State Dept. Testifies at Child Abduction HearingSmith: Negotiate MOU with Japan Concurently with the Hague Convention…

Posted on July 29, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Human Rights, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

 

Washington, Jul 28 – The fate of more than 2,400 abducted American children was the emotional topic at a congressional hearing today held by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights.Top officials of the U.S. State Department explained U.S. administration efforts to return the children to the U.S. A heavy emphasis was placed on Japan, which is not one of the 85 signatory nations of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

It is on behalf of left behind parents –in recognition of the extreme pain they suffer as victims of international child abduction, and in recognition of our own duty as the U.S. government to help bring their children home—that we hold this hearing today,” Smith said. “I believe child abduction is a global human rights abuse—a form of child abuse—that seriously harms children while inflicting excruciating emotional pain and suffering on left-behind parents and families.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.

Smith, who chairs subcommittee on human rights of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said international child abduction occurs when one parent unlawfully moves a child from his or her country of residence, often for the purpose of denying the other parent rightful access to the child. “Left behind” parents from across the country, including David Goldman of Monmouth County, N.J., who Smith helped win a five-year battle to bring his son home from Brazil in December 2009, Chris Savoie, who was arrested by Japanese law enforcement when he attempted to recover his own children in 2009, and other desperate parents.

Japan is the only G-7 nation to not sign the treaty.  Congress is not aware of any case where a Japanese court has issued and enforced an order to return an abducted child to the U.S. In fact, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the European Union, Spain, U.K. & France have all pressed Japan to both sign the treaty and act to allow visitation, communication and a framework, or memorandum of understanding (MOU), to resolve current cases.

I and many others urge the Obama Administration to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Japanese to ensure that the 123 left behind parents are not left behind a second time—this time by treaty promises that won’t apply to them,” said Smith, who traveled to Japan in February with the family of Rutherford, N.J. resident and Iraqi war veteran Michael Elias to meet with U.S. and Japanese officials. Elias’s two children were abducted with the help of the Japanese Consulate in contravention of U.S. court orders in 2008.

Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the State Department, testified that the unaddressed issue of international child abduction to Japan remains a serious concern for the Department of State and the United States Government.

While the Convention will only apply to cases that arise after ratification, we continue at all levels to encourage the Government of Japan to implement measures that would resolve existing child-abduction cases and allow parents currently separated from their children to reestablish contact with them and ensure visitation rights,” Campbell said.

We are prepared to use all necessary political and legal means necessary to facilitate contact and access for parents and abducted children,” Campbell said. “Currently the left-behind parents of children abducted to or from Japan have little hope of having their children returned and encounter great difficulties in obtaining access to their children and exercising their parental rights and responsibilities.” Click here to read Campbell’s testimony.

Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department, told Smith and the human rights panel that the State Department welcomed Congressional support as it urges countries such as Korea, India and Japan to join the Hague Convention.

The prevention and prompt resolution of abduction cases are of paramount importance to the United States,” Jacobs said. Click here to read Jacob’s testimony.

Thursday’s  hearing follows the direct, emotional testimony at a May hearing of left-behind parents, who in most cases have never seen their children again after the abduction.

After returning from Brazil with abducted child Sean Goldman and his left behind New Jersey dad, Smith introduced “The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2011”. The bill, H.R. 1940, would establish an Ambassador-at-Large dedicated to international child abduction, and office within the State Department to aggressively work to resolve abduction cases. The legislation would also prescribe a series of increasingly punitive actions and sanctions the president and State Department may impose on a nation that demonstrates a “pattern of non-cooperation” in resolving child abduction cases.  In September 2010 Smith cosponsored and managed the debate in the House chamber on a similar bipartisan measure, H. Res. 1326, calling on the Government of Japan to resolve the many cases involving American children abducted to Japan. The bill passed 416-1.

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Legislation Urging Immediate Return of U.S. Kids Abducted to Japan Clears 1st Hurdle

Posted on July 25, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Human Rights | Tags: , , , , , |

 

Washington, Jul 21 – The House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted an amendment by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) Thursday calling for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Japan for the immediate return of the approximately 156 U.S. children currently being held in Japan against the wishes of their American parent, and in many cases in violation of valid U.S. court orders.“The amendment passed today makes it clear that the United States must, by way of an MOU with Japan, or any other appropriate means, seek the immediate return of U.S. children abducted to Japan,” said Smith (NJ-04), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its human rights subcommittee.  “Abducted children are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems.  The U.S. government has a duty to protect these children and fight for their parents who have a right and want to meet their responsibilities of raising their own children.” Click here to view the amendment.

Smith said Japan has become known as a haven for international child abduction. “Tragically, Japan has become a black hole for children whose Japanese parent—or in some cases non-Japanese parent—decided not to abide by the laws of the United States and rather to run to a jurisdiction where they would not have to share custody, or even permit visitation of the child by the child’s other parent. Japan has historically been complicit in these abductions, offering protection without investigation.”

Smith said Japan’s recent announcement that it will finally sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is welcomed but pointed out that the Convention, by its own terms, will only apply to future cases.

If and when Japan ratifies the Hague, and I hope they do, such action, unfortunately will not be sufficient to address the existing abduction cases,” said Smith, who led a human rights mission to Japan this past February and met with government leaders as well as American parents blocked from seeing their children in Japan. “A Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Japan is urgently needed to ensure that families are reunited and left behind parents are not left behind again.”

During the debate on his a amendment, Smith spoke of the current abduction cases involving Japan including the case of New Jersey resident and former Marine Sgt. Michael Elias, whose children Jade and Michael were abducted to Japan by his estranged wife in 2008.  He has not held them since or been allowed any communication with them in over a year.

Additionally, my amendment calls on the Secretary of State to take any and all other appropriate measures to enable left behind parents direct access and communications with their children wrongfully removed to or retained in Japan.  These children must be allowed to have a relationship with their American parent—the arbitrary deprivation they currently suffer is child abuse,” Smith said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously adopted the amendment demanding an MOU as part of legislation controlling foreign aid.  The bill is expected to move to the House Floor.

In September 2010 Smith cosponsored and managed the debate in the House chamber on a similar bipartisan measure, H. Res. 1326, calling on the Government of Japan to resolve the many cases involving over American children abducted to Japan. The bill passed 416-1.

Smith also has been working to push Congress and the Administration to better address international child abductions in Japan and elsewhere. After returning from Brazil in Dec. 24, 2009 with abducted child Sean Goldman and his left behind New Jersey dad who had been deprived of his son for five years, Smith introduced “The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2011”, H.R. 1940, and is working for passage of the bill.

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H.R. 3240 International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009

Posted on June 21, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , , , |

H.R. 3240 International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009, if passed will impose economic and security sanctions on non-compliant countries. To read the report click  HR 3240 then download the PDF.

The purposes of this Act are to:

(1) protect United States children from the harmful effects of international child abduction and to protect the right of children to exercise parental access with their parents in a safe and predictable way, wherever located;

(2) provide parents, their advocates, and judges the information they need to enhance the resolution of family disputes through established legal procedures, the tools for assessing the risk of wrongful removal and retention of children, and the practical means for overcoming obstacles to recovering abducted children;

(3) establish effective mechanisms to provide assistance to and aggressive advocacy on behalf of parents whose children have been abducted from the United States to a foreign country, from a foreign country to the United States, and on behalf of military parents stationed abroad;

(4) promote an international consensus that the best interests of children are of paramount importance in matters relating to their custody, and that it is in the best interest of a child to have issues of custody determined in the State of their habitual residence immediately prior to the abduction;

(5) provide the necessary training for military officials and training and assistance to military families to address the unique circumstances of the resolution of child custody disputes which occur abroad, or occur when a parent is serving abroad;

(6) facilitate the creation and effective implementation of international mechanisms, particularly the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal and retention; and

(7) facilitate the compliance of the United States with reciprocal obligations contained in the Hague Convention regarding children wrongfully removed to or retained in the United States.

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