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Respect for human rights essential for all during COVID-19 crisis
by UN Human Rights Council independent experts
23 Mar 2020
COVID-19 will not be stopped without providing safe water to people living in vulnerability – UN rights experts
As washing hands with soap and clean water is vital in the fight against COVID-19, governments worldwide must provide continuous access to sufficient water to their populations living in the most vulnerable conditions, UN experts said.
“The global struggle against the pandemic has little chance to succeed if personal hygiene, the main measure to prevent contagion, is unavailable to the 2.2 billion persons who have no access to safe water services,” the experts said.
“We call on governments to immediately prohibit water cuts to those who cannot pay water bills. It is also essential that they provide water free of cost for the duration of the crisis to people in poverty and those affected by the upcoming economic hardship. Public and private service providers must be enforced to comply with these fundamental measures.
“For the most privileged, washing hands with soap and clean water - the main defence against the virus - is a simple gesture. But for some groups around the world it is a luxury they cannot afford.”
The UN experts welcomed the measures announced by some governments to mitigate the impact of the loss of jobs likely to result from the pandemic and called for policies to ensure the continuous access to water and sanitation.
“People living in informal settlements, those who are homeless, rural populations, women, children, older persons, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees and all other groups vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic need to have continuous access to sufficient and affordable water. Only this will allow them to comply with the recommendations of health institutions to keep strict hygiene measures,” the UN experts said.
They expressed concerns that economically vulnerable people will become victims of a vicious cycle.
“Limited access to water makes them more likely to get infected. Infection leads to illness and isolation measures, making it difficult for people without social security to continue earning a living. Their vulnerability increases, which results in even more limited access to water. Governments need to implement measures to break this cycle.
“Throughout our mandates, we keep insisting on the need to ensure that ‘no one is left behind.’ Governments must pay special attention to marginalised groups who are rarely at the centre of public policies related to water and sanitation. In relation to COVID-19, this message is even more critical,” they said.
Mar. 2020
Everybody has the right to health
The COVID-19 crisis cannot be solved with public health and emergency measures only; all other human rights must be addressed too, UN human rights experts underlined.
“Everyone, without exception, has the right to life-saving interventions and this responsibility lies with the government. The scarcity of resources or the use of public or private insurance schemes should never be a justification to discriminate against certain groups of patients,” the experts said. “Everybody has the right to health''.
“People with disabilities, older persons, minority communities, indigenous peoples, internally displaced people, people affected by extreme poverty and living in overcrowded settings, people who live in residential institutions, people in detention, homeless people, migrants and refugees, people who use drugs, LGBT persons – these and other groups need to receive support from governments.
“Advances in biomedical sciences are very important to realize the right to health. But equally important are all human rights. The principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability need to be applied to all health-related policies.”
The UN experts supported the measures recommended by the WHO to defeat the pandemic. They called on States to act with determination to provide the needed resources to all sectors of public health systems – from prevention and detection to treatment and recovery.
“But addressing this crisis is more than that. States must take additional social protection measures so that their support reaches those who are at most risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis,” they stressed.
“That includes women, who are already at a disadvantaged socio-economic position, bear an even heavier care burden, and live with a heightened risk of gender-based violence.”
The group of experts expressed their gratitude and admiration to health workers around the world who heroically battle the outbreak. “They face huge workloads, risk their own lives and are forced to face painful ethical dilemmas when resources are too scarce. Healthcare workers need to have all possible support from States, business, media and the public at large.
“COVID-19 is a serious global challenge,” the experts said. “But it is also a wake-up call for the revitalization of universal human rights principles. These principles and trust in scientific knowledge must prevail over the spread of fake news, prejudice, discrimination, inequalities and violence.
“We all together face this unprecedented challenge. The business sector in particular continues to have human rights responsibilities in this crisis. Only with concerted multilateral efforts, solidarity and mutual trust, will we defeat the pandemic while becoming more resilient, mature and united.
“When the vaccine for COVID-19 comes, it should be provided without discrimination. Meanwhile, as it is still to come, the human rights-based approach is already known as another effective pathway in the prevention of major public health threats,” the experts concluded.
Mar. 2020
Health care heroes need protection
States and businesses must urgently step up their efforts to ensure that health care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide receive adequate protective equipment, said Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances.
"The brave doctors, nurses, emergency first-responders and other medical professionals working on the frontlines of the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic are heroes. Their tireless work and self-sacrifice show the best of humanity. They must be protected.
"Yet, unacceptable shortages in critical protective equipment continue to be a grave concern in nearly all countries battling the coronavirus.
"I applaud the many businesses that are rising to the challenge, producing much needed personal protective equipment for these health-care providers. These efforts are to be commended. But far more is needed around the world.
"Of particular concern is the inequality in the distribution of necessary personal protective equipment within and between countries. The COVID-19 situation in low-income countries is of grave concern. States must ensure that countries with fewer resources have the necessary protective equipment for all their health care providers.
"Public and private funds are urgently needed to ensure that protective equipment and other medical supplies are universally available and accessible. States and businesses should ensure that financial obstacles are removed and that supplies are provided at no cost for low-income countries.
"Hoarding of essential protective equipment, exploitation of demand or profiteering from the current crisis is abhorrent. States must take immediate measures to effectively deter such conduct.
"It is time to put aside our differences and to work together to protect the most vulnerable people from this virus, the elderly and those who bravely care for them: our health care workers."
Mar. 2020
States must combat domestic violence in the context of COVID-19 lockdowns
Restrictive measures adopted worldwide to fight COVID-19 intensify the risk of domestic violence; Governments must uphold the human rights of women and children and come up with urgent measures to the victims of such violence, a UN human rights expert said today.
"It is very likely that rates of widespread domestic violence will increase, as already suggested by initial police and hotline reports. For too many women and children, home can be a place of fear and abuse. That situation worsens considerably in cases of isolation such as the lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic," the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, warned.
"All States should make significant efforts to address the COVID -19 threat, but they should not leave behind women and children victims of domestic violence, as this could lead to an increase of domestic violence including intimate partner femicides," she said.
"The risk is aggravated in a time when there are no or fewer shelters and help services available for victims; when it is difficult to access those that are still open; and when there is less community support; fewer police interventions and less access to justice as many courts are closed."
The UN expert noted that, for many women, the emergency measures needed to fight COVID-19 have increased their burden regarding domestic work and the care of children, elderly relatives and sick family members. "To make matters worse, restrictions of movement, financial constraints and generalized uncertainty embolden perpetrators and provide them with additional power and control."
Simonovic expressed particular concerns about women at higher risk of domestic violence, such as women with disabilities, undocumented migrant women and victims of trafficking.
The UN expert called on governments not to put the protection of victims on hold and urged them to continue to combat domestic violence in time of COVID-19. Measures to protect victims must remain available or be adopted during the crisis. That includes ensuring access to protection by restraining orders and maintaining safe shelters and help lines for the victims. The police should increase their efforts for rapid action.
"As making phone calls might be dangerous in a context of home confinement, helplines can facilitate access by providing online chats and texting services for victims, States should also come up with new and creative solutions to support them," the expert said.
"Governments must not allow the extraordinary circumstances and restrictive measures against COVID-19 to lead to the violation of women''s right to a life free from violence."
Mar. 2020
Ease sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19: UN human rights chief. (UN News)
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday called for an easing of sanctions against countries such as Iran to allow their medical systems to fight the disease and limit its global spread.
Michelle Bachelet said humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be authorized for essential medical equipment and supplies to avoid the collapse of any national healthcare system.
“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us”, she stated.
COVID-19 has affected nearly 190 countries, with more than 330,000 cases reported globally as of Monday, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
At least 1,800 people in Iran have died from the disease, including 50 doctors. Human rights reports on the country have repeatedly highlighted the impact of sanctions on access to essential medicines and equipment, such as respirators and protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Ms. Bachelet feared sanctions could also impact medical efforts in Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
“The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems. Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems – but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities”, she said.
“The populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods”.
The UN rights chief underscored the need to protect health workers in these countries, who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, while authorities should not punish professionals who point out any deficiencies in response. Ms. Bachelet urged world leaders to come together at this time as no country can combat the pandemic alone.
"The continued imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and, to a lesser degree, Zimbabwe, to name the most prominent instances, severely undermines the ordinary citizens fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food," said Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
"These countries are already under stress and cannot handle the additional burden of sanctions. As the world exhibits new bonds of solidarity in response to the pandemic, it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift unilateral economic sanctions immediately.
"With connectivity among States more apparent than ever, it is clearly in the interest of all States, even those imposing sanctions, to immediately terminate such aggressive policies that weaken our institutional capacity to cope with the spreading pandemic," Elver said.
The UN expert reminded that sanctions often cause significant societal disruptions that are exacerbated in the midst of this global health crisis. "History has shown that unilateral economic sanctions generally have dramatic and detrimental impacts on economic, social and cultural rights. As a result, the wellbeing of the civilian populations becomes severely compromised."
The Special Rapporteur also urged the international community to pay particular attention to the situation of civilians trapped in conflict settings, and notably those already experiencing acute violations of their rights to food, such as in Yemen, South Sudan, Gaza, Syria and in refugee camps worldwide.
"Food assistance must reach the population in conflict zones without discrimination and to the maximum available resources," Elver said. "If the international community is serious about the fight against COVID-19 and the eradication of food and nutrition insecurity, States need to refrain at all times from direct and indirect interference with access to food," the expert concluded.
Mar. 2020
UN expert urges better protection of older persons facing the highest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Society has a duty to exercise solidarity and better protect older persons who are bearing the lion''s share of the COVID-19 pandemic, a UN human rights expert said.
"Reports of abandoned older persons in care homes or of dead corpses found in nursing homes are alarming. This is unacceptable," said Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. "We all have the obligation to exercise solidarity and protect older persons from such harm."
Older persons do not only face a disproportionate risk of death but they are further threatened by COVID-19 due to their care support needs or by living in high-risk environments such as institutions, the expert said.
Kornfeld-Matte expressed particular concerns about older persons with underlying health conditions and those who are already socially excluded, living in poverty, having limited access to health services, or living in confined spaces such as prisons and residential care homes.
"This social exclusion is exacerbated by ''social'' distancing measures, such as denying visitors to residential care homes. Social distancing must not become social exclusion," the expert said.
"Physical distance is crucial but creative and safe ways must be found to increase social connections. Older persons must be provided with ways to stay in touch online, including those in residential care homes and remote areas," she urged.
She noted that older persons are already facing particular old age discrimination ("ageism") and therefore require specific rights protection. She stressed the urgent need for a holistic human rights approach for older persons that ensures equal realization of all their rights, including access to health care.
"I am deeply concerned that decisions around the allocation of scarce medical resources such as ventilators in intensive care units may be made solely on the basis of age, denying older persons their right to health and life on an equal basis with others.
"Triage protocols must be developed and followed to ensure such decisions are made on the basis of medical needs, the best scientific evidence available and not on non-medical criteria such as age or disability.
"Older persons have become highly visible in the COVID 19 outbreak but their voices, opinions and concerns have not been heard. Instead, the deep-rooted ageism in our societies has become even more apparent. We have seen this in some cruel and dehumanizing language on social media and in the exclusive emphasis on older persons vulnerability ignoring their autonomy," Kornfeld-Matte said.
She finally called on all stakeholders to ensure that essential support services at home in the communities can continue without putting older persons and their care providers at risk. "Communities and generations must come together to get through this crisis in solidarity," the UN expert concluded.
18 Mar. 2020
As Governments worldwide are relying on people to stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, they must take urgent measures to prevent anyone falling into homelessness and ensure access to adequate housing for those without, a UN expert said.
“Housing has become the front line defence against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation,” said Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.
“I am deeply concerned about two specific population groups: those living in emergency shelters, homelessness, and informal settlements, and those facing job loss and economic hardship which could result in mortgage and rental arrears and evictions.”
According to the expert, approximately 1.8 billion people worldwide live in homelessness and grossly inadequate housing, often in overcrowded conditions, lacking access to water and sanitation – making them particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus, as they are often suffering from multiple health issues.
“I am urging States to take extraordinary measures to secure the right to housing for all to protect against the pandemic.
Good practices are emerging in a few States, including: moratoriums on evictions due to rental and mortgage arrears; deferrals of mortgage payments for those affected by the virus; extension of winter moratoriums on forced evictions of informal settlements; and increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for homeless people,” Farha said.
While significant, further measures are required to curb the risk for these vulnerable groups and address the growing infection rates, the Special Rapporteur said.
At a minimum, to ensure protection of those living in homelessness or grossly inadequate housing, States must: cease all evictions; provide emergency housing with services for those who are affected by the virus and must isolate; ensure that the enforcement of containment measures (eg: curfews) does not lead to the punishment of anyone based on their housing status; provide equal access to testing and health care; and provide adequate housing which may require the implementation of extraordinary measures as appropriate in a state of emergency, including using vacant and abandoned units and available short-term rentals.
With respect to those facing job loss and economic hardship, States must: provide direct financial assistance for or defer rental and mortgage payments; enact a moratorium on evictions due to arrears; introduce rental stabilization or reduction measures; and, at least for the duration of the pandemic, suspend utility costs and surcharges.
“Measures are being introduced and significant resources allocated to mitigate against the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, such as lowering interest rates. There is a risk that such measures will enable global financial actors to use the pandemic and the misfortunes of many to dominate housing markets without regard for human rights standards, as they did in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis,” the Special Rapporteur said. “States must prevent the predatory practices of institutional investors in the area of residential real estate.
“By ensuring access to secure housing with adequate sanitation, States will not only protect the lives of those who are homeless or living in informal settlements but will help protect the entire world’s population by flattening the curve of CV19,” the UN expert concluded.
Mar. 2020
The best response to a potential economic and social catastrophe provoked by the COVID-19 crisis is to put finance at the service of human rights and to support the less well-off through bold financial approaches, today said a UN human rights expert.
"Fiscal stimulus and social protection packages aimed directly at those least able to cope with the crisis are essential to mitigating the devastating consequences of the pandemic," said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights. "I call on Governments to consider the introduction of an emergency universal basic income."
"I am encouraged that many countries are contemplating large-scale economic stimulus measures. However, these measures must be carefully designed to make sure that their principal contribution goes well beyond only bailing out large companies and banks," he said.
"It is essential that public services are provided free of charge for those who cannot afford them. Debt-servicing should be suspended for individuals who would otherwise be unable to cope with the public health crisis. Mass evictions must absolutely be prevented," the Independent Expert urged.
"Those working in the informal sector, who are self-employed, and who cannot work from home need economic and fiscal incentives to stay at home. They will otherwise need to go to work and thereby put at risk their personal and family health and those of the broader community," he said.
Noting that the global recession that is unfolding can either be an unmitigated disaster or an opportunity for innovative solutions, the UN expert urged Governments to frame their COVID-19-related economic policies in terms of the "Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessment of Economic Reforms."
"Over the last years, we have witnessed the adverse consequences of the marketization and privatization of a number of essential services, including health care and public health. So-called ''cost-saving'' policies have been implemented in many countries. These developments must be reversed urgently so that States are able to meet the human rights and fiscal challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis," Bohoslavsky said.
According to the Independent Expert, debt agreements and, property rights (real, personal and intellectual) exist in a broader legal and social universe in which human rights law should prevail. If duly justified, States are able to take the necessary economic and legal measures to more effectively face the current health crisis. In particular, no private economic entitlement should trump public''s rights to health and survival.
The Independent Expert also called on international financial institutions to urgently mobilizing their financial resources to help countries combatting the pandemic.
"I am deeply concerned by the IMF''s recent response to Venezuela''s request for financial support to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. IMF''s argument of the lack of ''clarity'' on Venezuela''s government''s international recognition cannot be the basis for a decision that gravely endangers the whole of the Venezuelan population, and by extent the whole world. Such decisions may amount to gross violation of human rights and would require accountability from the institution and its deciders," Bohoslavsky said.
"This crisis is an opportunity to reflect on and reverse the ideology according to which economic growth is the only way forward. In particular, it calls on us to question and change our consumption patterns and behaviours, if we are serious about trying to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by all and to protect the environment," Bohoslavsky concluded.
Mar. 2020
COVID-19 fears should not be exploited to attack and exclude minorities
The exploitation of COVID-19-related fears by groups and politicians to scapegoat minorities is leading to an alarming rise in verbal and physical abuses against Chinese and other minorities, with some even being denied access to health care and information about the pandemic, a UN rights expert said.
“COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
“Reports of Chinese and other Asians being physically attacked; of hate speech blaming minorities including Roma, Hispanics and others for the spread of the virus; and of politicians calling for migrants to be denied access to medical services, all show that States need to urgently emphasise that the human rights of everyone, in particular of the most vulnerable and marginalized, must be protected.”
The UN expert expressed concerns at numerous reports of xenophobia and exclusion of minorities in different parts of the world, ranging from calls to deny access to medical care to undocumented migrants to the absence of information about the pandemic in minority languages, including sign languages.
“Millions of individuals, particularly minorities and indigenous peoples, may not have access to what are arguably the most important public health messages in generations,” de Varennes said.
“The world’s most vulnerable are often the last in line for support. The international community and States must therefore work closely together to inform, help and protect them. That includes communicating with them in their own languages where possible to effectively transmit vital public health information and care, as well as enforcing measures for their protection against physical abuse and hate speech.
“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others. All of us can take steps to resist this rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities in social media, including by joining our voices in messages of support with the hashtags #IAmNotAVirus or #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus.”
“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
Mar. 2020
Governments must ensure that their response to the COVID-19 pandemic does not contribute to xenophobia and racial discrimination, and must eradicate xenophobia throughout all State policy and messaging, said Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on racism, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“Crises like the coronavirus pandemic remind us that we are all connected and that our well-being is interdependent.
“It’s dismaying to witness State officials adopting alternative names for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Instead of using the internationally recognized name of the virus, these officials have adopted names with geographic references, typically referring to its emergence in China.
“This sort of calculated use of a geographic-based name for this virus fosters racism and xenophobia. It serves to isolate and stigmatize individuals who are or are perceived to be of Chinese or other East Asian descent.
“Such irresponsible, discriminatory rhetoric is no minor issue. As noted by the World Health Organization in 2015: ‘disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected.. certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities.. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods’.
“These consequences have already become a reality. Over the past two months, people who are perceived or known to be of Chinese or other East Asian descent have been subject to racist and xenophobic attacks related to the virus. These attacks have ranged from hateful slurs to denial of services to brutal acts of violence.
“COVID-19-related expressions of racism and xenophobia online have included harassment, hate speech, proliferation of discriminatory stereotypes, and conspiracy theories''.
“Political responses to the COVID-19 outbreak that stigmatize, exclude, and make certain populations more vulnerable to violence are unconscionable, and inconsistent with States’ international human rights law obligations.
“Furthermore, political rhetoric and policy that stokes fear and diminish the equality of all people is counterproductive. To treat and combat the spread of COVID-19 effectively, individuals must have access to accurate health advice and sufficient healthcare without fear of discrimination.
“In commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, States should reaffirm our joint obligations to achieve equality for all and to acknowledge that our work remains unfinished. As States across the world engage in their coordinated efforts to end this pandemic, I call on all actors to ensure that their work contributes to a holistic concept of health and well-being, including freedom from racism and xenophobia.”

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MH17 plane crash trial opens in the Netherlands
by Guardian News, agencies
9 Mar. 2020
The trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian accused of murdering 298 people in the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine has begun in the Netherlands.
The presiding judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, said “the loss of so many lives and the manner in which they so abruptly ended is barely conceivable” as he opened the case on Monday at the Schiphol judicial complex, close to the airport from where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off for Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014.
The aircraft was shot down over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine by a Buk anti-aircraft missile, killing everyone onboard. The victims came from 17 countries. Most – 193 people – were Dutch nationals, others were Malaysian, Australian, Indonesian and British.
“Especially for next of kin this will be a very painful and emotional period,” Steenhuis said as he opened proceedings by describing how Dutch criminal law treats defendants and victims. Prosecutor Dedy Woei-A-Tsoi read the names of all those killed. It took nearly 20 minutes to name every victim.
Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hurst said the moment was incredibly moving. "You could have almost heard a pin drop in that room. I think what was significant for us was the amount of time it took to read the names out. That gives a real indication of the significant and absolute atrocity that happened on that day," she said.
After a painstaking international investigation, Dutch prosecutors allege that four men had responsibility for the missile launch: the Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and the Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. All were senior commanders fighting Ukrainian forces in the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Russia does not allow extradition of its citizens, and none of the men appeared in court on Monday. Pulatov has appointed two Dutch lawyers, who first presented to the court in January. “They have had but a brief space of time to prepare for this hearing,” Steenhuis said.
Nine lawyers have been hired to represent some of the victims and their families They also have the right to speak in court, alongside public prosecutors and the defence.
The trial, which will also include testimony from the family of the victims, is expected to last several months. Lawyers will pore over a case file that already stands at 36,000 pages, and many digital pieces of evidence. Forty-nine relatives have said they wish to address the court and 82 will give written statements on how the death of their loved ones has affected their lives. More may decide to give written or oral statements.
Liz Mayne has written a statement describing how the death of her son Richard, a 20-year student at Leeds University on his way to Australia, has “completely broken” her family.
Richard’s father, Simon, said Monday’s court session was the beginning of a process that could last 30 years. He said the political state of Russia a decade in the future was unknowable. “It is important to establish the facts now. The trial will reveal the chain of command right back to the Kremlin. That may one day become important,” he said.
Eighty-four relatives have exercised their right under Dutch law to seek compensation.
The prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse said the four defendants had “noted with delight” that a plane had been shot down. “We do not think that these defendants pressed the button that launched the Buk missile,” he said.
“However we do think that they played a significant coordinating role in the transportation and positioning of the Buk-Telar and its removal back to Russia, making them so closely involved that they can be held responsible under criminal law for the downing of flight MH17.”
Ferdinandusse said it was perfectly conceivable the men had intended to shoot down a Ukrainian military jet, but that did not exclude prosecution or entitle them to claim combat immunity because they were not regular military personnel. “Whoever systematically violates humanitarian law cannot invoke it to their benefit in a criminal trial,” he said.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the shooting down of the plane.
The Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) said in 2016 that it had found irrefutable evidence the Buk missile had been fired from a village under the control of pro-Russia rebels. The court is also expected to hear details of intercepted phone calls that reveal separatist leaders requesting help from senior Kremlin advisers shortly before MH17 was shot down.
The opening sessions will not get into these details, but will be devoted to what Steenhuis called “mapping out the current state of play”.
In a statement before the opening session, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, described the trial as “an important milestone in the efforts to ensure justice for the 298 victims and their families”.
The EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, struck a similar tone, reflecting on a tragedy that caused the death of 298 innocent civilians and calling on Russia to cooperate fully with the investigation.

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