Dutch timber baron Guus van Kouwenhoven was found guilty of being in breach of a United Nations arms embargo on Liberia was sentenced to eight years in prison. Kouwenhoven ran the two largest logging companies in Liberia during the former regime of warlord Charles Taylor and traded so-called 'conflict timber' with companies in Europe and China as a means of arming Taylor's war on the people of Liberia, a war that cost over 250,000 lives .
Between 2000 and 2003, Greenpeace uncovered and exposed some of main European log traders buying from Kouwenhoven's two logging companies. Traders included the Swiss-German Danzer Group; Danish multinational timber trader DLH Nordisk (through Indubois in France); Dutch logger and importer Wijma; Greece-based plywood and flooring producer Shelman; the German logging and processing, company Feldmeyer-Group and the Italian producer of railway sleepers Tecnoalp.
Speaking from outside the court in The Hague, Greenpeace International Africa forest campaign coordinator, Stephan Van Praet said: Europe's biggest timber traders, who flatly refused to terminate business with Kouwenhoven's logging companies, must share his guilt. If these people have any conscience, the death of thousands of innocent people and the destruction of the Liberia's rainforest is stopped and must never happen again.
Only after 7 July 2003, when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber, were the ties between Kouwenhoven and the European timber trade terminated. The Governments of France and China had previously blocked the inclusion of timber sanctions, allowing Kouwenhoven to prolong his Liberian business activities for three more years.
However in 2004, Greenpeace uncovered that the Danzer Group was continuing to finance Kouwenhoven's business activities in Africa. Despite being blacklisted on a UN Security Council travel ban, Kouwenhoven had fled Liberia and was directly involved with the logistical and financial operations of Afribois, a logging company based in Congo-Brazzaville (3).
Kouwenhoven's case illustrates that the international timber trade is still unable to regulate itself. The lack of legislation at international level on imports of illegal or conflict timber contributed to this horrible example of destructive exploitation of a natural resource, fuelling civil war and related crimes against humanity. Governments must stop illegal and conflict timber trade right now Van Praet continued.
Today, timber from conflict prone forest countries like Burma, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be freely traded on the international market. Greenpeace is campaigning for the introduction of legislation to ban the import of illegal and destructive timber into the European market, and to ensure that European companies and ultimately, European consumers, do not fuel crimes against humanity and the environment.