Jurisdiction and Combatant’s Privilege in the MH17 Trial: Treading the Line Between Domestic and International Criminal Justice

Lachezar Yanev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article focuses on the MH17 Trial that is currently underway in the Netherlands, dealing with the shooting down of a civilian aircraft over Eastern Ukraine and the resulting deaths of all 298 persons on board. Two legal questions arising from the prosecutorial strategy to charge the four accused with ‘ordinary’ crimes under the Dutch Criminal Code—instead of with war crimes—are studied here. First, the jurisdictional basis on which the District Court of The Hague is trying MH17, and its effect on the applicable laws, is examined. It is argued that, contrary to what the Prosecution has submitted, jurisdiction over the killing of the 93 non-Dutch nationals on board of flight MH17 can only be established on the basis of the less known title of delegated (representative) jurisdiction: a conclusion that also brings certain legal requirements. Second, this paper analyzes the way the MH17 Prosecutor defined the notion of ‘combatant’s privilege’ under international humanitarian law and his arguments for rejecting a combatant status for the separatist armed forces that shot down flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. All this analysis is then used to explain why it was indeed more sensible for the Prosecution to charge the four accused with murder and intentionally causing an aircraft to crash under Dutch criminal law, than with war crimes under international law.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-188
Number of pages26
JournalNetherlands International Law Review
Issue number2
Early online date19 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewer for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Combatant’s privilege
  • Delegated jurisdiction
  • Legal standards
  • Passive personality
  • War crimes


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