Dutch war criminal fights extradition in Cape Town magistrate's court

30 November 2019 - 10:15 By Aron Hyman
Dutch fugitive Augustinus Petrus Kouwenhoven, convicted of crimes against humanity and selling firearms to former Liberian president Charles Taylor, leaves the Cape Town magistrate's court after paying bail of R1m.
Dutch fugitive Augustinus Petrus Kouwenhoven, convicted of crimes against humanity and selling firearms to former Liberian president Charles Taylor, leaves the Cape Town magistrate's court after paying bail of R1m.

Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence in England for leading Sierra Leone into an apocalyptic hell of rape, cannibalism, pillage, and murder.

On Monday, Augustinus Kouwenhoven, one of the men who enabled the West African warlord to carry out his atrocities, fought his own battle to stop his extradition to the Netherlands where he has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for illegally running weapons for Taylor's regime.

Having suffered a major defeat in a leave for appeal application in the Western Cape High Court for his detention and arrest and extradition, the Dutch citizen on Friday tried to prevent the Cape Town magistrate's court from admitting the two Dutch judgments which lay the basis for his extradition.

Sitting in court 21 the 76-year-old seemed relaxed, flanked by two of his children who would give him encouragement, and water, when needed.

Dressed in an expensive-looking suit, including black leather shoes with secret socks and an expensive watch, Kouwenhoven had the demeanour of an accomplished man and seemed relaxed.

And with good reason. Fighting his case were some of Cape Town's top senior counsel including Anton Katz and specialist attorney Garry Eisenberg.

For state prosecutor Christopher Burke the matter was simple, the Dutch supreme court had requested that SA extradite Kouwenhoven to the Netherlands to face justice for the war crimes he committed in a war which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Burke said Kouwenhoven was convicted and sentenced by the Hertogenbosch Court of Appeal to 19 years’ imprisonment, which was subsequently finally and irrevocably confirmed by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in its judgment of December 18 2018.

His offences included “complicity in co-committing violations of the laws and customs of war, while the offence results in death or involves rape, committed multiple times”. 

“These offences involve, among other things murder, including decapitating civilians, throwing babies against walls and in wells, rape, torture and looting/plundering as set out in 'common' article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,” said Burke.

“Between July 21 2001 until May 8 2002 in Buchanan, Liberia, this involved trade in, and supply of, amongst other things, weapons, ammunition and military equipment which weapons included, amongst others, AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades and general machine guns to Charles Taylor and/or his armed forces and employees of Kouwenhoven’s Oriental Timber Company (OTC)," he said.

But for Kouwenhoven, Friday's case was about his “liberty”. 

Katz and his team put up a spectacular display of preventing three documents, including the Dutch high court and supreme court judgments and the diplomatic cables requesting the extradition, from travelling the three metres between the chairs where the prosecution was seated and the hands of the magistrate.

Katz argued, quoting a broad range of literature, that these documents were not admissible because they did not meet the standards of SA law of evidence.

“In order for the submissions to go through they need to adhere to evidentiary standards of SA. At play is the relations between states. There must be compliance with SA's laws,” he said adding that the facts of the case were what needed to be taken into account.

Burke pointed out that Katz was bringing the case closer to a trial than to an extradition matter where “a trial has already occurred in another state”. 

He pointed out that extradition was a process that was developed to protect the rights of individuals.

“The court is not here to challenge the validity of his convictions. The Extradition Act was created not to hamper extradition but to remove hurdles for extradition,” he said.

By the end of Friday's proceedings the files had moved the three metres to the magistrate's desk, but their admissibility will only be decided on Monday when proceedings resume.