Canada and allies taking Iran to ICJ over downed PS752 flight

Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and UK say move aims ‘to ensure Iran is held accountable’ for 2020 crash that killed 176 people.

People hold placards with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, in Toronto last year
People hold placards with images of victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran in 2020 [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom have said they intend to refer Iran to the United Nations’s top court for the 2020 downing of a Ukrainian International Airlines flight over Tehran that killed all 176 people on board.

In a joint statement, the four countries said on Thursday that the decision to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came after “no agreement on the organization of arbitration was reached” with Iran.

Citizens and permanent residents of Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the UK were killed in the crash, and the countries formed the so-called “International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752” to seek accountability.

“Time is up. We will proceed with taking Iran to the International Court of Justice over the downing of flight PS752, as we promised to the families of the victims,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly tweeted on Thursday morning.

“Together, we will seek the transparency, accountability and justice families deserve. Impunity is not an option.”

The Ukrainian International Airlines flight bound for Kyiv went down shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on January 8, 2020, at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States.

Iran’s military had just fired missiles on US forces in Iraq after the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US strike on Baghdad airport.

Iranian officials have said the shooting of the plane was an accident caused by “human error” in operating a surface-to-air defence system.

Thursday’s announcement came a day after the ICJ – also known as the World Court – announced that Iran had filed a complaint accusing Canada of violating its “international obligations” by allowing people to seek civil damages against Tehran.

Iran has asserted a violation of its sovereign immunity, which generally shields states from civil lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions, the court said.

Iran “requests the Court to adjudge and declare that ‘by failing to respect the immunities of Iran and its property, Canada has violated its international obligations’”, it said.

Last year, a Canadian court awarded $84m (107 million Canadian dollars) to the families of six victims who were killed when Iranian forces shot down the plane.

The same judge – Justice Edward Belobaba of Ontario’s Superior Court – had labelled the incident an “act of terrorism” months earlier, a ruling Iran rejected as “shameful”.

The Iranian government said in late 2020 that it would give $150,000 to each of the victims’ families.

Early last year, Tehran also said it was ready to hold discussions with the countries whose citizens were killed in the crash.

In a statement at the time, the Iranian foreign ministry said Iran has been transparent and accused other countries of trying to “take advantage of this painful incident” in order to advance their political agendas.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies