Urgent measures are needed to protect civilian aircraft flying over conflict zones or other areas where military tensions are high, an independent UN human rights expert said on Thursday.
Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made the appeal ahead of the first anniversary of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752.
The flight was heading from Tehran to Kiev on 8 January 2020 when it was struck by two Iranian missiles, killing all 176 people on board.
“The downing of Flight PS752 sadly highlights the insufficiencies of the international conventions related to air safety, both in preventing military actions against civilian planes, and in ensuring proper investigations should they occur”, she said in a statement.
Ms. Callamard recalled that the missile strike took place against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, in the aftermath of the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, in a US-launched drone strike.
The aircraft was shot down just hours after Iran had launched a ballistic missile strike from home soil, on US forces stationed in neighbouring Iraq, in response to the killing of General Soleimani.
She has written to the Iranian authorities about the incident.
“This preventable tragedy requires urgent action from all stakeholders including States and airlines”, she said.
‘Clear, explicit and unambiguous standards needed’
As a UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Callamard operates in an independent investigative capacity. She is neither a UN staff member, nor is she paid by the Organization.
The rights expert has made recommendations for strengthening protection of passengers on board civilian airlines.
Closing airspace in situations of military tensions, “whether or not they are recognised as armed conflicts”, is the most effective way to prevent attacks against planes, she said, yet authorities often fail to do so due to commercial or political reasons.
“The international community must establish clear, explicit and unambiguous standards on when States should close airspace under their jurisdiction”, she said.
“If States are not acting responsibly to close the airspace under their jurisdiction, or restrict flights, then it is incumbent upon other States and airlines to take immediate action to restrict carriers from flying over or near a conflict zone.”
Avert future incidents
Ms. Callamard also urged airlines to make their flight paths available to the public, and to check all information sources when planning flight routes.
She further called for an independent body to monitor air safety in conflicts which would also compile information on risks.
”Passengers and flight crew cannot be left at the mercy of States and airlines who put revenue and other motives ahead of safety. In a world of heightened military and political tensions, with a resurgence of conflicts and access to a multiplication of military grade weapons, the current international system responsible for civilian air safety is not fit for purpose. We must act now to prevent future incidents and save lives,” she said.