intolerable when it comes to the profound lack of respect to being shown to the victims themselves.

To leave their bodies out in the open, exposed to the elements and the gawking stares of local curiosity seekers, is  morally repugnant. It is not something that civilized people do. The world needs to hear this not only from officials and commentators in the West, but from Vladimir Putin. If  Putin has any influence with the rebels -  and there is considerable evidence that he does -  he should use that influence to quickly resolve issues around access to the crash site by properly trained investigators and the repatriation of the bodies of the victims.

Whatever the precise sequence of events which led to this disaster, the world needs to put pressure on Russia to move much more swiftly when it comes to dealing with this air disaster. Whatever Putin might hope to achieve geopolitical with his support for pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Europe, there is a clear moral imperative here to repatriate the bodies of the victims as quickly as possible. It's the least he can do.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

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