SA is a safe haven for Dutch war criminal, magistrate regretfully rules

21 February 2020 - 15:23
By Aron Hyman
Augustinus Kouwenhoven outside the Cape Town magistrate's court at an earlier stage of his bid to avoid extradition to the Netherlands.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER Augustinus Kouwenhoven outside the Cape Town magistrate's court at an earlier stage of his bid to avoid extradition to the Netherlands.

A war criminal has found a safe haven in South Africa, a Cape Town magistrate ruled on Friday.

Ingrid Arntsen said it was with “great regret” she had decided that Dutch arms dealer Augustinus Kouwenhoven could not be extradited to the Netherlands, where he has been sentenced to 19 years behind bars.

Kouwenhoven smuggled weapons for Liberian strongman Charles Taylor’s regime during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war.

Arntsen said the Extradition Act made it clear that people could be extradited only in relation to offences alleged to have been committed with the territorial jurisdiction of the state requesting extradition.

She agreed with Kouwenhoven’s counsel, Anton Katz, that because the 76-year-old’s crimes had been committed in Liberia, he could not be extradited to the Netherlands.

“There is nothing to link the offences of which he [Kouwenhoven] has been convicted with the geographical territory of the Netherlands,” she said in her 10-page judgment.

“Doing our part” in dealing with cross-border crimes was part of the Extradition Act’s purpose. However, when the act itself so clearly refers to territorial jurisdiction as the basis for declaring a person extraditable, there can be no room for interference by a magistrate’s court.”

The decision means Kouwenhoven can continue living in the multimillion-rand home he owns on Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard.

During the extradition hearing, state prosecutor Christopher Burke said the arms dealer was convicted and sentenced by the Hertogenbosch Court of Appeal to 19 years’ imprisonment.

This was subsequently 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”, said Burke.

“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.

“Between July 21 2001 until May 8 2002 in Buchanan, Liberia, this involved trade in and supply of, among other things, weapons, ammunition and military equipment — which included, among 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).”