International crimes in Dutch Courts: Supreme Court upholds conviction of Dutch ‘Tamil Tigers’

By Rosalie Dieleman & Emma Bakkum, Research Associates PILPG-NL

On 4 April 2017, the Supreme Court came to a final judgment in the criminal proceedings against five Dutch nationals involved in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Supreme Court followed the decision of the court of appeal and confirmed the conviction for crimes committed during the Sri Lankan conflict. The five were convicted for participation in a criminal organization with the intent to commit terrorist offences, as well as participation in and leading of an organization with the intent to commit crimes.

The LTTE is a separatist organization established in 1976 with the aim of finding an independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for the Tamil population. In 2008, an investigation into the LTTE in the Netherlands was started. As a result, Thiruna E., Joseph M.J., Srilangan R., Ramachandran S., and Lingaratnam T., were found as leaders of various Tamil organizations in the Netherlands, playing an important role in the LTTE’s international network.

The Supreme Court reiterated the 2015 judgment of the court of appeal, by concluding that the armed conflict in Sri Lanka was a non-international one and therefore “Dutch criminal law can be applied to members of an opposition group who commit terrorist offences outside the territory of the Netherlands”, as international humanitarian law is not exclusively applicable. Moreover, the Supreme Court concluded that combatant status is only conferred upon troops involved in an international armed conflict (i.e. between states) and thus not upon LTTE members, who were, as established before, involved in an internal armed conflict.

In 2015, the court of appeal convicted the five Dutch Tamils for participation in a criminal organization with the intent to commit terrorist offences, as well as participation in and leading of an organization with the intent to commit crimes. Appeal was filed in all five cases. The main question during higher appeal was whether the five Dutch Tamils could be prosecuted under Dutch criminal law for their actions. The defence argued that the conflict in Sri Lanka is an international conflict, leaving only international humanitarian law applicable to the case. The defence secondly argued that the defendants, in their capacity as LTTE members could claim combatant status. This status would enable them to participate in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka and consequently they would only be liable for violations of international humanitarian law. This argumentation was unsuccessful before the Supreme Court.

A second international crimes case was adjudicated in April 2017 in the Netherlands. On 21 April 2017, the court of appeal of Den Bosch convicted 74 year-old Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven for illegal trade in weapons and complicity in war crimes in Liberia and Guinea between 2000 and 2003.