Discussions of the ICAO report on the incident with the landing of the plane in Minsk are in full swing. There are different opinions, different versions, but the essence is the same – Belarusians insist that the blue-fingered dictator committed a blatant terrorist act in front of the whole world.
Our main task is to inform the world community that the results of the ICAO investigation into the incident with the flight FR4978, to our deep disappointment, do not contain an adequate assessment of the obvious crimes committed by the terrorist regime holding power in Belarus.
At the moment, we have sent this appeal:
1. To the PACE Special Rapporteur on Belarus, the head of the Lithuanian PACE delegation Emanuelis Zingeris
2. To the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola
4. To the Special Rapporteur on Belarus in the European Parliament Petras Auštrevičius
5. To the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis
6. To the Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Laima Liucija Andrikienė
7. To the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Eva-Maria Liimets
8. To the Chairman of the Estonian Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson
9. To the Chairman of the PACE Delegation to Estonia Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski
10. To the Chairman of the Seimas Commission on Foreign Affairs of Latvia Richard Coles
If the ICAO session, against the obvious evidence, decides that the actions of Lukashenko and his regime were not delinquent, it will lead to extremely negative political and economic consequences.
The main negative consequences:
- The sanctions in relation to the Republic of Belarus involving the restrictions in the sphere of air transportation will be recognized as illegal.
- The sanctions in relation to «Belavia» will be recognized as illegal.
- The regime will get the right to claim financial compensation for the endured losses, lost profit, cancellation of lease, caused harm and legal costs from the states that made the decision to impose such sanctions.
- The actions of officials that demanded the forced landing of the aircraft will be recognized as legal.
- Also, such actions will be recognized as not containing any signs of terrorism and not imposing any threats to life and health of the passengers and the air crew.
- Detention and criminal prosecution of Raman Pratasevich will be recognized as legal.
- The people of Belarus will be disillusioned and their hope for help of foreign states will be betrayed.
- Such decision will lead to political embarrassment and to EU policy failure.
- Lukashenka (and other autocrats) will get a confirmation that they may act (violate international laws) as they wish and desire without bearing any consequences, and will even get money for that.
In reliance on all the available information on the incident, we consider it to be a terrorist act due to the following reasons.
There is evidence of threat to life and health of the passengers and the crew posed by the incident, and exactly:
- The testimony of the witness who was the air traffic controller managing the flight with Raman Pratasevich on board. The air traffic controller Aleh Halehau, after his escape from Belarus, presented detailed evidence that the Raynair aircraft crew received knowingly false information about the threat of explosion, which was presented to them within the framework of the operation of capture of Raman Pratasevich, organized by the KGB.
- The Swiss secure email service provider Proton Technologies AG confirmed that the communication about bomb threat on board of the Ryanair aircraft, carrying the opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich, was sent 24 minutes later, after the aircraft turned to fly in the direction of Minsk.
In view of the foregoing, we hereby demand:
- To acknowledge that the incident with the forced landing of the flight FR4978 was nothing more than an aircraft hijacking, organized by structures illegally retaining power, i.e., an international terrorist act against an aircraft belonging to the European Union, performing an EU internal flight with citizens of European Union aboard, that imposed a threat to life and health of passengers and the air crew of the EU aircraft.
- To launch a criminal charge against persons responsible for the terrorist act in question, first of all, against Aliaksandr Lukashenka and other persons involved.
Violation of international law
Belarus has been a signatory to the «Convention on International Civil Aviation» signed at Chicago in 1944 (Chicago Convention) since 1993, to which 193 states have acceded. Just like Russia (and the former Soviet Union), Belarus did not sign the so-called Transit Agreement, according to which the states guarantee an unmolested passage through their respective airspace on a multilateral basis.
However, this does not mean that Belarus would have unrestricted sovereignty over its own airspace, i.e., that it could do as it pleases with aircraft crossing its airspace.
According to Article 5 of the Chicago Convention, the contracting states agree that all aircraft may fly over their respective territories without landing. Of course, they have to be notified in advance so that they can safely be coordinated by air traffic control.
However, Article 5 is subject to the proviso that each Contracting State overflown reserves the right to request a landing. Belarus will probably invoke this, especially since this provision does not specify any requirements for exercising this reservation. Of course, this reservation is not a license for arbitrariness, but has to be exercised in accordance with the Convention. This means that a forced landing must serve to avoid a danger posed by the aircraft crossing the airspace. And that danger must be greater than the danger created by an enforced landing.
This is because a forced landing always poses a certain risk to safety. It is beyond the usual and expected procedures. The background is usually a military or political conflict, which may justify a downing and in which forcing a landing is only the first stage of escalation. In the present case, the warning of a bomb on board and its effect on the crew cannot be ignored. This warning was not very credible anyway, since the landing in Minsk took far more time than the planned landing in Vilnius, which had already been initiated, would have taken. If the Belarus authorities wanted to minimize the danger posed by the alleged bomb, then they would certainly have encouraged the aircraft to land at its own capital airport and would have been happy if the aircraft had left their own airspace as soon as possible.
It can be assumed that the passengers were only informed afterwards. In any case, the stress to the crew is certainly a safety risk. And this risk can only be justified if it serves to avoid a far greater security risk, i.e., a military escalation or a bomb explosion. However, this was just not the case here. The presence of a blogger on board was not a safety risk to aviation that had to be neutralized immediately, especially not by the drastic means of forced landing. Belarus has clearly violated the Chicago Agreement.
The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is expected to investigate the incident and report to the General Assembly (Article 54 of the Chicago Convention). The Assembly will probably issue at least a complaint. Whether Belarus will be excluded from the ICAO will largely depend on whether Lukashenko insists that his behaviour was lawful. The message contained therein that something like this could happen again can only be answered with an exclusion. Belarus would then no longer be a member of the international aviation community. Air transport relations would then have to be agreed upon bilaterally in all respects. Since it would no longer be ensured that Belarus and the aircraft registered there would meet international safety standards, this would lead to an erosion of air traffic with Belarus. The country would become increasingly isolated.
International criminal law
In the absence of justification, this incident was nothing more than a state-organized aircraft hijacking. This is a violation of the 1970 Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, which Belarus signed in 1971. As a result, the contractual obligations aim to fight aircraft hijackings and certainly not to organize them themselves. The forced landing of the Ryanair plane was, therefore, not only contrary to international law, but also a criminal act.
The Montreal «Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation» of 1971, to which Belarus acceded in 1973, provides that anyone who deliberately and unlawfully and knowingly provides incorrect information and thereby endangers the safety of an aircraft in flight is liable to criminal prosecution.
The jurisdiction of the country of registration of the aircraft (here Poland) or the country in which the airline has its main place of business (here Ireland) is responsible for criminal prosecution. However, extradition of the perpetrators is more than unlikely, since Lukashenko as head of state enjoys immunity, whether or not his last election was valid.
ICCI «Our House» and Olga Karach hope that this appeal will not just be taken seriously by the world community, diplomats and politicians, but on the basis of it serious and rapid measures will be taken to recognize the egregious incident with the landing of planes as a terrorist act. This is the only way we can stop the attempts of the blue-fingered dictator to push through his interests and get an opportunity for further blackmail and pressure.