On August 7th, three weeks after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over East Ukraine, a secret agreement was signed between the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine about the investigation into the disaster. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service was to lead the investigation, as two-thirds of the victims had the Dutch nationality.
Details about this secret agreement were revealed on August 29th by Eurojust. There appears to be a non-disclosure agreement in which one of the four countries has the power to veto the publication of results of the investigation. It appears that Malaysia also participated in the talks about forming a joint investigation team (JIT), but refused to sign the agreement. The result is that Malaysia now is only part of the technical investigation team, and not part of the team behind the criminal probe.
The exact reason for this is not clear. The facts are that the Malaysian researchers were the first on the ground, and the Malaysians immediately contacted the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in order to acquire the black boxes of the crashed air plane and arrange the collection of the remains of the victims into a train with refrigeration system, so they could be flown to the Netherlands. Meanwhile the Dutch government refused to have any contact with the DPR, because of its strong ties with the Kiev government. The non-aligned Malaysians played a key role in the research.
More recently the Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands stated that Malaysia in fact was not allowed to be part of the JIT. According to the Malaysian ambassador to Ukraine, Malaysia has not even been allowed to inspect the debris, and will only be allowed to do this unless they become part of the JIT. These contradictory reports indicate there have probably been some intrigues against Malaysia. Although Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte went to visit Malaysia and stated there on November 5th that Malaysia should also be part of the JIT, the country has stated it has not received an invitation yet. If Rutte did want Malaysia to be part of it, one can only conclude, because of the structure of the agreement, that one of the other three countries has vetoed the participation of Malaysia in this.
The signing of the agreement was never reported to the Dutch parliament nor to journalists, before it came out on August 29th. Not only the content of the agreement, but also the existence of the agreement itself was secret. When opposition MPs asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to make the agreement public, this was rejected. The Dutch weekly magazine Elsevier asked the Ministry of Security and Justice to give insight into the agreement on the basis of the WOB (the Dutch freedom of information law), which was rejected “because the interest of the international relations weighs stronger than making this information public.”
The disagreements between Malaysia and the three other countries, and the existence of the secret agreement itself, unfortunately show that the demand for a truly independent investigation into the disaster, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, has not been fulfilled. The fact that the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia have signed a secret agreement with Kiev, already shows this is not independent. Kiev has repeatedly shelled the location of the crash site, obstructing the work of the investigators. Also it is responsible for allowing the plane to fly over the conflict area in the first place, even though multiple military air planes had been shot down there already. The downing of the MH17 was a horrible disaster which should not be used for political games. The secret agreement is a disgrace and it should be made public.
Zowi Milanovi, Netherlands, writing for SARU
Elsevier (Netherlands): “Dutch parliament demands clarity about secret agreement MH17” (September 3rd, in Dutch)
The Star (Malaysia): “No invite yet for KL to join investigation probe” (November 18th)
Elsevier (Netherlands): “Minister refuses to publish the secret deal around MH17” (November 19th, in Dutch)