MH17 disaster

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Persons suspected of downing flight MH17, will be put on trial in the Netherlands before a Dutch court. This page contains information in English. For information in Dutch or Ukianian, please click on the link below.

Brief overview

[Foto: Hollandse Hoogte]

On Wednesday 5 July 2017, the Dutch government announced that the suspects who will be held responsible for downing flight MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July 2014, will stand trial in the Netherlands. This decision was taken at the request of the countries cooperating in the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The JIT investigates the circumstances surrounding the disaster. The countries involved are the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine. The investigating authorities of these countries are still carrying out the criminal investigations. It is uncertain when their work will be finished. When the investigations are complete, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service will present a summons in which it clearly states who is suspected of which criminal offenses.

What happened?

On July 17 2014, a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board (27 Australians, 4 Belgians, 1 Canadian, 4 Germans, 12 Indonesians, 43 Malaysians, 196 Dutch, 1 New Zealander, 3 Filipinos, and 10 Britons). The plane was shot down by a Buck surface-to-air missile. An attempt to prosecute the suspects through a UN tribunal, was vetoed on July 2 2015 by Russia in the UN Security Council. On 5 July 2017, the Dutch government announced that the suspects will be tried in the Netherlands by a Dutch court. This decision was taken at the request of the countries investigating the crash of flight MH17. These countries are, in addition to the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine.

Criminal court cases in the Netherlands

Criminal court cases in the Netherlands are dealt with by one of the 11 district courts. Preliminary criminal investigations are lead by an examining judge. He may hear witnesses, allow the police and the Public Prosecution Service to use additional investigative methods. The examining judge can also decide to hold a suspect in provisional custody. Pre-arrests may last no more than 110 days.

Serious and complex criminal cases, in which the prosecution demands a sentence of more than one year’s imprisonment, are dealt with by a full bench of 3 professional judges. In the Netherlands there are no lay judges and there is no jury trial. Before the start of formal proceedings judges have a file at their disposal, containing all relevant documents, data, police reports, prosecution reports and statements made by witnesses, psychiatrists and experts. Therefore the judges are fully aware of the whole case and all the evidence available. A defendant may inspect the dossier and challenge it’s completeness.

In court, the officer of justice (prosecuter), will read out the charges. The judge will list the documents included in the dossier. What wil follow is:

  • Cross examination
  • Statement of the prosecuter
  • Defence statement by the accused or his lawyer (including a last word)
  • Verdict and sentence

Usually, 2 weeks after the closing of oral proceedings, the bench delivers its verdict.

A defendant can appeal his case to one of the 4 courts of appeal and to the supreme court. The supreme court does not review the facts of the criminal, but if the law has been properly applied, and the rules of due process and fairness of the procedure have been followed.



 Frequently asked questions

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  • ​The Dutch Public Prosecution Service will prosecute suspects before a Dutch court when the criminal investigation is completed. The defendants will be tried under Dutch criminal law.

  • ​The trial can be held at a number of Dutch courts. The location is contingent on the court in which the Dutch Public Prosecution Service will file the summons and on the legal nature of the allegations. The Dutch government has yet to finalise international agreements on this issue. Only then will be clear which court will administer the criminal proceedings.

  • The Dutch Judiciary is highly regarded. Dutch judges are amongst the most independent in the world. This is evidenced by the EU Justice Scoreboard and by the Rule of Law Index (comparison of legal systems worldwide). The Dutch rank 5th on the worldwide 2016 Rule of Law Index. The Dutch Judiciary has extensive experience with complex international court cases (Srebrenica, Rwanda genocide, torture in Afghanistan). There are also international tribunals in the Netherlands. The Hague is rightfully called the international city of peace and justice.

  • The trial can only start when the Dutch Public Prosecution Service has prepared a summons. This has yet to happen; the criminal investigations are still underway. In a summons, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service offers a description of the offence with which the suspect is charged.

  • ​The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has not yet summoned anyone, so right now it is unknown where the suspects are. Whether a Dutch judge can force foreigners to attend the trial, depends on the treaties and agreements the Netherlands has with a particular country.

  • ​Dutch judges generally want to know that every effort has been made for defendants to plead their case, giving them an opportunity to defend themselves, with or without an attorney present. If a suspect does not appear in court and is not represented by an attorney, the court may decide on the matter. The suspect in that case will be sentenced in absentia.

  • Under Dutch law, victims and survivors have the right to speak during a criminal trial. Usually victims and the bereaved speak of the impact a crime or a tragic accident has had on their lives.

  • ​That is up to the court. Criminal trials in the Netherlands as a guiding principle are open to the public. The chairman of the court may authorize the transmission of (or parts of) the criminal proceedings.

  • ​Nothing sensible can be said about it at this time. It depends on so many different things: for example, on the number of suspects, on the charges and on the requests of the defence.

  • ​A court sentence will be executed under Dutch law. As a general rule, an offender will serve his sentence in the Netherlands. This also depends on treaties and legal agreements the Netherlands has with a particular country.

  • ​The suspects are tried according to Dutch criminal law. This means an appeal also with be dealt with by a Dutch court.

Press contact

Barbara den Uijl: +316 46 11 65 48
Roderick Reinalda: +316 11 78 38 05
Outside office hours +316 55 73 80 05





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