Press Release / March 22, 2005

Liberian timber industry and sanctions busting under international scrutiny

Global Witness (1) welcomes the action by the Dutch authorities to target suspected Liberian sanctions violations, following the arrest and charging of Dutch national Gus Kouwenhoven on Monday 21 March 2005. Kouwenhoven has been charged with breaking the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed arms embargo on Liberia, and is suspected of being linked with war crimes according to the Dutch prosecutorial authorities. The UN Expert Panel has detailed in its reports (2) to the UNSC that Kouwenhoeven, President of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) (3) was closely associated with the UN indicted war criminal, and ex-President of Liberia Charles Taylor. Global Witness investigations have confirmed such links.(4)

“We expect the trial to focus on the central role that timber has played in sustaining and funding one of the most bloody and brutal conflicts in Africa,” said Patrick Alley, Director, Global Witness.

During Liberia's seven-year civil war, in which over 250,000 people were killed, the warring parties financed themselves through the exploitation and export of the country's natural resources. Charles Taylor used revenue generated from timber and diamonds to buy significant quantities of illicit arms. “Liberia’s timber industry was the building block for arms trafficking and violent conflict.” said Mr. Alley.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Finance (5) Kouwenhoven’s companies (6) produced 64% of the Liberian timber production, worth $38.7m in 2001 alone.

As a result of the UN Expert Panel reports, and following Global Witness own reports, Kouwenhoven was placed on a UN travel ban in 2001 as an “Arms dealer in contravention of UNSC resolution 1343 and someone who supported former President Taylor’s efforts to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds.”(7)

“Many conflicts in Africa have been funded by the exploitation of natural resources, including timber. This arrest sends a message to any businesses and individuals engaged in activities that are funding or indirectly supporting conflict and corruption that they can no longer operate with impunity.” said Mr Alley.” The UK Africa Commission and the G8 are both committed to eradicating conflict timber. The Dutch authorities have acted as pathfinders translating words into action.”

Alex Yearsley: Global Witness Lead Campaigner: +44 (0)207 561 6388, +44 (0)7773812901
Patrick Alley: Global Witness Director: +44(0)207 561 6379

(1) 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
(2) UNSC Expert Panel Report on Sierra Leone –S/2000/1195, UNSC Expert Panel Report on Liberia –S/2001/1015,
(3) Kouwenhoven is described as “President of the Oriental Timber Company.” in “List of individuals subject to the measures imposed by paragraph 4 of security council resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia”
(4) For more information on Global Witness’s work on Liberia see:
‘Dangerous Liaisons: The ongoing relationship between Liberia’s natural resource industries, arms trafficking and regional insecurity’, December 2004;
‘Resource Curse or Cure?: Reforming Liberia’s governance and logging industry’,
September 2004;
‘Liberia: Back to the future-What is the future of Liberia’s forests and its effect on regional peace?’ May 2004.
'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', Global Witness, March 2003;
‘Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber Industry Fuels Liberia’s Humanitarian Disaster and Threatens Sierra Leone’ September 2002;
‘Taylor-made: The Pivotal Role of Liberia’s Forests and Flag of Convenience in Regional Conflict’ September 2001.
(5) Liberian Ministry of Finance 2001 Annual Report.
(6) Global Witness Report: “ Logging Off “
(7) “List of individuals subject to the measures imposed by paragraph 4 of Security Council resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia”