Arms dealer and timber trader Guus Kouwenhoven found guilty of breaking a UN arms embargo on Liberia after Global Witness investigations catalysed Dutch prosecution.
In The Hague today, Dutch arms and timber trader Guus Kouwenhoven was convicted under Dutch law of violating a UN arms embargo on Liberia. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. This is a precedent-setting verdict and a major victory in the campaign against the trade in conflict resources[i]. Kouwenhoven was acquitted of war crimes charges though.
Global Witness[ii] has documented Kouwenhoven’s role in the Liberian conflict since 2000, and congratulates the Office of the Prosecutor for bringing this prosecution. We applaud the courage of the Liberian and international witnesses who testified despite the threat of intimidation.
“The barbaric regime of Charles Taylor was financed and maintained by the revenues generated from the timber trade, in which Guus Kouwenhoven was the biggest player,”[iii] said Global Witness campaigner Alex Yearsley. “This conviction will send a stark warning to individuals who feel that they can profit with impunity from trading in a conflict region”.
The role of timber revenues and the trade’s infrastructure in bankrolling Charles Taylor’s ambitions of regional destabilisation has been detailed by Global Witness from 2000 onwards. Groundbreaking reports by Global Witness and by the United Nations expert panels not only resulted in UN-imposed sanctions on Liberia’s timber trade in 2003, but directly led to an investigation by the Dutch Ministry of Justice into the activities of Kouwenhoven.[iv]
“Liberian nationals risked their lives and worked with Global Witness to get detailed and accurate information out to the world’s media and policy makers on the evils of the Taylor regime and how it was sponsored by timber revenue. Taylor went into exile less than two months after the imposition of UN sanctions on timber in July 2003. Without this information the Taylor regime would not have ended when it did, thereby perpetuating the sordid timber business of individuals like Kouwenhoven,” said Alex Yearsley.
Global Witness continues to investigate and campaign so that individuals and companies responsible for funding conflict from natural resource revenues are brought to justice. In 2003, the Dutch government started prosecuting Dutch residents for international war crimes, including crimes committed abroad. This initiative should serve as a model for other domestic jurisdictions. The international community should also swiftly adopt an internationally agreed definition of conflict resources, which would help curtail the trade in conflict resources in a more systematic and responsive way.
For media enquiries contact:
Alex Yearsley: +44 (0)7773 812901
Patrick Alley: +44 (0)7921 788897
For more information on Global Witness’s work on Liberia see:
[i] ‘Conflict resources’ are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contributes to, benefits from, or results in the commission of serious violations of human rights, international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.
[ii] Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on Liberia, see other Global Witness reports and briefing documents, available at www.globalwitness.org.
[iii] “Logging Off” September 2002, Page 11, “Taylor made – The Pivotal role of Liberia’s Forests in Regional Conflict”, September 2001, Page 15.
[iv] Dutch national arrested on charge of supplying arms to Liberia, Office of the Dutch Prosecutor, 21st March 2005.
Press Release / June 7, 2006