The critical role of the timber industry in helping to finance the brutal wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone will be under the international spotlight for the next three weeks. On 24th April 2006, Dutch timber baron Gus Kouwenhoven will go on trial in The Hague on charges of committing war crimes against Liberians and violating a United Nations (UN) arms embargo.
Kouwenhoven, a Dutch national, was General Manager of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), Liberia’s biggest logging company during the regime of former president Charles Taylor. Taylor is himself in the dock charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone with crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Despite years of denials, in April 2003 President Taylor’s spokesperson Vaani Paasewe admitted in an interview that ‘it was true that, as Global Witness said in its report, revenues from Liberia’s logging industry had been used to import weapons recently despite the UN arms embargo…’(1) Taylor referred to OTC as his ‘pepperbush’ – a Liberian expression implying a personal interest, and a warning to people to leave the company alone.
Kouwenhoven was arrested in Rotterdam on Monday 21 March 2005 by the Dutch Police after an investigation into his activities was launched following reports by Global Witness (2) and the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia.
Despite international publicity between 2000-2003 linking Liberia’s timber industry to the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the notorious Taylor-funded Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels hacked the limbs from men, women and children, the European and Chinese timber industries continued to buy Liberian timber.(3) Only Global Witness’ successful campaign to get the UN to impose timber sanctions brought the trade to an end.
“This incredibly important case will highlight the devastating role that the timber industry played in the destruction of Liberia in a war that cost over 250,000 lives. The failure of the industry to take a moral stand on this issue demonstrates the need for international mechanisms to curb the trade in conflict resources”, said Natalie Ashworth, Campaigner, Global Witness.
Global Witness testified in the pre-trial hearing in this court case after securing a groundbreaking right for NGOs to keep their sources confidential, a privilege previously enjoyed only by journalists. This right will be of immense benefit to NGOs operating in oppressive environments as it will help protect sources from intimidation including physical and other threats.
For Media enquiries contact:
Natalie Ashworth: +44 207 561 6369 + 44 7968160377
Notes to Editors:
(1) David Clarke, Liberia denies links to Ivory Coast rebels,” Reuters, April 2003
(2) 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
(3) “Logging Off” September 2002, Page 11, Taylor made – The Pivotal role of Liberia’s Forests in Regional Conflict”, September 2001, Page 15
(4) For more information on Global Witness’s work on Liberia see:
‘An Architecture of Instability: How the critical link between natural resources and conflict remains unbroken. A policy briefing by Global Witness for the incoming Liberian Government, the UN Security Council and international donors.’ December 2005
‘Timber, Taylor, Soldier, Spy’: How Liberia’s uncontrolled resource exploitation, Charles Taylor’s manipulation and the re-recruitment of ex-combatants are threatening regional peace’, June 2005
‘A Time For Justice: Why the International Community, UN Security Council and Nigeria should help facilitate Charles Taylor’s immediate extradition to the Special Court for Sierra Leone’ June 2005
‘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’,
‘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.
Press Release / April 21, 2006