Guus Van Kouwenhoven is a Dutch businessman, born in 1942. In his capacity as Director of Operations of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and of the Royal Timber Company (RTC) in Liberia, Kouwenhoven managed the biggest timber operations in Liberia. Being close to Charles Taylor, Kouwenhoven facilitated the import of arms for the latter thereby infringing resolutions of the UN Security Council.
The United Nations consequently imposed a travel ban on Guus Kouwenhoven in 2001, qualifying him as “an arms trafficker breaching the Resolution 1343 of the Security Council” in addition to being “ someone who supported the efforts of ex-President Taylor in destabilizing Sierra Leone to gain illegal access to its diamonds”.
The imported arms were allegedly handed over to militia and utilized for number of massacres committed during the civil war. In addition, Guus Kouwenhoven also accused of having supplied the militias with vehicles and installations to transport and store these arms.
Guus Kouwenhoven was arrested in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on 18 March 2005. He was accused of having delivered arms to Liberia and of being implicated in war crimes committed in that country. The prosecution also charged him with breach of the embargo sanctioned by the United Nations with respect to Liberia.
His trial began on 24 April 2006 in The Hague. On 7 June 2006, the Dutch court lifted charges of war crimes due to lack of evidence. He was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for breaching the UN arms embargo.
Both sides – prosecution as well as defense – lodged an appeal. On 19 March 2007, Kouwenhoven was conditionally released pending his appeal against the judgment. Appeal hearings began in February 2008. On 10 March 2008, the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Kouwenhoven and acquitted him of all charges. As a reason the court cited insufficient evidence. On 10 March 2008, the Dutch prosecutors announced the intention to appeal the judgment.
On 20 April 2010, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (de Hoge Raad) overturned the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Dutch Supreme Court considered that the judges erred when they had rejected a prosecution request to hear testimonies of two new witnesses and therefore ordered a new appellate trial.
In December 2016, Guus Kouwenhoven fled to South Africa.
The new trial began on 6 February 2017 before the Court of Appeals in Den Bosch. There had been a significant delay in investigations due to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The two witnesses suggested by the prosecution could not be located and have not been heard by the Court of Appeals. On 10 February 2017, the Prosecution repeated the original demand of 20 years of imprisonment for Kouwenhoven.
On 21 April 2017, Kouwenhoven was sentenced in absentia by the Den Bosch Court of Appeal to 19 years of prison for his complicity in war crimes and for his involvement in arms trafficking for Charles Taylor.
On 8 December 2017, Guus Kouwenhoven was arrested in South Africa after an arrest warrant was issued by the Dutch authorities. The Netherlands requested his extradition. The extradition proceedings are repeatedly postponed for medical reasons.
On 18 December 2018, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld the conviction for aiding and abetting war crimes. The judgement is final.
In 2019, Guus Van Kouwenhoven challenged the legality of the warrant of arrest issued by the Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria (South Africa), arguing that it was unlawful and invalid. The Court confirmed that the warrant itself, the applicant’s arrest on 8 December 2017 and the proceedings to date were all lawful.
On 21 February 2020, the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court denied the extradition request of Guus Kouwenhoven to the Netherlands, as South Africa’s Extradition Act limits extraditions to those regarding offenses committed within the applicant state.
On 5 November 2020, the South African Department of Home Affairs canceled Kouwenhoven’s visitor’s visa and declared him undesirable. He was given 10 working days (until 20 November) to appeal the decision.
According to Kouwenhoven’s attorney, a challenge to the conviction in the Netherlands is currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
On 22 September 2021, the South African Supreme Court found that Kouwenhoven could be extradited. The Supreme Court found that Kouwenhoven “was convicted by a Dutch court of a crime under Dutch law.”
Kouwenhoven has appealed his conviction in the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Second Civil War in Liberia (1999-2003) caused about 250’000 deaths. The parties to the conflict financed their war activities through exploitation and export of natural resources of the country. In particular, Charles Taylor used the funds generated by the excessive exploitation of timber and diamonds to illegally acquire large quantities of arms.