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Iran’s explanations on shooting down Ukrainian plane ‘don’t add up’: UN investigator

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Iran’s explanations of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year present many inconsistencies that “do not add up,” requiring the need to further investigate whether it was “intentionally targeted,” the independent UN investigator said on Tuesday.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said they shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 plane on January 8, 2020, in error shortly after takeoff, mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions with Washington were high over the US assassination five days earlier of Guards General Qassem Soleimani.

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All 176 people on board were killed, 138 of whom had ties to Canada.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, released a 45-page official letter to Iran.

She wrote: “I have not found or received concrete proof that the targeting of a civilian plane was intentional and premeditated. However, it also appears that, on the basis of the information released by your government, it is not possible to answer many basic questions and clarify conjunctures.”

“Without answers, suspicions such as whether civilians were intentionally targeted will remain. The question of intentionality thus needs to be further investigated.”

Callamard's letter detailed a large number of contradictions with Iran's explanations, including:

  • Iran alleges that an error in the alignment of the mobile missile unit contributed to the mistaken targeting, but it has not provided any explanation as to why this radar miscalibration occurred, why it had not been detected, and how it led to the targeting.
  • Iran did not explain why the IRGC failed to follow the most basic standard procedures, such as monitoring altitude, climb or descent rate and airspeed to evaluate unknown radar tracks, evaluating the target's size, or checking the target visually.
  • Even without an Identification Friend or Foe system in the unit itself, failsafe measures should have been instituted to ensure that transponder or other tracking data was accurately and promptly provided to the mobile missile system crew. Iran failed to explain how information about cleared civilian flights was communicated to IRGC units, a critical step to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft and one that clearly failed.
  • Contrary to the IRGC Aerospace Force Commander allegation that the unit had only 10 seconds to decide to fire, it would appear that the unit had at least a 45-second decision window and possibly more time to evaluate the target.
  • No information is provided on why other flights that took off that night, before PS752, were not targeted.

The investigator also highlighted “the Iranian Government's refusal, over three days, to admit that the plane had been shot down by its military, even though high placed authorities knew almost immediately what had occurred.”

Violations of the right to life

Callamard's letter highlighted multiple violations of international law by the Iranian authorities, most crucially violations of the right to life of the 176 passengers and crew.

“In situations of high military tension, the most effective means to prevent attacks on civil aviation is to close the airspace," she said. "Had Iran, knowing full well that hostilities with the US could readily escalate, closed its airspace for civilian traffic that evening, 176 human beings would not have been killed.”

“Instead of opening a proper investigation, the authorities allowed the crash site to be looted and then bulldozed, hampering the collection of evidence and depriving families of irreplaceable mementoes of those whom they had lost,” Callamard said. “The investigation by the Iranian authorities also disregarded the responsibility of high-level officials.”

“The Iranian Government claims it has nothing to hide, yet it has failed to carry out a full and transparent investigation in line with its international obligations. As a result, many questions are left unresolved.”

“Absent an impartial, independent and comprehensive investigation, the families of the victims are left without the answers they deserve; left churning over and over in their minds how could this have happened; why was it that this particular flight was targeted while other flights on the same route in the same period escaped attack. Some may even wonder if that particular flight was targeted deliberately.”

“Moreover, the Iranian Government has failed to meet its obligations of respect for the remains of the deceased, including by its disrespectful handling of the crash site, its efforts to obstruct family wishes to repatriate remains; by its interference with private burials. All this is compounded by entirely unacceptable harassment and threats against some family members,” Callamard said.

- With Reuters

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