A guest blog by Geraldine Coughlan

As Dutch investigators arrive in eastern Ukraine to search the MH17 crash site, the priority is to establish the cause of the crash and to bring those responsible to justice, according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

It is not yet clear what form of justice the international investigation at the crash site will lead to – but in the Netherlands, preparations are under way to bring any suspects to face Dutch justice in The Hague. As Dutch prosecutors open their own domestic investigation, suspects could end up being sought by a Dutch court, as well as an International Tribunal.


Dutch prosecutors are investigating the crash of MH17 on suspicion of murder, war crimes and intentionally downing an airliner. The Dutch law on International Crimes allows the Netherlands to prosecute any individual who commits a war crime against a Dutch citizen. The 298 people who were killed when the plane was downed over Ukraine included 193 Dutch citizens.

Under the Dutch law, any suspects would be prosecuted in the Netherlands before the War Crimes Chamber in The Hague. The court opened its doors in 2003, when the International Crimes Act, based on the ‘universality principle’, came into effect. This replaced the 1952 War Crimes law, used to convict war criminals from World War Two. The Chamber’s rulings since its inception include the sentencing of Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat to 16 and a half years in prison for supplying ingredients for chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, and the sentencing of two Afghan former generals to 9 and 12 years in jail for the torture of prisoners.


The Dutch War Crimes Chamber expects to see a sharp increase in the number of suspects it has to deal with. The International Crimes Act is due to be expanded in 2017, to incorporate the crime of aggression in line with the Kampala Amendments to the Rome Statute. This means a new category of suspect for the Netherlands, although investigating this crime in other countries will prove a costly process.

The Dutch investigation into the MH17 tragedy is fraught with difficulties – not least, the multitude of forensic challenges & the identification of suspects. However, if the Netherlands finds it impossible to investigate the downing of the airliner that departed from Amsterdam, the International Criminal Court would be able to pursue the case. But, as Ukraine still hasn’t ratified the Rome Statute, it appears the final outcome could depend on a referral by the UN Security Council.

See also: New Tasks – Hague District Court

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