The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the MH17 trial in The Hague. Although the meetings are held online and the next one is scheduled for June, unprecedented worldwide attention and the diligent work of investigators give hope for an objective verdict and a triumph of justice. Piet Ploeg, chairman of Stichting Vliegramp MH17 (MH17 Disaster Foundation), which will unite the relatives of the majority of MH17 victims, spoke about the atmosphere around the MH17 case in the Netherlands and possible forecasts for its completion.
Question: Mr. Plug, does the Dutch society lose interest in the MH17 case today, given the extremely difficult situation with the coronavirus pandemic and all the problems it has brought?
Answer: Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is a topical issue for the country, as this tragedy affects everyone. It has also been a long time since the MH17 disaster. However, the interest in the MH17 trial remains high. They still ask me in the street and are interested in the situation surrounding the court case. This tragedy is etched in the collective memory of the Dutch. If you ask any Dutchman what he did on the day flight MH17 was shot down, he will surely recall all the circumstances.
Q: Is the MH17 case covered enough by the Dutch media?
A: Yes, it is, however, of course, first of all, during peak events. In particular, on the eve of the trial, almost all the media paid attention to this topic – they spoke with relatives of the dead, gave reports, reconstructed events, and held talk shows on the topic.
Q: Do you feel that Russian propaganda is trying to influence public opinion? If so, what should be done to resist it?
A: First of all, this is noticeable in social media, also in "news stories" from Russian media, the government and embassies of the Russian Federation in the Netherlands and abroad. In addition, there is a noticeable amount of tweets on Twitter in the Russian language that either call into question the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) investigation or blame Ukraine for the MH17 disaster. There are also Dutch "journalists" or pro-Russian bloggers who are also very active. We also drew attention to statements by the Malaysian prime minister, who called the JIT investigation biased and political.
Despite all these efforts to disperse the attention of the public and polarize their views, the relatives of the dead and much of the Dutch still have great confidence in the JIT investigation. In a spring poll in 2019, 95% of relatives of those killed said the JIT was working well. My observation is that propaganda and disinformation are actually not successful. However, it is easy to guess what impact propaganda has on the Russian population.
In my opinion, it is difficult to resist these attempts of influence. However, our MH17 Disaster Foundation has warned relatives about disinformation. Sometimes it's better not to read Twitter.
Q: Whom does the Dutch society consider as the main culprit in the tragedy?
A: At first, they were separatists, but now there's a clear shift towards the perception of Russia as a country as the main culprit of this disaster.
Q: Does the Dutch society trust Dutch justice?
A: Yes, the vast majority of Dutch people are convinced of the fairness of Dutch justice and the independence of the judiciary. This is evidenced by various studies that have been conducted in recent years. The Dutch judiciary is ranked high in global rating in terms of public confidence.
Q: Do you personally think that the Dutch authorities are determined to resolve this case? What result do you expect personally?
A: You have to distinguish between two institutes: the prosecutor's office and the court. The Public Prosecution Service is definitely decisive and very committed to bringing this case to a close. Every effort is being made to achieve this goal. I am personally convinced that the Public Prosecution Service is doing its best to persistently investigate and prosecute suspects.
The judiciary has a different function. The court adjudicates on the evidence provided by the prosecution and defense regarding the arguments of Pulatov. And the court does so independently, regardless of the political situation. In my opinion, what matters most to the court is that it makes a justified decision based on the case files and the charges. It is important that the court adhere to the principle of impartiality and not make statements about the case in advance.
Personally, I still do not know what the result will be like. Undoubtedly, the public prosecutor's office will provide overwhelming evidence, but in the end, their assessment falls within the prerogative of the court. Of course, I hope that the prosecution will bring the real culprits to account and that will eventually lead to conviction. But we have to wait and see.
Q: We see that now charges are brought only against individuals. Do you think that in the future Russia will be charged as a state?
A: Some time ago, the governments of the Netherlands and Australia brought formal charges against the Russian Federation for its role in the MH17 plane crash. That is, it concerns the responsibility of the state. Diplomatic negotiations are being held between the Netherlands, Australia and the Russian Federation. And these conversations are also a prerequisite for possible litigation in the future. It will probably only be possible if the negotiations do not lead to agreement. However, I would not be surprised if proceedings are launched against the Russian Federation in the International Criminal Court in the future.
About 400 relatives of the victims lodged complaints against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The government of the Netherlands has also decided to exercise its right to intervene in the procedure. In fact, the authorities are doing this to support the grievances of relatives. Therefore, several lawsuits have been opened against the Russian Federation.
Q: Do the Dutch society and you personally trust Ukraine and its existing authorities that they are also determined to bring this matter to a close?
A: If we believe statements by the JIT, then I have to conclude that Ukraine will adhere to its agreements on the MH17 case. The latest evidence of this is the renewal of the cooperation agreement.
However, the decisions of the Ukrainian authorities regarding witness/suspect Tsemakh, as well as the constant replacement of prosecutors during the investigation, make a somewhat controversial impression. Despite the fact that the MH17 case is very important to Ukraine, the presence of internal interests is also observed...
Q: What should the public in the Netherlands do, and how should Ukraine react to possible attempts by Russians to delay criminal proceedings?
A: The public in the Netherlands really can't do anything about it. The only thing is to remain steadfast and trust the JIT and the court. We just know that by this time Russia has been actively opposed to this process, and it will continue to do so. This means that the process will take more time. But we have a saying in the Netherlands "Honesty lives longer than anything else," and we mean that lies are always detected over time, and the truth always remains the truth. We have confidence and patience.
Dmytro Ditiuk-Snitsarenko, Defense Express, for Ukrinform
Photo credit: Iryna Drabok