http://www.kaaltv.com/article/stories/S4447812.shtml?cat=10728
April 07, 2017 05:27 PM

A Maple Grove man is asking the Trump Administration to pressure Japan to give his children back.

James Cook was in Washington D.C. Thursday fighting for his kids.

He testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. They’re investigating international treaties to return children abducted by a parent.

Cook’s wife took their four kids to Japan in 2014. He has been awarded custody, but can’t get them back.

Cook told the congressional committee he hopes Vice President Mike Pence will help when he visits Japan in late April.

“I hereby respectfully request that Vice President Mike Pence speak with these Japanese officials and ask them to have Japan meet their international obligation to comply with the Hague convention and return our children to their habitual residence in Minnesota,” he said.

“Excuses may be offered why they cannot, but I know Japan will force their return if required.”

Cook said Congressman Erik Paulsen has been supportive of his efforts.

“This is a situation no parent or child should ever have to go through, and I completely sympathize with James and his children during this trying episode,” Paulsen said in an emailed statement.

“My office and I have been exploring various channels to reunite James with his four kids and hope we can help the Cook family reach a resolution soon.”

The issue of international family abduction is complicated. And it’s something many don’t hear much about.

Cook has been working with Jane Straub from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to figure out how to get his children back.

The last time he saw them was 2015.

“I have two sets of twins,” he said. “I have 14-year old-boys and I have a 9-year-old boy and girl.”

Cook said his wife Hitomi Arimitsu took the children to see her family in Japan in September of 2014, then stopped communicating with him.

He showed court rulings he’s won locally and internationally, including Japan, that give him custody.

“So (in) total (I’ve) probably won 10 cases up to this point,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached Cook’s wife Hitomi Arimitsu in Japan.

She said international child abduction is not what is going on in this case. She claims she and James had an agreement she would take the children to Japan.

“I have made numerous attempts to facilitate contact between him and the children,” Arimitsu said.

“James does not take advantage of any of them. I want them to have a relationship with their father. Regardless of my disagreements with him regarding our marriage, I think it is important for him to be in their life.”

Arimitsu’s attorney said that in February a Japanese court reversed a previous order about jurisdiction, moving the power to make legal decisions and judgments from Minnesota to Japan.  Cook says Hennepin County court possess jurisdiction over their children, not Japan.  He says is appealing the ruling to a higher court in Japan.

Japan has signed treaties that are supposed to prevent international child abduction.

But Cook said Japan has been non-compliant from the beginning.

He said custody battles in Japan are considered private, and children basically belong to the parent who has them.

“And that’s how they view children, quite honestly – as possessions,” he said. “Not as human beings, but as possessions.”

Straub said a case like Cook’s doesn’t always get the attention in should.

“You know working at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, people think (the) only people that take children are strangers,” Straub said.

“We know parent-child abductions happen. And just because that person is a parent, it doesn’t mean that that child is safe.”

Cook said he won’t give up the fight for his kids.

“It’s important to remember these are four little people,” he said. “Four human beings, four U.S. citizens. They’re literally being held hostage in a foreign land.

“And we have the power as a country to get them back.”

 

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Kevin Doran

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https://www.stripes.com/news/us-court-rules-against-soldier-returns-baby-to-okinawa-mom-1.460354#.WOK0LRiZPVo

 

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2017

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A 20-month-old girl returned to her Okinawa home from the United States last week — the island’s first child-return case under the Hague Convention on cross-border parental kidnapping since Japan joined the treaty in 2014.

In February, the U.S. Middle District Court in Florida ordered the child’s father — a Maryland-based U.S. soldier — to return the child to her mother on Okinawa, which the court acknowledged as the girl’s “habitual residence,” said attorney Masanori Takeda.

Child abduction has long been a concern for U.S. servicemembers and some in Congress, who initially called on Tokyo to ratify the Hague Convention and have since called for tougher enforcement within Japan.

Cultural and legal obstacles in Japan — where child abduction by one parent isn’t always viewed as a crime — have previously prevented U.S. servicemembers and other citizens from gaining custody or seeing their children in Japan.

In this case, a judge ultimately determined that a soldier had unlawfully kept his child from the mother.

The couple “had very limited language communications” when they married in 2014 and resided with the woman’s teenage son, according to a Florida court complaint filed by the woman.

In March 2015, the woman, then pregnant, and her son moved with the soldier to their new post in Maryland, Takeda said.

After reporting domestic and sexual abuse, the Army Family Advocacy Program helped her and her son return to Okinawa, where the child was born four months later.

That October, the woman was asked by her estranged husband to attend his brother’s wedding in Florida, said Takeda, who added the man yanked the baby from her arms during the visit.

A brief fight ensued, and the woman was arrested after the husband reported domestic violence to police. The woman was unable to explain her version of events in English, according to the complaint.

She was sent to a women’s shelter after the Florida Department of Children and Families acknowledged she was a victim of domestic violence. A social worker observed a 4-by-2-inch bruise on her neck and a “silver dollar sized” bruise on her thigh, according to the court complaint.

The mother said her husband had “choked her and again forced her to have sex against her will,” according to the complaint.

The husband denied the allegations and said she had subjected him to “extreme anger, aggression, and physical violence” going back to when they were stationed in Japan, according to court documents.

Nevertheless, the soldier wrote to her in phone texts that he loved her and that “Me no like divorce talk … me no like back Okinawa talk,” according to court documents.

The soldier argued that his wife returned to the U.S. to join him to live, not just to visit.

The premise that she and the infant intended to remain in the United States was part of the reasoning that convinced a Florida court to grant the soldier custody, according to court documents.

The soldier’s lawyers asserted that the Hague Convention was not applicable to their case because of the Florida court’s judgment.

The mother’s attorneys contended “she had simply wanted a divorce and to return home to Japan with her children.”

Mari Kitada, a lecturer at Tokyo’s Kyorin University who’s an expert on the international parental child abduction treaty, said she believed the Hague Convention ruling was appropriate and consistent with the spirit of the treaty.

“While a U.S. court had awarded the father full parental custody, without the treaty, bringing the child back to Japan would have been impossible,” she said during a phone interview Thursday.

Kitada pointed to recent changes surrounding the pact in the international community, which began to focus more on a child’s best interests instead of solely focusing on the child’s habitual residence.

“As social complexities advance, various factors, to include domestic violence, must be carefully and thoroughly considered to protect the child’s safety and well-being,” she said.

According to the Hague Convention Affairs Office at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 233 petitions for both child returns and visitation arrangements have been filed between April 1, 2014, and March 1, 2017.

Of those, 121 were requests for children to be returned to their habitual residence. Twenty-four of the cases involved parents from the U.S., a ministry spokesman said. The other 112 petitions — 46 involving Americans — were for parents to have access to their children.

Stars and Stripes reporter Erik Slavin contributed to this report.

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com