Ottawa Citizen | 22Jul2014 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Hold Vladimir Putin to account

The downing of the Malaysian passenger plane is a dire lesson for the world: Vladimir Putin’s aggression can reach us.

He is responsible for the deaths of the Malaysian flight passengers but so are the rest of us.

We have been emboldening him for years by tip-toeing around his aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh, Moldova, Chechnya, Georgia. Our responses to his arrests of peaceful protestors, the victimization of journalists like the executed Anna Politkovskaya, were tepid: all this was too foreign for our concern. So he upgraded his terror by unleashing criminals to invade Crimea, a part of sovereign Ukraine. Now he’s after southeastern Ukraine but many continue to believe that we have no right to meddle in the affairs of other states.

This is a facile response but not the right one. By allowing Putin’s atrocities to escalate with little more that words of indignation and mild sanctions which he dismissed as the West’s weakness, he advanced. Now some three hundred more people are dead. It might have been us.

Despite this criminality our own Putin apologists keep defending him and Russia’s propaganda crows about his love of patria. Both fail to note that under his rule most Russians live in substandard squalor while he has a personal wealth of some $40 billion. Or they rub our political leaders noses’ in his popularity -- wow, nearly 80 per cent -- without clarifying that Putin’s state controls the media and feeds his people lies and more lies to make him smell good.  Thanks to social media -- photos, intercepted telephone calls -- the pathological lies do not allow him to get away with everything: the passengers of flight 17 are dead and Russia is implicated. Undoubtedly, he will try.

For Putin and his ilk are adept at weaseling. While advancing atrocities in Ukraine he packaged them as ”brotherly love.” This latest act of terror must not provide him with yet another opportunity to discard responsibility for sowing war and chaos. His Russian special ops commander in chief, Igor Strelkov, bragged in social media that the plane was shot because “we told them not to fly over ‘our’ space.” Within minutes that post was removed and replaced with the following absurdity: the plane was carrying corpses, hence the number of dead!

So, what now?

The terror in the air must bring us to our senses.  We must state clearly that this crime has moved Putin’s criminality into the global arena and places the responsibility for punishment on all states whose passengers were in the plane. No, on all of us: When a rogue head of state is allowed to operate outside the law without consequence, no one is safe.

We must punish the perpetrator at long last. Freeze his assets. Put him at the top of all sanction lists. Disinvite him and Russia from all international fora. Russia’s participation at global events -- sports academic, cultural -- must be denied. Shun him and most importantly, hold him to account, through an international tribunal or a prosecution under the concept of universal jurisdiction into war crimes. The Netherlands has already opened an investigation into the crash.

Far fetched? Not really. Politicians with Nazi ties have been hounded out. Now it’s time to hunt down those who keep spreading deadly KGB tactics from the last century -- Putin is the main carrier -- Russia’s imperialism or plain murder to the detriment of humanity.

The governments, including Canada, whose citizens have perished because Putin believes he can break international law with impunity, have an obligation to do so. It not, they are collaborators in the mass murder in the sky and the murder on the ground in Ukraine. As their citizens we are obliged to influence them to do so or we too, are collaborators.

Oksana Bashuk Hepurn is a former director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.