In September 2021, the court took three weeks to hear statements from 91 relatives of the victims of plane crash MH17. In November another small group of relatives of the deceased victims will address the court.
Under the Dutch legal system, next of kin have the right to address the court. They are allowed to speak about the impact the death of their loved ones had on their lives.
“They know little about the last moments of their loved ones. That makes the grieving process difficult”, says clinical psychiatrist Jos de Keijser.
During the criminal trial MH17 relatives spoke about the loss of their children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. “Someone purposely killed a loved one. That is more difficult to deal with. It causes stress and complicates the normal process of grieving”, said Keijser.
Roughly speaking, three groups can be distinguished: the group of ‘relatives with complex grief’ is one of them. They experience grief that lasts longer than average. These relatives have an extreme longing for the deceased, which can be very strong, for example, the need to visit the cemetery every day. These relatives often need professional help. But according to Keijser, there is also a group that is more resilient: “I recently spoke to two young girls, their parents and brother died at MH17. They wrote a book about the plane crash. They are doing very well now.”
Right to speak
Never before so many relatives used their right to speak during a criminal trial. “For some it is very important. For others it can also be challenging. I see it as a medicine, which can also have side effects.” During their right to speak relatives told about disrupted lives and how they experienced problems with social relations and how families and marriages have been torn apart.
Jos de Keijser has been researching the effects of the right to speak during trials for a long time. “Recognition is a very important factor for relatives, but also for society. However, the right to speak is not working well for all relatives.”
Psychosocial advisor Katja Nijland of Victim Support The Netherlands agrees: “In these major lawsuits, in addition to personal grief, there is also a social and political component. Excessive media attention, where the images continue to impose themselves, can be harmful. In the case of MH17, it seems about 80% of bereaved families suffer from complex grief, PTSD, depression or a combination of disorders. The personal circumstances of individuals influence the way in which they process their loss.”
On behalf of the Victim Support Fund, scientists from three universities are investigating the impact of the major MH17 lawsuit. To what extent does this provide recognition? Or does this contribute to secondary victimization and more psychological problems? Does it make a difference whether relatives participate in the trial with, for example, the right to speak or not? This research will provide valuable insights for all next of kin involved in a criminal trial.