Australia and the Netherlands have started legal action against Russia in the International Civil Aviation Organisation for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014.

The two countries are seeking to have Russia’s action declared a breach of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, Russia ordered into “good faith” negotiations on reparations and its ICAO voting power suspended until the negotiations reached “a satisfactory outcome”.

The missile attack, over eastern Ukraine, killed 298 people, 38 of them Australian citizens and permanent residents. The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Australia and the Netherlands hold Russia responsible under international law.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne told a news conference on Monday evening this latest action was an “important step in the fight for truth, justice and accountability” for the victims.

The ICAO is a United Nations agency funded by more than 190 governments to support co-operation in air transport.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, speaking at the news conference, said the Russian action had been a clear breach of the convention, which required states to refrain from using weapons againt civil aircraft in flight.

In October 2020 Russia withdrew from negotiations with Australia and the Netherlands about the plane’s downing, and refused to return.

In a statement Scott Morrison, Payne and Cash laid out the evidence on which the two countries will rely. This includes that

  • the plane was shot down by a Russian Buk-TELAR surface-to-air missile system

  • that system was transported from Russia to an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine, an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, on the morning of July 17, 2014

  • the missile system belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Military Brigade, and was accompanied by a Russian crew

  • the missile fired from the launch site brought down the plane

  • the missile could only have been fired by the trained Russian crew of the Buk-TELAR, or at least by someone acting under their instruction, direction or control

  • the missile system was returned to Russia soon after the plane was downed.

The government said in its statement: “The Russian Federation’s refusal to take responsibility for its role in the downing of Flight MH17 is unacceptable and the Australian Government has always said that it will not exclude any legal options in our pursuit of justice”.

It said the joint action under Article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation was in addition to the Dutch national prosecution of four suspects for their individual criminal responsibility

“Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine and the escalation of its aggression underscores the need to continue our enduring efforts to hold Russia to account for its blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter, including threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty and airspace,” the statement said.

It reaffirmed that Australia would “pursue every available avenue to ensure Russia is held to account” over MH17.

Also on Monday the government announced fresh sanctions on 33 Russian oligarchs, prominent businesspeople and their immediate families.