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

Families of victims of downed Ukrainian flight accuse ICAO of double standards

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, the 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 they take action to condemn the attack.

‘Their silence is deafening’

Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and nine-year-old daughter Reera were on the flight, said he can’t understand why six months after the attack on a civilian airliner, the UN agency has remained mum.

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

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

It took only three months for 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.

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.”

A neutral platform for diplomacy

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters building is seen in Montreal, Quebec, Canada June 15, 2017. (Christinne Muschi /REUTERS)

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’

General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after take-off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS

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.

“While ICAO does not normally participate in accident investigations, we were asked to serve as advisors and observers in this instance,” Philbin said.

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.

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 blackbox?”

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.

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