Politics

Families of Flight PS752 victims breathe a sigh of relief as case goes to international court

Families who lost loved ones in the destruction of Flight PS752 are celebrating after their long fight to bring Iran to account in an international court moved one step closer to success this week.

'The next time I go visit my loved ones' graves, I can tell them that we did it.' — Navaz Ebrahim

Maral Gorginpour's husband Fareed Arasteh died on Flight PS752 three days after their wedding in January 2020.
Maral Gorginpour's husband Fareed Arasteh died on Flight PS752 three days after their wedding in January 2020. (Submitted by Maral Gorginpour)

Families who lost loved ones in the destruction of Flight PS752 are celebrating after their long fight to bring Iran to account in an international court moved one step closer to success this week.

Canada, the U.K., Sweden and Ukraine officially launched their case against Iran on Wednesday before the International Court of Justice. The joint application instituting proceedings said "Iran has violated its obligations" under an international treaty and failed to prevent the "unlawful and intentional" destruction of Flight PS752.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two surface-to-air missiles at the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after takeoff in Tehran. All 176 people onboard died, including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents.

Victims' families in Canada say they've been pushing the federal government to take this case to the international court, the primary judicial organ of the United Nations.

"We've been fighting for three and a half years for this day. It's actually unbelievable we're seeing this day," said Maral Gorginpour. Her husband died on the flight just three days after their wedding. 

"Seeking justice and truth for his life was the only thing that kept me alive."

WATCH/Canada helps take Iran to court for shooting down Flight PS752

Canada helps take Iran to court for shooting down Flight PS752

12 months ago
Duration 2:13
Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom have launched a case at the International Court of Justice against Iran over the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in January 2020.

After the news came out Wednesday, families gathered in North York, Ont. to discuss next steps in what is expected to be a years-long process. Hamed Esmaeilion, a board member with the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said it was an emotional gathering for everyone involved.

"It's a happy moment for families," said Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter on the flight. "They hugged each other. They cry out of pain and joy at the same time."

An advisory panel of four legal experts — including Iranian-Canadian and former UN prosecutor Payam Akhavan — was involved in drafting the joint application.

The application cited the special rapporteurs with the UN Human Rights Council who criticized Iran's investigation and said it "disregarded the responsibility of high-level officials."

Canada and the three other applicant countries say they want the International Court of Justice to order Iran to investigate the crash and prosecute or extradite offenders in a "transparent and impartial manner."

Navaz Ebrahim, president of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said she's glad to see Canada attempt to hold higher-level officials accountable.

"It has been just a sham trial," said Ebrahim, whose sister and brother-in-law died on the flight. "Even those that the Islamic Republic of Iran claim that they prosecuted, we don't even have their names. We don't know their faces. We don't even know if some of them are real."

Photo of Navaz Ebrahim's sister Niloufar Ebrahim and brother-in-law Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi
Navaz Ebrahim's sister Niloufar Ebrahim and brother-in-law Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi died on Flight PS752. (Submitted by Navaz Ebrahim )

Ralph Goodale, Canada's high commissioner to the U.K. and the prime minister's special adviser on Canada's response to Flight PS752, said that under the multilateral Montreal Convention treaty, countries are supposed to conduct independent investigations of air disasters, lay proper charges and prosecute through an impartial judicial process. He said Iran failed to do those things.

"They're really scapegoating some low-level flunkies who had no particular authority or responsibility," Goodale told CBC News.

"You cannot blame what happened on one or two minor people way down in the pecking order."

The joint application says Iran launched ballistic missiles at two American airbases in Iraq on January 8, 2020, then prepared for possible counterstrikes by positioning an air-defence combat vehicle along a routine flight path for commercial flights.

Victims families of flight ps752 protesting
People attend a vigil marking the three year anniversary of the downing of flight PS752, in Toronto on Sunday, January 8, 2023. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

IRGC-ASF commander Brigadier General AmirAli Hajizadeh allegedly rejected an request to close the airspace and Flight PS752 was cleared for takeoff — despite Iran identifying "a high threat level for international civil aviation" — the joint application says. 

"They did not notify any pilots of civilian aircraft in that area of the dangers ... because the international airport was now under surveillance by surface-to-air missile," said Goodale.

He said Flight PS752 was not warned that it could be "flying right into the teeth of danger."

WATCH/ Victims' families call for action on third anniversary of destruction of Flight PS752

Iranian activists call for action on third anniversary of downing of Flight PS752

1 year ago
Duration 14:26
Iranian human rights advocates Masih Alinejad and Nazanin Boniadi talk about the importance of a united action to end brutalities of the Islamic Republic as the families of those killed when Flight PS752 was shot out of the sky in 2020 by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps gather to mark the third anniversary.

Iran has maintained Flight PS752 was shot down unintentionally by the IRGC. Iran issued a final investigation report that said the "aircraft was misidentified as a hostile target by an air defence unit." Canada has rejected that finding. 

The joint application also calls on the court to order Iran to apologize publicly, to make changes to prevent civilian aircraft from being shot down in the future, and to compensate victims' families.

 "The next time I go visit my loved ones' graves, I can tell them that we did it," said Ebrahim. "We finally did it and we're moving forward. We're still fighting for you."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca