Swalwell Leads 24 Members in Demanding Investigation into Belarus' Unprecedented Grounding of a Commercial Flight

May 26, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) led 24 Members of Congress in writing to Dr. Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to request the immediate appointment of a task force to investigate and publicly report on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s unprecedented use of a military aircraft to intercept and force down a commercial flight.

“The government of Belarus must be held to account for its assault on international civil aviation security and cooperation,” Swalwell and the Members wrote. “As the global forum for international civil aviation, the ICAO bears a duty to thoroughly investigate and publicly report on the Lukashenko regime’s actions on May 23. This is necessary to restore faith and trust in international aviation over which the ICAO has jurisdiction.” 

On May 23, the Belarsuian Air Force intercepted and forced down a commercial flight between Greece and Lithuania – two NATO countries – in a transparent ruse to capture a dissident journalist. This shocking violation of international civil aviation principles threatens peace, stability, and safety for international travelers.

The Members sent the letter in advance of the ICAO Council’s May 27 meeting, where member countries will discuss potential actions with regard to Belarus’s attack. 

Representatives Cheri Bustos, André Carson, Emanuel Cleaver, II, Jim Cooper, Suzan K. DelBene, Dwight Evans, William R. Keating, Ro Khanna, Rick Larsen, Andy Levin, James P. McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chris Pappas, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Mark Pocan, Mike Quigley, Jamie Raskin, Jan Schakowsky, Mikie Sherrill, Marilyn Strickland, Dina Titus, Peter Welch, Susan Wild, and David Cicilline joined the letter. The full text of the letter is copied below. 

 

Dear Secretary-General Liu:

We write to request that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) immediately establish a task force to investigate and publicly report on aviation safety and violations of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention) arising from the unprecedented use of a military aircraft to intercept and force down a commercial civil flight between Greece and Lithuania. The government of Belarus must be held to account for its assault on international civil aviation security and cooperation. 

On May 23, 2021, the regime of Alexander Lukashenko faked a bomb threat then scrambled a MiG-29 jet fighter operated by the Belarusian Air Force to intercept Ryanair Flight 4978, a commercial civil flight between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania. The Lukashenko regime forced the flight to land in Minsk, then removed and arrested Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist living in exile in Lithuania. The Lukashenko regime unlawfully detained the remaining passengers, including U.S. citizens, on the ground in Minsk for around seven hours. 

As Members of the United States Congress, we support principles of freedom laid out in the Chicago Convention and condemn the Lukashenko regime’s attack on international civil aviation safety in its brazen act of political retribution against Mr. Protasevich. Belarus’s actions violated the First Freedom of the Air — the right to overfly a foreign country without landing. The Lukashenko regime’s use of a fighter jet to force the detour and landing of the Ryanair flight violated the unanimous recognition by the 25th Session (Extraordinary) of the ICAO Assembly that “every State must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight.” And Belarus’s actions endangered the lives of everyone onboard Ryanair Flight 4978, including U.S. citizens.

We condemn the Lukashenko regime’s reckless behavior, which threatens international civil aviation safety and destabilizes the principles of cooperation laid out in the Chicago Convention. If allowed to occur without investigation and consequences, the entire notion of unimpeded international aviation could be destabilized. Dictatorial attacks on freedom — whether freedom of speech or freedom of the skies — have no place in the international community. 

As the global forum for international civil aviation, the ICAO bears a duty to thoroughly investigate and publicly report on the Lukashenko regime’s actions on May 23. This is necessary to restore faith and trust in international aviation over which the ICAO has jurisdiction.

We look forward to your prompt action and response.