Alexander Hug: royal decoration acceptance speech

Acceptance speech by Alexander Hug after receiving a royal decoration on 15 July 2022. For his services to the victims of flight MH17 and their families. And his unwavering efforts to advance international peace and stability.

Dear Minister,

Dear members and representatives of the families of the victims of MH17,

Dear Ambassadors,

Dear Officers,

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

I stand before you today humbled. I would like to thank His Majesty, the King for this recognition.

Eight years ago, young men and women of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine did what they could in the face of unspeakable violence. 

I am grateful that you honour us today. 

But I am conscious too that we were unable to do anything that may have prevented the crime from taking place.

We tried to help ensure that the remains of the 298 victims were recovered and treated with respect and dignity, and to hold those responsible to account.

But we must acknowledge that none of us was in a position to stop that BUK surface-to-air missile system from being transported from and to Russia and being used against innocent civilians. 

I am also conscious that what we see now in Ukraine – what Ukrainians are being forced to endure as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of their country – is more of the same. 

The murder of civilians by a state actor – crimes at an unimaginable level; what we have been seeing on the streets of Mariupol and Lysychansk for the past 4 months and in Vinnytsia just yesterday – is a pattern my colleagues and I in the OSCE SMM witnessed for 8 years; starting on that terrible summer’s day in Hrabove in 2014.

The 298 innocents on board MH17 were some of the first in a long line. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today you have honoured me and my colleagues. And for that I sincerely thank you.

We need, however, to honour the victims, not the first responders. 

I am humbled and full of genuine gratitude to all of you. 

But I cannot in consciousness stand here and accept this honour without asking you – all of us – to do more.

Nothing we can do will ever bring back those who lost their lives on board MH 17. But surely we owe it to them to do more to stop the ongoing slaughter in Ukraine. 

Right now – as you know all too well – in the same region where those people died 8 years ago, more innocent lives are being lost, and Ukraine’s and Ukrainians existence are being challenged.

An entire nation is being pushed to the limit. Thousands are dead; thousands more maimed for life. And there is no end in sight.

Four months into what is one of the worst cases of naked armed aggression in Europe since the Second World War – and with atrocities of a similarly grotesque nature – and Europe and the wider world has gradually but perceptibly become comfortably numb.

After the initial shock and horror of watching Russian troops try to storm the capital of a neighbouring state – again, scenes not witnessed on our continent for a long time – it seems Europe has entered a phony war phase.

Amidst this great collective sleepiness, of course, as before, there are hundreds dying every day. 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I don't pretend to have solutions. I stand before you today as a former monitoring officer, who like hundreds of other OSCE SMM personnel did our best to monitor and report, and facilitate access. 

I do know, however, that we cannot stand idly by. We cannot watch naked aggression and do nothing. To paraphrase a British Foreign Secretary on the eve of the First World War, we cannot again allow the lights to go out all across Europe. 

Eight years ago no one did anything to stop the BUK missile system crossing the border. 

As I accept this honour, I must ask you – ask all of us – if we are willing to do the same again?

There are no easy answers, but asking ourselves this question is the minimum we can do. 

That much, at a minimum, we owe to the 298 lost souls who boarded MH17 almost 8 years ago. 

Thank you.