Today’s arrest in South Africa of notorious timber trader and gun runner Guus Kouwenhoven is a hugely significant step in efforts to hold accountable those that fuelled and profited from Liberia’s bloody civil war.
The arrest follows the April conviction of Kouwenhoven in a Dutch court for aiding and abetting war crimes and illegally trading arms during the height of Liberia’s civil war, which claimed over 250,000 lives. Dutch authorities are now seeking Kouwenhoven’s extradition to the Netherlands.
Global Witness Director Patrick Alley said: “The arrest of Guus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals. The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail.”
Kouwenhoven was head of the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC) during Liberia’s civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 2003. The war was funded largely through the sale of diamonds and timber plundered from Liberia’s rainforests. OTC was the dominant logging company in Liberia during this time. The Dutch courts have found Kouwenhoven guilty of delivering weapons to the regime of then-President of Liberia Charles Taylor, in return for special treatment for his timber company.
Patrick Alley said: “Years of dogged work by the Dutch government, and now the South African authorities, are paying off and are finally bringing an infamous criminal to justice. Global Witness applauds their efforts. Charles Taylor has already been sentenced and imprisoned. Kouwenhoven now faces a similar fate.”