State Dept. Testifies at Child Abduction HearingSmith: Negotiate MOU with Japan Concurently with the Hague Convention...
Or 173 American Children Abducted to Japan & Their Parents May Be Left Behind Permanently
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.
Last week the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an amendment Smith wrote calling on the U.S. State Department to pressure the Japanese government to agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which would establish a process to return abducted American children back to their left behind parent in United States. Smith's measure is contained in legislation expected to be brought to the House floor in the fall.
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. 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.