Conviction of Guus K. final

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Den Haag, 18 december 2018

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands today upheld the conviction of Dutch businessman Guus K. on charges of participating in war crimes and violating UN arms embargoes in Liberia between 1999 and 2003.

In its judgment, ’s-Hertogenbosch Court of Appeal found that the defendant had intentionally aided and abetted the commission of war crimes by soldiers in Charles Taylor’s government forces during the second Liberian civil war. Among other things, the defendant used a ship belonging to his logging company to import arms and ammunition and made his own personnel available to take part in the fighting. In doing so, he also violated United Nations arms embargoes.

In 2006 The Hague District Court sentenced K. to eight years in prison for the joint perpetration of intentional breaches of the arms embargoes but acquitted him of the charge of aiding and abetting the joint perpetration of war crimes. The Hague Court of Appeal subsequently acquitted him of both charges on appeal in 2008. The Public Prosecution Service lodged an appeal in cassation against the acquittal and in 2010 the Supreme Court held the appeal in cassation to be well-founded, set aside the judgment of The Hague Court of Appeal and referred the case to ′s-Hertogenbosch Court of Appeal. In 2017 the latter court sentenced the defendant to 19 years in prison for the two offences. The defendant then lodged his own appeal in cassation against this judgment.

In its judgment the Supreme Court discusses the complaint in cassation, concerning the effect of a possible amnesty granted in Liberia on the Dutch Public Prosecution Service’s right to prosecute. On 7 August 2003 President Charles Taylor, shortly before leaving office, approved an amnesty act in Liberia under which all persons were granted amnesty in respect of both civil and criminal proceedings for acts and crimes committed by them during the Liberian civil war. In the opinion of K. and his counsel, the court of appeal should have declared the case brought by the Public Prosecution Service inadmissible.

The court of appeal held that this amnesty scheme did not prevent prosecution of the defendant in the Netherlands. According to the court, it was necessary to take into account the circumstances in which the amnesty was established and the treaty obligations requiring countries to institute an effective criminal investigation in cases where there is a suspicion of war crimes or crimes against humanity and, if necessary, to prosecute those crimes. Only in highly exceptional circumstances is it possible to grant an amnesty and refrain from prosecuting such crimes, for example where there is or has been a reconciliation process and/or a form of compensation for victims. There were no such exceptional circumstances in K.’s case. The Supreme Court therefore upheld the court of appeal’s judgment.

As none of the other 29 grounds of appeal in cassation warranted setting aside the appellate court’s judgment, it is now final.