Editor’s Note: Jim Swire is the father of Flora, who was one of the 270 victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Essence of tragedy of MH17 is suffering of relatives, writes father of a Lockerbie victim
Lust for revenge is natural, but self-defeating, Jim Swire writes
Swire: We don't have to hate the perpetrators; Christ taught us to love our enemies
We should seek justice and truth through International Criminal Court, he adds
The first question for many relatives of the victims of MH17, as for us after Lockerbie, will be whether their loved ones suffered.
Explosive decompression of an aircraft fuselage at 35,000 feet will cause almost instantaneous loss of consciousness. Explosive decompression is a terribly apt phrase.
If it turns out to be true that MH17 was hit by a Buk Soviet-era SA missile, their warheads contain about 140 times the explosive in the PA 103 bomb. It seems impossible therefore that anyone aboard could have remained aware to suffer in the aftermath.
The essence of the tragedy of MH17 is the suffering of the relatives. Some will need to view the bodies of those they lost. Surely they deserve security to say their last farewells. They should have that option. Bodies need to be treated with respect and precision of identification.
I believe that in the case of MH17 the United Nations should also oversee immediate sending of an international team of investigators, covered by force if necessary, to ensure that relatives’ needs, the bodies themselves and the evidence field are protected. It is already very late, but not too late. There has already been looting, abhorrent to relatives, there is something particularly unsavory about the thought of unauthorised interference with bodies, or indeed personal effects of the dead.
There will now be some uncertainty about the evidential material on site. Maybe the U.N. should in future have a standby arrangement for immediate deployment of such an international “sterilizing force.” Even in the case of Lockerbie, evidence emerged in court of improper interference with potentially evidential material on the crash site within Scotland.
In the UK we found that a relatives’ group predicated on the concept of allowing everyone to grieve in their own way, but always there to support its members, helped. The humanist, highly caring, relative co-ordinating our group cannot know how many of us she has helped through her dedication and skills.
One of the most difficult yet most rewarding aspects of Christ’s philosophy was to extend love to others even when they seem to be your enemy. We have witnessed the bitterness and personal destruction that can spring from rampant lust for revenge.
Lust for revenge is natural, but self-defeating, for the consequence of revenge is so often further revenge. Nor does it even bring peace of mind to the avenger. Of course we condemn the actions of perpetrators and would rightly have them punished for what they have done, but we don’t have to hate the perpetrators themselves. Imprisoned, they may emerge one day to do good.
The late Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That concept can only work if truth precedes the attempts at reconciliation. Truth may become a fickle wraith for families to pursue through the labyrinth of International politics. It was Mandela too who publicly warned, long before the trial of those accused by the U.S. and UK of responsibility for Lockerbie, that: “No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge.”
The West ignored this warning.
It is perhaps significant that the Netherlands, which lost far more citizens in MH17 than any other country, finds herself already the home of the International Criminal Court.
Powerful governments have powerful means of controlling what we know and believe. International courts should be immune to that. Perversely it was the evidence produced at the Lockerbie trial in Zeist, Holland, which confirmed for some that Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya was responsible.
But for other close watchers, there were doubts there which have now greatly increased and led 25 UK Lockerbie relatives, together with members of the family of the one Libyan found guilty, recently to lodge a request for a third appeal against the Zeist verdict with Scotland’s Criminal Case Review Commission.
Nowadays we have a better route, through the International Criminal Court, and what those of us who are not MH17 relatives should do is to monitor and encourage all efforts to pass the whole known truth to the MH17 relatives and to discover and detain those responsible. It is no coincidence that Holland already hosts the ICC, for that nation’s record in support of international justice is outstanding.
MH17 relatives may also find help from the small UK charity Disaster Action. This cannot deal with so huge a tragedy directly but carries within it wisdom distilled from Lockerbie and other tragedies.