“Today’s re-opening of the trial of Dutch timber trader Gus Kouwenhoven for war crimes and violating the UN arms embargo on Liberia in The Netherlands is a second chance for justice,” said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. “It is vital to send a message to those who break the law when trading in conflict areas: they do not have impunity.”
Mr. Alley was commenting, this week, on news that Kouwenhoven’s trial at the appeals court in The Netherlands would start yesterday.
The appeals court had overturned Mr. Kouwenhoven’s sentence in 2008, but the Supreme Court quashed the ruling in April 2010 and ordered the lower court to conduct retrial, beginning yesterday.
Kouwenhoven was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for illegal arms trading in 2007. The landmark decision was one of the few instances of an individual being held to account in their own country for crimes allegedly committed in another.
Global Witness first documented the involvement of Kouwenhoven in state-sanctioned illegal logging and arms trafficking in its 2001 report, Taylor Made, later testified before the court, and submitted extensive evidence supporting the prosecution’s case.
Kouwenhoven was head of the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), which operated in Grand Bassa County during the regime of President Charles Taylor.
The international community is holding Mr. Taylor for aiding and abetting the waging of a brutal war against the people Sierra Leone through funds from the sale of diamonds and illegal logging.
OTC, also known as ‘Old Taylor’s Children’ or ‘Only Taylor Chops’, was the most notorious logging company in the country and dominated the Liberian timber industry with 1.6 million hectares of concessions.
Kouwenhoven has been on trial since 2006 for charges of war crimes and violating the UN arms embargo on Liberia. A UN Expert of Panel 2000 Report on Sierra Leone referred to Kouwenhoven as a “…member of President [Charles] Taylor’s inner circle…responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals [with the RUF]”.
The 2001 report of the UN Expert Panel Report on Liberia referred to him as “…one of the most influential businessmen in Liberia”.