War Crimes: Court Gives Five Central African Militia Chiefs Life Imprisonment

central african republic, violence


Five leaders from a predominantly Christian militia in Central African Republic were given life terms on Friday for war crimes and crimes against humanity after dozens of Muslims were slaughtered in a southeastern town in May 2017.

Twenty-eight individuals were sentenced in all, climaxing a trial at the Criminal Court in the capital Bangui that broke new ground in a country struggling to provide justice for victims of militia violence.

“It’s the first time that a sentence for crimes against humanity has been handed down by a CAR court,” Justice Minister Flavien Mbata said, an assertion backed by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

Two commanders, known by their nicknames of Pino Pino and Bere-Bere, as well as three other senior figures, Romaric Mandago, Patrick Gbiako and Yembeline Mbenguia Alpha, were given life sentences of forced labour.

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The others were given terms of between 10 and 15 years of forced labour, mainly for murder and illegal possession of weapons.

The sentences can only be appealed once under CAR law.


One of the world’s poorest countries, the CAR has been grappling with violence since 2013.

The “Pino Pino” militia was one of the predominantly Christian and animist armed groups that sprang up to combat a mainly Muslim rebel coalition, the Seleka.

Vicious fighting brought the country to the brink of sectarian war, prompting intervention by France, the former colonial power.

CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera now governs with the support of MINUSCA, a 14,700-strong UN peacekeeping force.

But armed groups control two-thirds of the country, typically claiming to represent a religious or ethnic group and frequently fighting over its rich mineral resources.

The trial concerned an attack on a district in the southeastern town of Bangassou and a nearby UN base on  May 13 2017.

According to the UN, 72 people were killed, 76 were wounded and 4,400 people fled their homes.

The militiamen especially targeted members of the Muslim community who had taken refuge in the town’s Catholic church.

Ten UN peacekeepers were killed in attacks by armed groups in the Bangassou area between May and November 2017.

Pino Pino is the nom de guerre of a self-described general named Crepin Wakanam, and Bere-Bere is the name of his lieutenant, Kevin Bere.

Bere-Bere turned himself into a MINUSCA base in January 2018, saying he sought their protection against his former chief.

Four months later, Pino Pino was arrested with 33 followers in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, which then extradited him.

Friday’s verdict came two days after the first anniversary of a peace agreement signed in Khartoum between the government and 14 militia leaders — the eighth such attempt to end violence.

Fighting has forced nearly a quarter of 4.5 million people in the CAR to flee their homes.

Judicial Void

The FIDH said Friday’s verdict “demonstrates the growing will of the CAR judicial authorities to conclude high-profile trials of the perpetrators of violence and international crimes.”

It is the first time a CAR court has ruled on a massacre of this scale.

The country’s judiciary has been hobbled by lack of funding and a weak central government.

A Special Criminal Court (SCC), a hybrid body comprising national and international judges, was tasked in 2018 with handing down punishment for serious violations of human laws but has not revealed the status of its inquiries.


UN Probes Allegations Of War Crimes In Yemen

Yemeni supporters of the southern separatist movement pose for a picture with a tank they confiscated from a nearby military base in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on August 10, 2019.


Horrific rights violations, including killings, torture and sexual violence, are being committed with impunity by all sides in Yemen’s brutal conflict, UN war crimes investigators warned Tuesday.

The investigators, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2017, said they had “identified, where possible, individuals who may be responsible for international crimes,” and had provided the confidential list to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

If confirmed by an independent and competent court, many of the violations identified “may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes,” they said in a statement.

“The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation,” said Kamel Jendoubi, who heads the so-called Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts.

Since 2015, fighting in Yemen has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Both the Yemen government and the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the conflict in 2015 to support the government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels have refused to cooperate with the experts.

But they said they had based their findings on more than 600 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as documentary and open-source material.

 Killings, torture, rape 

In their second report, which they are due to present to the Human Rights Council later this month, they detailed how air strikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, and landmines were terrorising civilians in many parts of the country.

They also pointed to violations by all sides, including arbitrary killings, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, rape and other sexual violence.

“This endemic impunity — for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict — cannot be tolerated anymore,” Jendoubi said in the statement.

“Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people,” he said.

In their report, the experts ask the Human Rights Council to allow them to continue their work to ensure the rights situation in Yemen remains on the agenda, and also to strengthen their mandate by allowing them to collect and preserve evidence of alleged violations in a bid to combat impunity.

They also called on countries to refrain from providing weapons to the different sides in the conflict.

The experts warned the US, Britain, France, Iran and others that they “may be held responsible for providing aid or assistance for the commission of international law violations if the conditions for complicity are fulfilled.”


Congolese ‘Terminator’ Faces War Crimes Judgment


The International Criminal Court is on Monday to pass judgment on Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, dubbed the “Terminator” for allegedly masterminding massacres and using children in his rebel army.

Ntaganda, 45, is accused of overseeing the slaughter of civilians by his soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.

Prosecutors gave horrific details of victims including some who were disembowelled and had their throats slit, as part of the evidence during his three-year trial in The Hague.

The ICC says it will announce at 0800 GMT “whether it finds the accused innocent or guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”

The soft-spoken Ntaganda — known for his pencil moustache and a penchant for fine dining — told judges during his trial that he was “soldier not a criminal” and that the “Terminator” nickname did not apply to him.

Rwandan-born Ntaganda faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the brutal conflict that wracked the northeastern region.

Prosecutors portrayed him as the ruthless leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts amid the wars that wracked the Democratic Republic of Congo after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in the region in 1999 according to rights groups, as militias battle each other for control of scarce mineral resources.

High profile setbacks

Prosecutors said Ntaganda was central to the planning and operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots rebels and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

The FPLC killed at least 800 people as it fought rival militias in Ituri, prosecutors said.

Formerly a Congolese army general, Ntaganda then became a founding member of the M23 rebel group, which was eventually defeated by Congolese government forces in 2013.

The first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, he walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in 2013 and asked to be sent to the court, based in the Netherlands.

Ntaganda is one of five Congolese warlords brought before the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as an independent international body to prosecute those accused of the world’s worst crimes.

Ntaganda’s former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012.

But it has suffered several setbacks over recent years with some of its most high-profile suspects walking free, while it has also been criticised for mainly trying African suspects so far.

In a separate hearing on Monday, judges are to determine whether there is enough evidence for a Malian jihadist to face trial for demolishing Timbuktu’s fabled shrines, as well as for rape, torture and sex slavery.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud was captured and transferred to the court last year.


South Sudan Hires US Lobby Group To Block War Crimes Court


South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has hired an American lobby group run by a former ambassador to block the creation of a court to judge war crimes in the conflict-torn nation.

According to a contract between the government and the lobby group, Gainful Solutions, published online by the US Department of Justice, the $3.7 million (3.3-million euro) deal was signed on April 2.

The contract states that Gainful Solutions, run by former US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, was hired to “improve relations with the United States, both politically and economically”.

This includes persuading Trump’s government to “reverse sanctions and prevent further sanctions” and to mobilise American investment in South Sudan’s oil.

However, in a clear indication of the government’s hostility to the proposed body, the contract also states that the lobby group must “delay and ultimately block the establishment of the hybrid court” envisaged in a peace deal signed in September 2018.

The creation of the African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court dates back to an earlier peace agreement in 2015, a bid to win justice for atrocities committed during a war that is now in its sixth year.

 Six years of war 

Conflict erupted in December 2013 after Kiir accused his longtime rival and former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.

Battles between those from Machar’s Nuer community and Kiir’s Dinka people were characterised by brutal violence on both sides, rape and UN warnings about “ethnic cleansing”.

The war has left around 380,000 people dead, forcing more than four million South Sudanese — almost a third of the population — to flee their homes.

Kiir and Machar are meant to reunite in a power-sharing government in less than two weeks, under the terms of the September deal.

Implementation of the peace deal is running behind however, and Machar has called for a delay.

The United States, Norway and Britain — the so-called troika leading diplomacy efforts — said in a statement Tuesday that the peace deal was at a “critical juncture”.

“Any decision on forming the transitional government as scheduled or delaying to a later date should be made through consensus of the parties,” read the statement.

 ‘Lack of political will’ 

South Sudan’s government has previously pushed back against the creation of the court, dismissing it as “a tool of regime change” by foreign partners.

In February a United Nations human rights report on South Sudan said the process of setting up the court had stalled due to “lack of political will and uncertainty about the future of government”.

US Ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek, described the contract with the lobby group as disturbing.

“This, to me, is very disturbing because this is a commitment made in the peace agreement. The hybrid court is part and parcel of chapter five of the peace agreement,” Hushek said, according to Eye Radio in Juba.

Ranneberger retired in 2016 after a long diplomatic career in Africa, and served as ambassador to Kenya and Somalia from 2006-2011.

While in his post he spoke strongly against corruption in Kenya and angered government when diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks showed him criticising the country’s leaders for graft and political violence.

He was well versed in the crises gripping South Sudan, having helped lead the negotiations between the south and Khartoum, which led to a peace deal in 2005 after a long independence war.

South Sudan later voted in favour of independence from Sudan in a 2011 referendum.

After midwifing its independence, the United States remains South Sudan’s main international donor, providing more than $480 million in humanitarian aid in 2018, according to US State Department figures.

However their patience has worn thin with South Sudan after countless failed peace efforts, and ties between Juba and Washington have chilled.

The US lobbied hard for an arms embargo imposed in 2018 and has also applied sanctions against top officials.


Gaddafi’s Son Eligible To Face Crimes Against Humanity Trial, Says ICC

The son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of the capital Tripoli.  Mahmud TURKIA / AFP


The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that a crimes against humanity case can be brought against Seif al-Islam, son of the later Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, rejecting a challenge from his defence team.

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber in a statement said it had decided by a majority vote that “the case against Mr Gaddafi was admissible before the court”.

Seif al-Islam, 46, has been sought by the international court in The Hague over crimes allegedly committed in February 2011 during the suppression of a popular revolt in Libya.

He was captured by a Libyan militia in November 2011, days after his father was killed in a NATO-backed uprising against his decades-old rule.

In 2015 a Tripoli court sentenced him to death in absentia along with eight other Gaddafi-era figures.

The armed group who captured him later announced that he had been released and his whereabouts remain unknown.

His lawyers had argued to the ICC that he was now sought for substantially the same crimes that he had already been tried for in Tripoli.

But the ICC judges decided that the Tripoli court decision remained subject to appeal and, as it was rendered in absentia, left open the possibility of reinstituting judicial proceedings.


Gbagbo Still Detained Despite ICC Acquittal

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo


Ivory Coast ex-president Laurent Gbagbo will stay behind bars at least until a fresh appeal hearing on February 1, despite his acquittal this week by the International Criminal Court, the tribunal said Friday.

Judges cleared 73-year-old Gbagbo on Tuesday on charges of crimes against humanity relating to a wave of violence after disputed elections in 2010 and ordered his immediate release.

The crisis claimed some 3,000 lives.

But prosecutors at the Hague-based court challenged the release of Gbagbo, who has already spent seven years in jail, saying he should be detained while they make a broader appeal over his acquittal.

“The detention of Mr Laurent Gbagbo… shall be maintained pending the consideration of the present appeal” against his release, the ICC’s appeals judges said in a statement.

They will hold a fresh hearing on February 1 “in order to hear further submissions on the appeal.”

Judges made the same order for Gbagbo’s co-defendant and right-hand man Charles Ble Goude.

Prosecutors had argued that there was a “concrete” risk the Ivorian pair fail to return to the ICC if a subsequent appeal overturned Tuesday’s decision to acquit them.

Gbagbo’s daughter has said he intended to return to the Ivory Coast if released.


Cote D’Ivore’s Gbagbo Seeks Immediate Release From ICC

Former Cote D’Ivore’s President Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Peter Dejong / ANP / AFP


Defence lawyers sought Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo’s immediate release by the International Criminal Court on Thursday following his acquittal over post-election violence.

The Hague-based court halted the freeing of 73-year-old Gbagbo, the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC, and his right-hand man Charles Ble Goude late Wednesday after a last-ditch application by prosecutors.

The prosecution argued that there was a “concrete risk” they could flee, and that they should stay behind bars while an appeal against Tuesday’s decision to acquit the two men of crimes against humanity is heard.

A legal filing by defence lawyers on Thursday, a copy of which was seen by AFP, urged the court to “reject the demand by the prosecutor seeking to suspend the decision to immediately release Laurent Gbagbo”.

Attorneys for Ble Goude, 47, made a similar bid.

Lawyers for victims of the violence, however, filed a separate motion calling for them to stay behind bars.

Appeals judges are expected to hold a hearing within days on whether to release Gbagbo and Ble Goude. Dealing with the wider appeal on the acquittal will take weeks or months.

The Ivorian pair had been on trial over violence in 2010-11 in the West African nation after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in an election to now-president Alassane Ouattara.

The crisis claimed some 3,000 lives, with atrocities allegedly committed by both sides.

Judges stopped the trial midway on Tuesday citing an “exceptionally weak” prosecution case, and earlier on Wednesday, they rejected an initial bid by prosecutors to keep Gbagbo behind bars.

Celebrations erupted outside the court and Gbagbo’s daughter said he planned an emotional homecoming to the Ivory Coast, after seven years in detention in The Hague.

But the court then halted the release later Wednesday.


ICC Prosecutors To Appeal Gbagbo’s Acquittal

Former Cote d’Ivore’s President Laurent Gbagbo


Prosecutors will appeal the International Criminal Court’s shock acquittal of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo over post-election violence, according to a court document seen by AFP on Wednesday.

ICC judges cleared Gbagbo and his right-hand man Charles Ble Goude of charges of crimes against humanity on Tuesday.

They also ordered their release but postponed it pending a fresh hearing on Wednesday where prosecutors would lay out objections.

The prosecution filed an “urgent request” saying that it “has determined that it intends to appeal… following the acquittals”, the document said.

Prosecutors also said there were “exceptional reasons” to oppose Gbagbo’s unconditional release, citing a “concrete risk” that he would not come back if its appeal was successful and the trial was to continue.

But they said they would accept release to an ICC member country — excluding Ivory Coast — “if the flight risk can be mitigated by imposing a series of conditions”.

Gbagbo stands accused over the deaths of 3,000 people killed in months of clashes in the West African nation when he refused to accept defeat after elections in late 2010.

Gbagbo has already been in detention since 2011, and his trial at the ICC started in 2016.

In a majority decision by two judges to one, the ICC said on Tuesday that prosecutors “failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard”.


War Crimes Court Acquits Cote D’Ivore Ex-Strongman Gbagbo

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo gestures as he enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague on January 15, 2019. Peter Dejong / ANP / AFP


The International Criminal Court acquitted former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday over a wave of post-electoral violence, in a stunning blow to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Judges ordered the release of the 73-year-old deposed strongman, the first head of state to stand trial at the troubled ICC, and his former youth leader Charles Ble Goude, 47.

Gbagbo faced charges of crimes against humanity after 3,000 people were killed in months of clashes in the West African nation when he refused to accept defeat after elections in late 2010.

Prosecutors said Gbagbo clung to power “by all means” after he was narrowly beaten by his bitter rival — now president — Alassane Ouattara in elections in the world’s largest cocoa producer.

But head judge Cuno Tarfusser said that the ICC “by majority hereby decides that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard.”

Gbagbo and Ble Goude have been acquitted of “all charges”, he said, adding that the court “orders the immediate release of both accused.”

Gbagbo, who has spent seven years in detention, and Ble Goude hugged as supporters cheered, clapped and wept in the court’s public gallery.

 ‘Victory for justice’ 

“Finally there is some justice,” Gragbayou Yves, 45, a Gbagbo supporter from Paris, told AFP in the public gallery moments after the judgment was passed.

Wild scenes also erupted in Gbagbo’s home town in Ivory Coast, Gagnoa, with hundreds of supporters shouting “free, free” and dancing in the streets.

“I’m happy. He did nothing wrong yet he’s spent seven years in prison. It’s important that he should be free, he’s our leader,” said supporter Bertin Sery.

In Abidjan, Assoa Adou, secretary general of Gbagbo’s party the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), predicted the acquittal would ease political tensions rather than exacerbate them.

“We have just made a big step towards reconciliation,” Adou told a jubilant crowd at party headquarters. “Ivory Coast will soon be at peace.”

Adou added that the “stage is set for the unity needed to regain power in 2020” — when Ivory Coast will elect a successor to Ouattara, who has said he will not stand for re-election after serving two five-year terms.

Government spokesman Sidi Tiemoko Toure reacted cautiously to the ruling, urging Ivorians to “remain compassionate towards the victims” of the 2010-11 conflict, in which atrocities were blamed on both sides.

Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara’s troops, who were being aided by UN and French forces, and sent to The Hague in November 2011. His trial started in January 2016.

The judges on Tuesday said prosecutors had failed to provide evidence of a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power, a policy of attacking civilians, or that speeches by Gbagbo and Ble Goude incited violence.

Their release was suspended until a fresh hearing on Wednesday to give the prosecution time to respond to the shock judgment.

The office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the decision was “disappointing and unexpected”, adding that the prosecution had the right to appeal.

Gbagbo’s lawyers last year argued that his case had descended into “fake reality” and should be dismissed, adding that he was now “elderly and fragile”.

Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit called the ruling a “victory for justice”.

 ‘Bitterly bruised’ 

But the highly divisive case has tested the court’s avowed aim of delivering justice to the victims of the world’s worst crimes since its establishment in 2002.

The ICC has faced serious difficulties over attempts to try top politicians for crimes committed by subordinates or followers — most of them in Africa.

Last year, former DR Congo warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba was acquitted on appeal for crimes allegedly committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002-03.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also saw charges of crimes against humanity over electoral bloodshed dropped by the ICC prosecutor in 2014.

The Gbagbo result leaves the court “bitterly bruised”, said international law expert Mark Kersten of the University of Toronto.

“It leaves serious questions about the ability of the ICC to successfully target and prosecute state actors,” he told AFP. “It must learn from these trials and errors to be better — and meet expectations — in the very near future.”

Gbagbo’s wife Simone Gbagbo has also walked free after seven years in detention.

Ouattara granted the so-called Iron Lady amnesty last August, freeing her from a 20-year jail term in Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo however still faces a 20-year jail sentence for “economic crimes” imposed by an Ivorian court in 2018. Whether he serves it is expected to be part of negotiations about any eventual homecoming.


France To Transfer African Football Chief To War Crimes Tribunal

Central African Republic’s football federation chief Patrice Edouard Ngaissona attends the 40th CAF ordinary general assembly in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. FADEL SENNA / AFP


France will transfer Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, a member of Africa’s top footballing body, to the International Criminal Court in the Hague where he faces war crimes charges, a court ruled Monday.

Ngaissona, who is from the Central African Republic and sits on the board of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), has been in a jail near Paris since his arrest on December 12.


UN Rights Council Renews Yemen War Crimes Probe

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The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to extend an international probe of alleged war crimes committed in Yemen despite strong opposition from Saudi Arabia and several of its allies. 

Nations voted 21 to 8, with 18 abstentions, in favor of a resolution that renewed the UN-backed investigation for a year.

Last month, investigators detailed evidence of possible war crimes committed in Yemen by both the Saudi-led coalition and the Huthi rebels supported by Iran.

The coalition and the Yemeni government, which together are battling the Huthis, strongly criticised the probe’s initial report, arguing that it underplayed rebel violations and Iran’s role.

The Arab group in the rights council had backed a rival text that called on Yemen’s national human rights commission to take charge of future investigations of the conflict.

That proposal was a non-starter for many states, given a widespread lack of confidence in the Yemeni commission.

The approved resolution led by a group of European states and Canada calls on investigators to deliver another report next September.

Probe members had said they needed more time to fully document the range of violations committed in Yemen’s conflict, which has killed nearly 10,000 people since March 2015 and triggered what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Riyadh’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Abdulaziz Alwasil, said he voted no because the resolution did not address his “legitimate concerns”, notably about the “lack of balance” in the probe’s first report.

The fact that it went to a vote underscored divisions on the issue within the 47-member rights council, which typically strives for a consensus on major texts.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the vote “sent a clear message that it stands with Yemeni civilians”.

“States at the UN Human Rights Council stood firm today, in the face of shameful efforts by the Saudi-led coalition to quash a UN expert inquiry,” HRW’s Geneva director, John Fisher, said in a statement.


ICC ‘Undeterred’ After US Sanctions Threat

President International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji. (Photo Credit: ICC-CPI)


The International Criminal Court on Tuesday said its work would continue “undeterred” after Washington threatened to prosecute its officials if Americans are charged with war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

“The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law,” the tribunal said in a statement.

The Hague-based court’s response comes a day after the United States threatened to arrest and sanction court officials should they move to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton called the Hague-based rights body “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies, and said any probe of US service members would be “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation”.

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said.

The US was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on officials of the court if they proceed against any Americans, he added.

But in response, the ICC declared itself an “independent and impartial judicial institution”.

It also stressed that it would only investigate and prosecute crimes when the states will not or can not do so.

The Hague-based ICC was set up in 2002 with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the world’s worst crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The court, however, does not have the capacity to arrest suspects and depends on member states for their cooperation.

The United States has not signed up to the court and in 2002 Congress passed a law enabling Washington to invade the Netherlands to liberate any US citizen held by the court.