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Victims' families call for war crimes probe into jet shot down by Iran

Families turn to International Criminal Court after expressing frustration over lack of accountability in 2020 attack
Mourners attend an outdoor vigil for the victims of Ukrainian passenger jet flight PS752 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 8 January 2022.
Mourners attend a vigil for the victims of Ukrainian passenger jet flight PS752 in Toronto, Canada, on 8 January 2022 (AFP)

The families whose relatives were killed in the destruction of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, have put forward a submission urging the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into whether the incident was a possible war crime.

The lawyers representing the families placed the request on Wednesday, and the filing comes after the families expressed frustration at the lack of progress in their pursuit of accountability.

"We have waited nearly 1,000 days for progress to be made in our pursuit of justice for our loved ones whose lives were horrifically ended," said Hamed Esmaeilion, 752AFV association president and spokesperson.

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"In the absence of concrete action from affected countries and a complete lack of accountability from the Iranian regime, it falls on our shoulders to take this to an international forum where they can be held accountable."

In a statement from the coalition of the victims' families, the request lists a number of crimes including "the war crimes of wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or civilian objects, outrages upon personal dignity and pillage, as well as the crimes against humanity of murder and 'other inhumane acts'".

The flight was shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guards on 8 January 2020, shortly after it had taken off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport.

All 176 aboard were killed, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

The Iranian government later said the incident was a "disastrous mistake" by its forces at a time when they were on high alert in a regional confrontation with the United States.

Last year, a Canadian court ruled that the shooting down of the plane was a deliberate "act of terrorism", a move that paved the way open for compensation.

However, Ottawa did not launch a criminal investigation, instead opting for a forensic probe that concluded the government did not have evidence to prove the incident was "premeditated".

Then, in November 2021, the families released a fact-finding report alleging that Iran deliberately kept its airspace open to use civilian air passengers as human shields against a possible American attack - a claim denied by Tehran.

Iran is not a party to the ICC's Rome Statute, however, the lawyers representing the families say that Ukraine - the plane is registered to Kyiv - has accepted the court's jurisdiction.

"The International Criminal Court was created to end impunity for crimes which have evaded justice," Haydee Dijkstal, a barrister at 33 Bedford Row Chambers in London and a lawyer on the submission's legal team, said in a statement.

"The goal of raising this case before the ICC is to find the truth and seek justice for the victims of flight PS752 and their families."

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