30 Jul 2015

'Bad day' for UN Security Council

4:03 pm on 30 July 2015

The Foreign Minister says it has been a bad day in the UN Security Council, after Russia used its veto to block a draft resolution relating to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in Ukraine.

Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, on 18 July 2014 in eastern Ukraine, a day after the plane came down.

Wreckage of MH17, on 18 July 2014 in eastern Ukraine, a day after the plane came down. Photo: AFP

The resolution - presented by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine - was to prosecute those suspected of downing Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

The flight was shot down with 298 passengers on board, two-thirds of them Dutch. It crashed in Ukrainian territory held by Russian-backed separatists.

Russia has denied any involvement in the shooting down of the airliner, but a Dutch-led investigation due to report in October is believed to support claims Russian-backed separatists were responsible.

Eleven countries on the 15-member council voted in favour of the proposal by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, while three countries abstained: China, Angola and Venezuela.

Russia's representative Vitaly Churkin has defended the use of the veto and questioned whether such a tribunal could be genuinely independent. He asked how it would be able to resist what he called an "aggressive backdrop of propaganda in the media."

Russia has submitted its own draft resolution calling for the UN to conduct a broader inquiry into the crime.

Opposition to veto power maintained

New Zealand is currently chairing the UN Security Council.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand continued to make its view known that it opposed the concept of a veto for the permanent members.

"Today we saw a good example of why we're opposed and I expressed our position again in front of the Security Council."

Mr McCully said there had been national interests, with the countries of the grieving families, as well as ongoing political tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which had been very evident.

But he also said the Russians have felt there had been a level of pre-determination around some of the debate, which made them even more likely to veto the resolution.

"One of things that we've tried to do is be a little careful of what we say because we may well find ourselves having this discussion again once the investigation teams have brought their reports through in September, October," he said.

"And saying to the Russians again and the Security Council table, 'Look, Resolution 2166 says the UN Security Council is going to hold some people to account.'

"We've seen one proposal vetoed but we've still got an overriding obligation to go back there, so we need to leave ourselves a little bit of space for that."

Murray McCully speaking to reporters on Wednesday,

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has maintained New Zealand's opposition to veto power for permanent UN Security Council members. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr McCully said a prosecution would not necessarily have to be through the UN.

"Using the jurisdictions of the countries involved and potentially setting up an inquiry somewhere else, those are the sorts of things that have been done in the past," he said.

"But the sort of brick wall that you seem to hit on these occasions is being able to reach the people who are the alleged offenders and [to] have the co-operation of the jurisdiction of which they are present.

"It's probably reasonably straightforward to create a tribunal or court that can address the issues - but to get the culprits to face the consequences of their actions is a different story.

He said a UN-created tribunal that required all countries to co-operate and gave jurisdiction into places where the accused might be found was a better option.

"That's obviously going to be the best answer."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs