Politics

Families of Flight PS752 victims outraged that UN agency hasn't condemned the attack

The families of those killed on Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 are expressing frustration over the UN aviation agency's apparent inability to condemn the destruction of the passenger jet by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

'Their silence is deafening,' says Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for victims' families

Ryan Pourjam, 13, son of Mansour Pourjam, is embraced by family friend Mahmoud Rastgou on Jan. 15, 2020, after a ceremony at Carleton University in Ottawa to honour Pourjam, a biology alumnus, and biology PhD student Fareed Arasteh, who died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The families of those killed on Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 are expressing frustration over the UN aviation agency's apparent inability to condemn the destruction of the passenger jet by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents of Canada were among the 176 people killed when Flight PS752 was shot down by two Iranian missiles shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8.

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for the association representing the families of the Canadians who died on the flight from Tehran to Kyiv, told Radio Canada International that he has sent two letters to the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) demanding that it condemn the attack.

Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and nine-year-old daughter Reera died on the flight, said he can't understand why the UN agency remains silent six months after an attack on a civilian airliner.

Hamed Esmaeilion lost his wife, Parisa Eghbalian, and their nine-year-old daughter Reera in the downing of Flight 752. (Supplied)

"How are they going to prevent future attacks like this if they remain silent?" Esmaeilion said. "Their silence is deafening."

It took only three months for the ICAO to adopt a unanimous resolution condemning, "in the strongest terms," the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, he said.

"As opposed to the case of MH17, where the ICAO took swift action in condemnation of the crime and fully ventured into the ensuing investigations, Flight PS752 has been effectively ignored by your organization," Esmaeilion wrote on Tuesday in a second letter to Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of the ICAO Council, the 36-member governing body of the UN agency.

'Mockery, misinformation, intimidation'

In the letter on behalf of the families, Esmaeilion also claims that the ICAO has "failed to obligate the Iranian government to cooperate on any level, from surrendering the black boxes, to allowing international authorities to investigate the crime or disclosing information as to how and by whom these crimes were committed."

"The world has witnessed nothing other than mockery, misinformation, intimidation and cover-up attempts by the Iranian government," Esmaeilion writes. "More alarmingly, the world has witnessed the failure of the ICAO to govern the matter that is foundational to the organization's purpose."

ICAO spokesperson Anthony Philbin said the agency "extends its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims of flight PS752."

"We regret that their grief and frustration in the face of the international diplomacy surrounding this matter has led to allegations being levied against our agency with respect to matters well beyond our mandate and capabilities as a UN agency," Philbin said in an email.

ICAO is a neutral platform supporting the diplomatic interactions of its 193 member states, he added.

"In a world of sovereign nation states, no multilateral agency or association can 'obligate' countries to take actions they don't consider to be in their national self-interest," Philbin said.

"As countless examples have shown us previously, when a country may be perceived as being deficient in its commitments and actions with respect to any of its various international obligations, penalties and accountability can only be considered, initiated and pursued by another sovereign country or group of sovereign countries, whether through economic sanctions or other means."

'This is negligence'

In the months since the downing of Flight PS752, the ICAO Council "has been closely monitoring the situation with helpful updates from the participating states," he added.

Esmaeilion said he could not understand what was preventing the 36-member ICAO governing council, of which Canada is a member, from taking a tougher line with authorities in Tehran.

"They don't put any pressure on Iran and ... they said Iran has to hand over the black boxes or explain why they can't do that," Esmaeilion said. "Why is there an 'or'? I don't know how they can do that. This is negligence."

In a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne demanded "immediate action" from the Islamic Republic "to ensure they conduct a comprehensive, transparent investigation and provide compensation for families," according to a readout of the call released by Global Affairs Canada.

Rescue teams work in debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport outside Tehran early the morning of January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. (AFP via Getty Images)

Iran's Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif committed to sending the flight recorders to France for analysis "without further delay," the readout said.

The deadline for Iran to update the UN civil aviation agency on its action is Friday, the readout said.

"It's almost the last day and we still haven't heard anything," Esmaeilion said. "There are flights going to Europe from Iran every week. They can't send a black box?"

Zarif also agreed to enter into negotiations for reparations and to provide an update to Canada and the other nations that lost citizens on the doomed flight at their next meeting, the readout said.

About the Author

Levon Sevunts

Radio Canada International

Levon Sevunts is a reporter/producer for Radio Canada International. Born and raised in Armenia, he immigrated to Canada in 1992. As a print and broadcast journalist he has covered major stories in the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Darfur, the Sahara and the High Arctic, as well as his home of Montreal.

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