A conference today ‘seeks justice’ for downed MH17 ― but who are the speakers?

Ida Lim
Wreckage from the nose section of the MH17 plane is seen near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 — A conference will take place here today to explore the painful tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014 that killed all 298 people, with organisers billing this as a search for “justice”.

This is despite a multinational Joint Investigation Team (JIT) having already named three Russians and one Ukrainian as the primary suspects responsible for the downing of MH17 on July 17, 2014.

They also concluded that the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile originating from a Russian military brigade. (Russia had on June 20 denied being involved in the shooting down of MH17 and previously claimed Ukraine was responsible instead).

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had also claimed that the recent findings on the culprit was a “politically-motivated” conclusion to solely blame Russia.

The “MH17: Quest for Justice” full-day conference is jointly-organised by the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), the Dr Mahathir-led Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF), and the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), with the collaboration of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

But who are they and who are the speakers?

1. Chandra Muzaffar

Kicking off the event with a speech will be Chandra Muzaffar, president of non-governmental organisation JUST, and long-time political commentator.

Chandra said the conference will critically examine the JIT’s findings on MH17, evaluate the investigations’ strengths and weaknesses, and make proposals to help determine the truth in the tragedy.

Non-governmental organisation PGPF describes itself as having been formed on May 4, 2006 after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad spearheaded the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War that was launched in December 2005.

The PGPF website currently lists Dr Mahathir as the president of its board of trustees, with his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, and Tan Sri Rais Yatim also named as honourable advisors.

2. Michel Chossudovsky

Chossudovsky, whose organisation CRG is co-organiser of this Saturday’s conference, said on his website that he is a member of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission helmed by Dr Mahathir.

Chossudovsky, who describes himself as an “award-winning author” and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Ottawa with three citizenships (Canada, Ireland, UK), published articles on his website regarding MH17.

In his latest article published on Wednesday ahead of the conference, he continued to question previous reports and cast doubt on investigators' conclusion on Russia's role in the downing of MH17.

He is also listed as a columnist on Russia Today's op-ed section with 15 articles found and with publishing dates stretching from January 23, 2013 to September 1, 2015.

Chossudovsky, CRG and its website have been accused, however, of allegedly promoting conspiracy theories on matters such as the so-called New World Order, September 9, 2011 attack on the World Trade Centre in the US, anti-vaccines, and dismissing climate change.

3. Yana Yerlashova

As of April 2016, she was reported by the BBC to be a reporter with Russia-funded news agency Russia Today (RT). Her Linkedin profile also shows her work experience as a documentary maker at state broadcaster RT and as a journalist with Mir TV.

According to information provided in Yerlashova's fundraising campaign on crowdfunding site Kickstarter as of early this year, she is listed as having previously worked for Russian state television agency RT and having decided to be an “independent journalist”.

She collaborated with Max van der Werff ― who, like her, has “doubts” on the official findings of what happened in the MH17 incident ― on raising funds for a film on MH17.

Van der Werff, who claimed to have spent over 2,500 hours studying the fatal MH17 flight as an “independent Dutch researcher” and operates a blog called kremlintroll, raised €23,098 from 67 backers on Kickstarter for the film.

The film MH17 ― Call for Justice, which is produced by the Bonanza Media brand founded by Yerlashova as a “platform for independent journalists” and has garnered around 790 subscribers since joining Youtube in April, will be shown at the conference.

4. Akash Rosen

Describing himself on Linkedin as a security consultant and digital forensic expert, the Universiti Malaya and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia computer science graduate will talk to Yerlashova in an “interactive session” during the conference.

He is listed as having been featured in Yerlashova's film.

5. Peter Haisenko

He was quoted by Russian state-backed news agency Sputnik on March 20, 2015 as a veteran pilot with Germany's Lufthansa Airlines, in which he was reported as claiming that MH17 was shot down by a fighter jet from Ukraine.

6. Kees van der Pijl

On Twitter, he describes himself as a Dutch political economist and author, as well as a peace and democracy activist.

Just like Chossudovsky and Haisenko, he is expected to touch on issues such as the timeline of the MH17 event and related evidence as well as to review the findings of the report that found Russia responsible for MH17's downing.

He wrote a book titled Flight MH17, Ukraine and the New Cold War. Prism of Disaster, which he said does not go into who shot down the plane but touches on the surrounding events and the incident itself.

A recent controversy over his Twitter remark last year saw him deciding to resign in protest on March 14, 2019 from his emeritus professor position at UK's University of Sussex.

His tweet was on his theory that the World Trade Centre's twin towers in the US were likely brought down on September 9, 2011 with the involvement of Israelis, contrary to the widely-accepted facts of terrorist group al-Qaeda's responsibility for the attack.

7. John Philpot

The Canada-based criminal lawyer will be speaking on the legal aspect of the MH17 incident and described himself as having pioneered trials involving international criminal law.

He has acted as a lawyer at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and was also listed as one of seven judges at the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal which convened on November 20, 2013 and decided a few days later to symbolically pass a guilty verdict on Israel and Israel's general Amos Yaron of genocide in September 1982.

8. Gurdial Singh Nijar

A former law professor at Universiti Malaya and now a practising lawyer, he is the president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam).

He was on the prosecution team for the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal in several cases, such as against former US president George W. Bush and Israel.

9. The rest

Other speakers listed for the conference are Colonel Mohd Sakri Hussein who is named as the head of the Malaysian group that recovered MH17's black boxes from Ukraine and two family members of MH17's crew.

The conference is expected to end with four individuals including Chossudovsky, Chandra to formulate alternative measures if the JIT report on MH17 is found to be “flawed”.

MH17 blogger Marcel van der Berg, who was previously cited in a BBC report on the MH17 incident as arguing that related photographic evidence was genuine, had in recent days flagged some of the international speakers this Saturday as allegedly being “truthers” or “conspiracy theorists”.

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