Today, the Appeals Court in Den Bosch convicted Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven to 19 years imprisonment for illegal arms trade and complicity in war crimes in Liberia and Guinea. The Appeals Court held that it was proven that Kouwenhoven was complicit in war crimes that were committed between 2000-2003 by the dictatorial regime of Charles Taylor that was in power at the time, and that he delivered weapons to Taylor in violation of a UN embargo. Under Taylor’s regime, a bloody civil war raged in Liberia within the context of which an estimated 150,000 people were killed.
The case against Kouwenhoven is set on the cutting edge between Business & Human Rights. Kouwenhoven, also known as ‘Mr. Gus’, ran a lumber company and a hotel in Liberia for years; he delivered weapons to Taylor in exchange for preferential treatment of his lumber company. In that respect, the Appeals Court Den Bosch held the following:
‘The Appeals Court finds it of great importance to make it clear to the victims and surviving relatives, as well as to the international community, how grave it considers the conduct of K to be. Businesspeople like K, who deal with regimes such as that of Charles Taylor, must be aware that in doing so, they can become involved in grave war crimes (…) K is now a man of advanced age and of brittle health. Even so, on the basis of advice from a physician, the Appeals Court finds that he is capable of undergoing detention. These are grave war crimes that have severely shaken the legal order. In accordance with the request by the Advocate-General, the Appeals Court therefore orders the arrest of K.’ [unofficial translation]
The international human rights organization Global Witness provided evidence in the criminal case against Kouwenhoven, the organization was represented by lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld.
Read the press release by the Appeals Court in Den Bosch here (in Dutch).
This is the second, great victory for victims in the field of Business & Human Rights in the Netherlands. Previously, the Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat was also convicted for complicity in war crimes. In the eighties of the last century, Van Anraat delivered large quantities of thiodiglycol (‘TDG’) to the Iraqi military industry, which was then used for the production of mustard gas which then-dictator Sadam Hussein used against the civilian population. Zegveld represented Iraqi and Iranian victims of these attacks, both in the criminal case and afterwards in civil court.
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