Downing of MH17 Over Ukraine May Be 'War Crime,' UN Says

(Photo: Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)Flowers and mementos placed at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 are pictured near the settlement of Rozspyne in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014. Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner that has accelerated a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.

The recent downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine could be classified as a "war crime" due to the 298 civilians deaths of those on board the flight, a United Nations spokeswoman announced this week.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement from Geneva on Monday that the downing of MH17 would be investigated as a possible war crime. "This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," Pillay said.

"Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are," the commissioner added.

On July 17, all 298 people, mostly Dutch, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, were killed when MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in an area heavily controlled by pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels. Now, the Ukrainian government and the rebels are blaming each other for the downing of the commercial airliner.

Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, said at a news conference in Kiev on Sunday that black box records from MH17 show the airliner was downed by a "massive explosive decompression," reportedly caused by shrapnel from a nearby missile strike.

Although the U.S., Great Britain and the Ukrainian government have accused pro-Russian rebels of downing MH17, officials with the rebel group have argued that they do not have a Buk missile, the type of Russian-made missile that could explode mid-air and produce enough shrapnel to down an airliner.

According to the BBC, the U.S. has produced satellite images that indicate Russia has fired rockets at Ukrainian government forces from Russian soil, meaning Russia could have played a role in the downing of MH17. The country has denied helping the rebel forces.

According to The Telegraph, a team of Australian and Dutch forensic specialists have been unable to reach the crash site in eastern Ukraine due to continued fighting between rebel and government forces. Those in charge of the investigation team have criticized the ongoing fighting and their inability to safely reach the crash site, arguing that personal items and human remains become more vulnerable the longer they remain uninvestigated.