It was a year ago, on 17 July 2014, that MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. We will never forget the 298 lives that were lost that day, including 43 of our fellow citizens. They were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters… Some were students travelling abroad to continue their education. Others were returning after a holiday spent with their families. All were innocent. All were taken from us far too early.
It is hard to capture words to describe the shock and disbelief I felt on being told that there had been another Malaysian airplane tragedy, coming so soon after MH370 – which we were still in the process of mourning. Any sentiments I felt on a personal level had to be placed to the side, as we sought to comfort the families of those on board.
At that time, our foremost priority was ensuring the swift return of the bodies of those onboard to their families. It was crucial that this be done in a dignified manner that allowed the families to grieve properly.
The situation was complicated by the fact that the plane had been shot down over territory that was in the throes of a civil war, and controlled by non-government forces. Engaging with them was necessary in order to ensure the swift return of the bodies.
In those early days, we encountered criticism from various quarters, with segments of the foreign media calling on us to follow standard modus operandi. However, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures, and we ignored those disruptive noises – standing our ground and doing it our way.
We cast aside standard protocol and, within days, had sent representatives from the National Security Council to meet the rebels and negotiate for a safe passage, ensure the return of the passengers’ remains, as well as access to the wreckage and flight recorders that would help us get to the truth of what happened on that fateful day.
Ultimately, Malaysia’s strong stance and decisive but consultative and unorthodox approach got the job done.
A year on, the battle for truth and justice is far from over, and we continue to provide our full cooperation to – and work closely with – the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) looking into this tragedy. They now have a clearer picture regarding the possible cause of the tragedy, and are expected to continue their investigation into all possible scenarios until the end of 2015.
The end goal is clear – to bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure they pay for this unforgivable crime, which claimed hundreds of innocent lives.
By early October this year, Insya-Allah, the report by the Dutch Safety Board will be published. At the same time, we will continue to push for the establishment of a full, thorough and independent international tribunal into the incident – for the sake of the families and friends of those who perished in the tragedy.
The victims of MH17 were casualties of a conflict that was not theirs.
To their loved ones – There are no words I can offer to ease your pain, but know that your pain and sorrow are shared amongst all of us. Malaysia wept for your loss, which was our loss too, and we will never let those who died be forgotten. Take comfort in knowing that MH17 brought the country together in an act of unity that would make anyone proud to call themselves Malaysians. May that unity be the legacy of those we lost.
I remember vividly the shock and anger I felt upon receiving that phone call, and the experience of leading our country through the tragedies of MH370 and MH17, in the space of mere months, are still fresh in my mind. I hope that neither our nation, nor any other nation, has to endure such tragedies again.
Above all, I pray for the families of those who perished to stay strong in these trying times. Remember that all of Malaysia stands in unity beside you, and we will continue to stand beside you – for as long as it takes – as we work tirelessly in search of truth and justice for your loved ones.