KYIV -- One year after the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in Iranian airspace, Ukraine and four other countries whose citizens were killed in the crash are “urgently” calling on Tehran to fully disclose how the tragedy occurred, deliver justice, and make reparations, as the families of the victims seek justice and answers to a tragedy that killed 176 people.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s main airport on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. The majority of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, but Afghans, Britons, Swedes, and Ukrainians were also among the dead.
Iran admitted days later that its forces accidentally shot down the Kyiv-bound plane after firing two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States.
In a joint statement coinciding with the first anniversary of the crash, Afghanistan, Britain, Canada, Sweden, and Ukraine urged Iranian authorities to “provide a complete and thorough explanation of the events and decisions that led to this appalling plane crash, including concrete measures to ensure that it will never happen again.”
The statement, posted on the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s website, said the five countries “will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries.”
“It is clear that all those responsible for this catastrophe will face justice,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a separate statement. “There is no way in the modern world that a crime of that kind may stay without proper consequences.”
Officials from Canada and other countries whose nationals were on board have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in Iran’s investigation of its own military, and called on the country to cooperate with multilateral investigative initiatives.
In December, an independent report by the Canadian government accused Iran of failing to conduct a proper investigation and said that many questions remain unanswered.
"The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret. That does not inspire confidence or trust," said a report by Canada's special counsel on the tragedy.
Iranian officials have said the country never sought to hide the details about the air disaster or to violate the rights of the victims' families.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also marked the anniversary of the crash by accusing Iranian authorities of harassing and intimidating the victims’ families instead of conducting a “transparent and credible” investigation into the tragedy.
The government should “promptly pay adequate compensation to the families and carry out a transparent and impartial investigation with appropriate prosecutions regardless of position or rank,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based watchdog.
The group said it had interviewed more than a dozen of the victims’ family members, who said that the authorities “had not returned any valuables from their loved ones.”
The authorities also “intimidated and harassed families to stop them from seeking justice outside of the authorities’ own judicial investigations.”
Meanwhile, at least 20 people who participated in peaceful protests over the crash have been prosecuted, according to HRW.
It said two prominent activists among them were sentenced to four years and eight months and five years in prison, respectively, for participating in the demonstrations and posting about it on social media.
In the week prior to the anniversary of the incident, Iranian authorities organized several events commemorating the victims of the crash, but Page said “public commemorations do not make up for the intimidation of victims’ families and wrongful prosecutions of peaceful protesters.”
The authorities “should immediately and unconditionally drop charges against those peacefully protesting, stop intimidating families, and direct their efforts to holding wrongdoers to account,” he added.
A video posted online recently showed an unnamed Iranian woman crying at the graves of her loved ones and demanding justice for her daughter, son-in-law, and 1-year-old granddaughter, who perished in the crash.
"Last year my daughter was here and we celebrated her 30th birthday. Today she turned 31. Why did you prevent her from being with me? Why did you do this?" she says through tears. "We don't want blood money and compensation. We want justice."
There has been no report of senior Iranian officials being dismissed or resigning over the crash.
On January 7, the military prosecutor of Tehran, Gholam Abbas Torki, said experts had concluded their investigations and that “human error” had resulted in the incident.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili earlier announced that the trial of several people charged over the crash would begin later this month. He did not identify the suspects.
And Iran announced in December that the government had allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the victims -- an offer rejected by the Ukrainian and Canadian governments, as well as some of the families of the victims, who see it as an attempt to close the case and escape accountability.
Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in an e-mail sent to AFP on January 7 that Tehran cannot unilaterally decide on compensation for the families and that "substantive discussions with Iran" were yet to take place over the matter.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Champagne, and several other members of the government spoke with victims' families during a private virtual commemoration on the eve of the tragedy’s anniversary.
Trudeau has recently announced that January 8 would become known as Canada's National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.
Zelenskiy said that Ukraine would soon erect a memorial "where relatives, friends, and other citizens could come" to honor the victims of the tragedy.
Flight 752 was downed the same night that Iran launched a ballistic-missile attack that targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Tehran's air defenses were on high alert in case of retaliation.
Iran's missile attack was in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed the powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad five days earlier.