http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0004447319

Japan on U.S. list of nations noncompliant with Hague Treaty

 

Jiji PressWASHINGTON (Jiji Press) — The U.S. State Department on Wednesday listed Japan as one of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the so-called Hague Treaty that sets procedures to settle cross-border parental child abduction cases.

Japan joined the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 2014, and it is the first time since then that the nation has been put on the list in the department’s annual report on the issue of children taken by one parent following the breakup of international marriages.

The listing may help put greater pressure on Japan to comply with the treaty, pundits said.

The 2018 report said Japan has made “measurable progress” on international parental child abduction, noting that the average number of children reported abducted to the country each year has decreased by 44 percent since 2014.

While noting that “a strong and productive relationship” between the Japanese and U.S. governments has facilitated the resolution of abduction cases, the report said that “there were no effective means” to enforce court return orders.

As a result, 22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the treaty remained unresolved for more than one year, the report said, adding the enforcement process is “extremely long.”

A total of 12 countries, also including China, India, Brazil and Argentina, were on the 2018 list of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance.

“Now is an opportunity for the government of Japan to demonstrate a true commitment to reforming its inability to enforce its own judicial rulings,” said Jeffery Morehouse, who is seeking to gain custody of his son in Japan.

Paul Toland, who hopes to reunite with his daughter in Japan, said, “Japan will need a complete reform of their family law system and will have to change the way they view the rights of a child to know and love both parents after a divorce if they ever want to be compliant with the Hague [treaty].”

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http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/26/national/crime-legal/custody-case-test-japan-says-u-s-father-seeking-access-girl-held-grandmother/#.VjFsDkI-DVo

Custody case a test for Japan, says U.S. father seeking access to girl held by grandmother

BY 

STAFF WRITER

A U.S. man seeking access to his daughter said Monday that the case is an opportunity for Japan to prove to the world it no longer tolerates parental child abduction.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for denying access to his 13-year-old daughter.

His former wife left with the child in 2003, at the age of 9 months, after their marriage failed. The woman committed suicide four years later.

Toland said his situation would amount to a “felony crime” in other countries with up-to-date family laws.

“In Japan, this abduction by a nonparent is not only accepted, but it is condoned. I’m the only parent in the world to (my daughter),” Toland said, who is in Japan for the first time since the trial at the Tokyo Family Court kicked off in July.

Toland said if the case is resolved it would demonstrate to the world that Japan is turning over a new leaf after years of notoriety as a “safe haven” for parental child abduction. If his daughter is not returned to him, he said, it will only alienate the nation further.

Japan joined The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. The pact does not apply in Toland’s case because the abduction was within Japan — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time. In addition to this, the convention cannot be applied retroactively.

“How can we expect Japan to ever resolve more complicated divorce, child custody issues if it cannot even resolve this very straightforward case, which does not involve divorce and where one parent is deceased and the nonparent is withholding a child above the parent who wants to care for her?” he said.

The daughter has said in a statement submitted to the Tokyo Family Court that she does not wish to be reunited with her father, according to Akira Ueno, Toland’s lawyer.

Given that the separation occurred when the girl was a baby, this suggests that her attitude was learned from others and that she is under a misapprehension of what her father is really like, Ueno said.

“In cases this like, Japanese courts have immaturely decided that children shouldn’t be returned to parents, oblivious to the fact that they’re bound to suffer once becoming adults,” Ueno said.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404040015

Child abduction treaty gives hope to parents separated from their kids

April 04, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

American Jeffrey Morehouse has no idea where his son lives, knowing only that the 10-year-old’s address is somewhere in Toyama Prefecture.

His last contact with the boy was when his divorced Japanese wife lived in the United States. He lost all contact after she and her son abruptly moved to Japan.

But Morehouse, who lives in Seattle, is finally taking a big step toward getting in touch with his son again, and perhaps bringing the child back to the United States.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction took effect for Japan on April 1, giving parents overseas, like Morehouse, and in Japan a legal means to visit their children.

The so-called Hague Abduction Convention governs cross-border child custody disputes resulting from broken marriages. Under the treaty, if a marriage fails and the parents start living in separate countries, the decision on who receives parental rights to raise children under 16 falls under the jurisdiction of the country where the family lived with the child before the breakup.

Before Japan signed the treaty in January, a number of high-profile cases surfaced about the plight of overseas parents who had no legal way of even contacting their children taken to Japan by their former spouses. However, Japanese parents are also expressing hopes that the treaty will help them be reunited with their children who live overseas.

A Japanese woman living in Chiba Prefecture last month wrote a letter to the parents of her ex-husband, who are currently raising her 14-year-old daughter in the United States.

“I have the right to meet with my daughter,” the 34-year-old woman wrote.

She later received an e-mail instructing her to never again try to contact her daughter.

The woman was married to an American who worked at a U.S. military base in Kyushu. After they divorced, the ex-husband returned to the United States with their 8-month-old child in 2001 without the mother’s consent and asked his parents to raise the girl.

The mother visited the home of her former husband’s parents in the United States two years later, but she was allowed to meet her daughter only three times.

Five years ago, the ex-husband’s family refused to let her to see the child.

The woman said she expects the Hague Abduction Convention to help her in the battle against her ex-husband and his parents.

“I hope the Japanese government will negotiate (with U.S. authorities) as equals,” said the mother. She plans to use the Foreign Ministry to repeat her demands that her ex-husband’s parents allow her to visit her daughter.

Although cases involving children “abducted” before April 1 will be exempt from the convention, parents can still call for governmental assistance in setting up meetings with their children.

A Canadian man moved to Japan in 2011 to see his three daughters.

His ex-wife had returned to Japan with the children and had rejected all of his requests to visit the girls.

The Canadian said he met his children three times last year without prior appointments, and that he expects the convention to make it easier for him to visit his daughters.

The U.S. State Department said it received 24 applications on March 31 from divorced parents calling for meetings with their children overseas. A number of parents, including Morehouse, visited the State Department that day to request measures to set up visits with their children in Japan.

According to the State Department, 58 cases concerning 80 children unfairly taken from the United States to Japan have yet to be settled, the third highest figure after Mexico and India.

A representative of a group of those visiting parents said meetings with the children will be the first step in getting the children returned.

Paul Toland, a co-founder of Bring Abducted Children Home, a U.S. nonprofit organization calling for the return of children taken to Japan, said he wants the Japanese government to quickly take measures under the spirit of the Hague Abduction Convention.

Toland, himself, on March 31 called on the State Department to work with the Japanese government to set up a meeting with his 11-year-old daughter in Japan.

Beth Payne, director of the Office of Children’s Issues in the State Department, promised that the U.S. government will continue efforts to settle cases reported before April 1 by negotiating with Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Congress is currently discussing legislation to enable the president to impose sanctions on nations that fail to take adequate measures to resolve the child abduction problem. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

One issue of concern among Japanese parents is how courts will weigh domestic violence in deciding if their children should be returned to the nation where the family resided before the divorce or separation.

Under the convention, Japan’s Foreign Ministry will help foreign parents find arbitration organizations for their demands that their children in Japan be returned to them.

If the Japanese parents refuse the demands, the Tokyo or Osaka family courts will decide whether to issue orders for the children to be sent to the country where the family originally lived.

If the courts recognize the existence of serious domestic violence, the Japanese parents will be allowed to refuse to return their sons and daughters to their former foreign partners.

The Hague convention will also cover cases in which both parents are Japanese and one of them takes the child overseas.

Regardless of the parents’ nationalities, cases involving a divorced husband or wife taking a child elsewhere in Japan will not be subject to the treaty.

Under Japan’s Civil Law, parental rights are granted to one parent after they split. Although a divorced couple can discuss visitation rights at the time of the divorce settlement, the decision is not legally binding.

In many cases, the parents take their children elsewhere in Japan without the consent of their former partners.

Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties are currently discussing legislation to address such domestic cases.

(This article was compiled from reports by Satomi Sugihara and Tsuyoshi Tamura in Tokyo and Takashi Oshima in Washington.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/140401/us-fathers-urge-japan-comply-child-custody-treaty

Kyodo News International April 1, 2014 4:16am
U.S. fathers urge Japan to comply with child custody treaty

A group of U.S. fathers urged the Japanese government Monday to comply with a convention for settling cross-border child custody disputes and help them and other American parents reunite with their children living in Japan.

The fathers and their supporters, including a veteran congressman, handed a petition to a minister of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, a day before Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

They were among some 20 people who marched through the U.S. capital holding placards with their children’s pictures and met with a relevant U.S. government official earlier in the day to increase awareness of child abduction to Japan.

The group Bring Abducted Children Home organized the events.

Paul Toland, co-founder of the group, told reporters, referring to Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention, “Today can be a new beginning.”

“But remember this. It’s just the beginning. The ultimate resolution of these cases has not yet been attained,” Navy employee Toland, 46, said.

Toland said he has not seen his daughter for almost 11 years since his wife took their then 9-month-old baby to Japan before divorce proceedings had concluded and custody determined.

His former wife and her mother rebuffed his every attempt to see his daughter, he said. Although he has been the sole living parent since the former wife’s death several years ago, he has no rights to see his daughter.

Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The Hague pact is not retroactive, only dealing with cases occurring after its entry into force. But it can provide assistance to parents seeking visitations, regardless of when they were separated from children.

Christopher Smith, a House of Representative member, joined the people in making the calls on the Japanese government.

“Parents here today whose children were abducted prior to ratification cannot be left behind again,” said Smith, who heads the House subcommittee on global human rights and international organizations.

The fathers came to Washington from across the country, with one flying from as far away as Singapore. Some described Japan as a child custody “black hole.”

The fathers and the supporters, including attorneys, asked the U.S. State Department to help realize reunions with their children in a meeting with Beth Payne, director of the department’s Office of Children’s Issues.

The department received 28 applications, involving some 40 children, from the group on Monday. The office has been working on 58 other cases involving around 80 children as of February 2014, according to a department official.

While the department’s spokeswoman Marie Harf described Japan’s participation in the Hague Convention as “a positive change,” many parents who took part in Monday’s events indicated they have little faith that the Japanese government would help them retrieve their children.

They also said they are worried that cases would be remanded to local family courts, which lack expertise on the convention and have traditionally given custody to mothers. Nor does Japan have reciprocal custody agreement with the United States.

The group’s attorney Stephen Cullen mentioned that 200 more applications will be submitted within the year.

==Kyodo

Copyright 2014 Kyodo News International.

All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131211/us-house-pressures-countries-child-abductions

Agence France-Presse December 11, 2013 9:03pm

US House pressures countries on child abductions


(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to punish countries that do not promptly return abducted children, upping pressure in an issue that has soured relations with Japan and other allies.

With no dissenting votes, the House voted to create an annual report to assess every country’s history of child abductions and to require President Barack Obama to take action against nations with poor records.

Potential US measures include refusing export licenses for American technology, cutting development assistance and putting off scientific or cultural exchanges. The president would have the right to waive the punishment.

Representative Chris Smith, the author of the legislation, said it would put the force of the US government behind solving the more than 1,000 cases each year in which US children are taken overseas, generally by a foreign parent after separation from an American partner.

“It is a full-court press to finally elevate this issue, where American children’s human rights are being violated with impunity,” Smith told reporters.

“Right now, it’s like other human rights abuses, maybe on page five as an asterisk” in talks between the United States and other countries, he said.

Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, previously led legislation that set up annual reports on human trafficking and religious freedom, which have often caused discomfort for countries deemed to be lagging behind.

The child abduction legislation still needs approval in the Democratic-led Senate, but Smith voiced confidence at passage as the bill has been revised over several years to ensure support of both parties. The State Department had initially voiced concern at proposals to impose outright economic sanctions over child abductions.

By far, the greatest number of abduction cases takes place in Japan, the only major industrialized nation that has not ratified the 1980 Hague convention that requires countries to send abducted children back to the countries where they usually live.

Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents or fathers.

Paul Toland, who served in the US Navy in Japan, said that his daughter Erika was put in the care of her maternal grandmother and that he has no visitation rights after the girl’s mother committed suicide.

“For me, this will be my 11th consecutive Christmas without my daughter,” he told reporters.

In the wake of persistent US and European criticism, Japan’s parliament took key steps this year to join the Hague treaty. But critics say that the decision will not address past cases.

The House legislation calls on the United States to seek legal agreements with all nations not party to the Hague convention to lay out ways to return children within six weeks after abduction cases are reported to authorities.

Smith named the bill after David Goldman, who succeeded in bringing his son Sean back to the United States after a five-year fight with Brazilian courts.

“We won’t stop until we get the children home, one by one, child by child,” Goldman said.

Parents of children in countries including Brazil and Argentina said that they often had no recourse, even if individual officials in foreign countries are sympathetic to their cases.

Arvind Chawdra, whose two children were abducted to India, said he had no other option but to take out a newspaper advertisement because he does not know where they are.

sct/oh

The following email/information has been received from Paul Toland regarding pro bono legal assistance that may be available to U.S. parents to obtain access to their children in Japan using the provisions of the Hague Convention once Japan ratifies the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Paul is the contact point for this and his email address is pptoland@yahoo.com.

If you wish to have your case listed, the following is the information that should be submitted:

Contact Information
Name:
Address:
Phone Number:
Email Address:

Child/Children information
Child name:
Child Sex: (Male or Female)
Child Birth Date:
Child Abduction Date:
Abductor:
Last known address:

The following is the email from Paul Toland:

Subject: Article 21 Hague Convention Access Application – Requesting your response

All,

Please forgive the length of this email, but it is important to be a thorough and clear as possible. With Japan nearing ratification of the Hague Convention, we have the opportunity to gain access to our children under Article 21 of the Hague, which reads:

“An application to make arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access may be presented to the Central Authorities of the Contracting States in the same way as an application for the return of a child. The Central Authorities are bound by the obligations of co-operation which are set forth in Article 7 to promote the peaceful enjoyment of access rights and the fulfillment of any conditions to which the exercise of those rights may be subject. The Central Authorities shall take steps to remove, as far as possible, all obstacles to the exercise of such rights.
The Central Authorities, either directly or through intermediaries, may initiate or assist in the institution of proceedings with a view to organizing or protecting these rights and securing respect for the conditions to which the exercise of these rights may be subject.”

I know this is not what everyone wants, we want our children returned, but my attorney, renowned Hague attorney Stephen Cullen, has told me that if done properly and en masse, simultaneous delivery of dozens or perhaps hundreds of Hague Access applications in the immediate aftermath of Hague Ratification by Japan would severely test Japan and put them on notice that we’re watching their compliance. Stephen is perhaps one the foremost Hague attorneys in the US (Baltimorean of the Year in 2004, American Bar Association Pro Bono Attorney of the Year 2003, Maryland Trial Attorney of the Year in 2008, etc.) having litigated over 200 Hague Abduction Cases, with well over 100 successful returns. He has VOLUNTEERED to submit Hague Applications for ANY AND ALL JAPAN ABDUCTION CASES PRO BONO.

The plan would be to hold an event in DC shortly after Japan ratifies the Hague, where we march en masse from his office on K Street in DC to the State Department to deliver the Hague Article 21 Access Applications. We would do this march in front of members of the press and garner as much publicity as we can. Additionally we would do a symbolic delivery of the Applications in front of the Japanese Embassy as well (although the actual applications would be delivered from our Central Authority, the State Department, to Japan’s Central Authority). First, though, Japan has to ratify the Hague and Stephen has to prepare the applications.

Questions and Answers:

1. Question: Who can submit an Article 21 Hague Application:
Answer: ANYONE who is a US Citizen and has a US Citizen or dual-national child in Japan that they do not currently have access to. This includes what have historically been referred to as both “Abduction” cases and “Access” cases.

2. Question: Will performing an Article 21 Hague Application affect my ongoing legal case in any way?
Answer: No, if you have Warrants out for the arrest of your former spouse, those warrants still stand. This is simply a request to have access to your child under Article 21 of the Hague.

3. Question: I am American, but I do not currently live in the United States, can I still submit an Article 21 Hague Application to see my child?
Answer: Yes.

4. Question: Will this process subject me to the Jurisdiction of the Japanese courts, and affect the US Court jurisdiction over my case?
Answer: It will not affect your US jurisdiction of your case, but the Japanese court system may be utilized under the Hague in facilitating the access to your child. The extent to which the Japanese court system will be used is really a matter of how the Hague implementing legislation is written in Japan.

5. Question: I am not a US Citizen. Can I participate?
Answer: Yes and no. You cannot file via Stephen Cullen with the US State Department. However, you can file an Article 21 Hague Access application through your country of citizenship, and I highly encourage you to do so to further test Japan’s system.

6. Question: What will this cost me?
Answer: Stephen, whose normal attorney fees are about $800 per hour, is doing this PRO BONO. There will probably only be small costs associated with copying, and filing fees.

So what’s the first step? Stephen has asked me to collect as many names as possible of as many parents who would be interested in filing Hague Article 21 Applications. We are hoping to get at least 50, and if we get 100 that would be a tremendous success. I will collect your information centrally for Stephen and then his office will be contacting you to begin the process. I am not sure if he will begin the process prior to Japan’s ratification of the Hague or after. I will let you know when I find out.

For now, though, please provide some basic information to me so I can collect it for Stephen. Your name, your current address, phone, email address, and the names and ages of your children. Stephen’s office will collect more information after the process begins, but for now, I’m simply trying to get a parent and child head count and contact information.

Please distribute this request as far and wide as you can among the community of US Citizen parents who have had their children taken from them to or within Japan. The more parents we get, the better!

Thank you. Paul Toland

April 16, 2013

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/17/national/film-sheds-light-on-plight-of-left-behind-parents/#.UW3xorWUSeR

NATIONAL
Film sheds light on plight of left-behind parents
BY MASAMI ITO
STAFF WRITER
APR 17, 2013
ARTICLE HISTORY
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Images of left-behind parents, holding up photos of their children, flash across the screen. In the United States, Canada, Europe and even Japan, these parents are waiting to reunite with offspring taken away by their estranged Japanese spouses.

The documentary film “From The Shadows,” completed last December, features five left-behind parents and their struggles to reconnect with their children.

During a recent interview with The Japan Times, producer and director David Hearn stressed that he was motivated to make the film to raise awareness and understanding.

In the 6½ years it took to make the film, Hearn and his coproducer and codirector, Matthew Antell, traveled to five countries, including Japan, to chronicle the parents’ torments.

“When you get to meet left-behind parents and know more about them, you can feel the kind of pain and heartache they experience. These parents are not different from you or me, they are real, imperfect, but always loving and desperate to reconnect with their own children,” Hearn said.

“Their relationship with their children fulfills their identity, who they are and without it they are often shattered.”

Regan Suzuki, Paul Toland and Paul Wong from the U.S., Murray Wood from Canada and Rina Furuichi from Japan, the parents in the film, all have had their children taken away by a Japanese spouse or relatives of the estranged spouse, and all have effectively had no contact with their sons and daughters.

These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Many left-behind parents have spent years trying to reconnect with children who have been taken to Japan from abroad. Toland, for example, has been forced to live apart from his daughter, who was only 9 months old at the time his then-wife took her in 2003. Wood has been separated from his two children since November 2004, when they were just elementary school students.

“When kids need parents is when they’re growing up. They need me now,” Wood says in the film. “They need their dad to help them go from where they are now to solid, confident adults who have the best chance that they possibly can to be successful in life. That’s what they need, that’s what my job is.”

Some of the fathers, including Wood, take the desperate step of approaching their children as they walk to school. Although Wood succeeds, the lack of contact over the years makes their reunion heartbreakingly awkward as Wood struggles to interact with his son and daughter.

Hearn, who as a child was himself caught in the middle of a bruising custody battle between his parents, encourages left-behind parents to reach out to their children, to let them know that they haven’t been forgotten. The director recalled the awkward interactions when his father started showing up at his sporting events, but he was grateful for the man’s efforts, even though they didn’t have much to say to each other.

“For children who are growing up, learning and developing, the sudden loss of one parent can be devastating. I was lucky because losing one of my parents was never a consideration when my parents had their custody battle, but for children in Japan, if a custody battle occurs, it often means that they will lose contact with one parent,” Hearn said. “We find it unacceptable that this result is the best we can do for our kids.”

The underlying problem for many cases is Japan’s refusal to join The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The treaty aims to prevent cross-border kidnappings by parents and to secure the swift return of children wrongfully taken or who are being held in any member state.

After years of international criticism, the government is finally poised to join the 89 other member states, if the Diet approves related bills as early as next month.

Japan is also the only Group of Eight nation that has yet to sign on to the treaty.

Many such abductions are in defiance of court rulings on child custody and visitation rights handed down in other countries that had been the offsprings’ nation of domicile, as well as the nation where they were born. Thus when a ruling is violated by an apparent flight to another country, the spouse could be subject to a fugitive arrest warrant.

Strong domestic opposition, however, remains.

Many Japanese mothers, for example, claim domestic violence prompted them to take the children to Japan in the first place. And Japanese authorities have repeatedly stressed that in such cases, children will not be sent back regardless of the convention.

Left-behind parents, however, feel this argument could be an easy justification for courts in Japan to side with the alleged abused party and not return their children.

“I’m worried because there are plenty of signatory countries all over the world (whose) compliance record can be very up or down,” Hearn said. “My worry is that Japan signs but nothing really changes. But I hope I’m wrong.”

Some experts and foreign officials have also questioned the effectiveness of Japan’s participation, citing not only the sole-custody law but also the custom of not proactively supporting visitation rights for noncustodial parents.

According to Japanese family courts, there were 409 cases of parents seeking the return of their abducted children in 2001 — a number that jumped to 1,985 by 2011. Experts point out that undoubtedly many more cases exist because these numbers reflect only those cases that have been acknowledged by the courts.

Hearn, along with many left-behind parents, expressed guarded optimism about Japan’s readiness to comply with the treaty.

“We are aware that signing The Hague Convention will not cure everything because there will continue to be situations that are difficult to handle,” Hearn said. “But if signing the treaty accomplishes one thing, we hope that it will create a situation where more relationships between children and their parents are kept intact.”

For more information, visit fromtheshadowsmovie.com.

A screening of the practically finished version of the “From the Shadows” documentary film about child abduction in Japan took place on November 7 at the Capitol Visitor Center Theater in Washington, D.C.  The screening was sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith’s office and invitees consisted largely of left-behind parents and their family members

“From the Shadows” is a hard hitting, superbly made documentary film that has been years in the making.  It documents the heartbreaking attempts of left-behind parents to see their children in Japan and accurately exposes how the system facilitates child abductions in Japan.  In addition to featuring a Japanese mother whose child was taken by her Japanese husband, the film also focuses in depth on four international cases:  Canadian father Murray Wood, U.S. fathers Paul Toland and Paul Wong, and U.S. mother Regan Haight.

The film is directed and produced by Matt Antell and David Hearn.  Although David Hearn was unable to attend the screening, Matt Antell was present and also participated in a panel afterwards with Paul Toland and Murray Wood, which can be viewed at the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3bNNyVkH60

In his remarks, Matt Antell noted that the producers are hoping that the film will be shown at the Berlin International Film Festival and also possibly the Sundance film festival in 2012.

To learn more about the film and how you can help, please visit the following link:

http://www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com/

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20110727a3.html

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Left-behind parents waiting


By PAUL TOLAND

 

Special to The Japan Times

 

WASHINGTON — Ever since Christopher Savoie was arrested in 2009 after a failed attempt to retrieve his abducted children, Japan has been overwhelmed by international pressure to resolve its ever-increasing number of abduction cases. After years of demarches and public pleas by foreign governments, Japan has finally announced its intention to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

For the 85 other governments that have signed onto to this treaty, it represents a guideline for returning children who have been abducted abroad, and it represents a promise that a foreign court will not simply usurp custody orders and “steal” jurisdiction away from a child’s habitual residence.

While the rest of the world has greeted Japan’s announcement with cautious optimism, left-behind parents who have been victimized by this human rights tragedy have followed the government’s discussions closely, and with growing concern. Watching the parliamentary debates that have been taking place in the Japanese Diet, it is difficult to believe that Japan intends to abide by the Hague treaty in good faith.

To date, most debate within the Japanese Diet has revolved around creating “exceptions” under which Japan would not have to return abducted children. These telling debates are in obvious opposition to the spirit of the Hague treaty in which signatories purport to want to return a child to his or her home following an abduction.

Also disturbing is that Japan government officials are considering a three-year “preparatory” period before ratifying and implementing the Hague treaty, yet the same government officials have claimed for the past 25 years that they have been “studying” the Hague treaty, and the Japanese Diet has been conducting a working group on reforming family law for the past several years. With that much study and preparation, why would the Japanese government need longer than the one year preparatory period that has been more than sufficient for most other countries?

As the National Director for Bring Abducted Children Home (BAC Home), a Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and obtaining the return of children kidnapped to and/or wrongfully retained in Japan, and a left-behind and the only living parent to my daughter, who was abducted to Japan eight years ago, I worked with BAC Home parents to outline our concerns in a press release directed at the Japanese government. The press release makes specific demands of the Japanese government in order to assure that Japan is, in fact, intending to abide by the Hague treaty in good faith and with the basic understanding that it is not in a child’s best interest to be kidnapped in the first place.

First, members of BAC Home are gravely concerned that the Japanese government will not be willing to address the current cases of parental abduction (since the Hague treaty is not retroactive).

Japan owes it to these children and the parents who have suffered for years from this grave injustice to provide a bilateral framework solution to promptly return these abducted children to their habitual residence without delay.

Second, Japan must utilize standard rules of evidence when domestic violence is alleged. Allegations alone are not adequate to prevent the return of a child. Evidence, originating in the child’s country of habitual residence, must be utilized to rise to the Hague treaty’s legal burden of proof standard of “clear and convincing” evidence required in domestic violence allegations.

Currently, abductors in Japan are able to cut off all access to the Left-Behind Parent through unsubstantiated hearsay allegations. Facts and evidence are optional, but not necessary under Japan’s proposed system for Hague Return Denial, and this is unacceptable.

Third, Japan must provide unfettered access to our children. Article 21 of the Hague treaty directs that countries will “remove, as far as possible, all obstacles to the exercise of (parental access) rights.” Japan’s idea of access is restricted to courthouse playrooms and police boxes, roughly equivalent to the access that Felon Criminals in the United States have to their children. Left-behind parents want Japan’s assurance that access to our children will be unfettered and dignified.

Additionally, the Japanese government seems concerned that international child abduction is considered a crime in many other nations, and has vowed to not return abductors who are labeled as criminals or charged with a crime. This is not a determination for Japan to make. Japan cannot simply exonerate its citizens who break the laws of another nation while residing in that nation.

For years the Japanese government has used the subjective phrase “best interest of the child” to justify abductions by its citizens and deny access to left-behind parents. Left-behind parents are unsure how Japan’s signing of the Hague treaty will alter this long-held practice. Typically in Japan,the judge individually defines “best interest” without standards or guidance, using the “best interest” of a child as a “catchall” to justify judicial rulings preventing the abducted child from being returned to the left-behind parent. In one reported case, custody of a child was given to a mother because the “best interest” analysis required that she live in a house with a Japanese garden, which the mother had and the left-behind father did not. If and when Japan finally signs the Hague treaty, other countries will be watching Japanese very closely for decisions rendered based on an illogical bias such as this.

Finally, and most seriously, 20 American children abducted to or wrongfully retained in Japan are unaccounted for since the tsunami and the ongoing nuclear disaster.

We implore the Japanese government to immediately assist in determining the whereabouts of these and all abducted children, and to relieve the left-behind parents of the grief and worry they suffer in not knowing whether their children are alive or dead.

Nothing is more important and deep-seated in this world than a parents love for his or her child,but of equal importance is a society’s responsibility to ensure that its most vulnerable citizens, its children, have the opportunity to know and love both parents. Let’s hope that signing the Hague treaty will move Japan one step closer to fulfilling this responsibility.

U.S. Navy commander Paul Toland is national director of Bring Abducted Children Home and the only living parent of Erika Toland, who was abducted in 2003 and is being wrongfully retained by her grandmother in Japan.

 

 

 

(Special thanks to CDR Paul Toland, USN, for coordinating this effort)

AN OPEN LETTER TO SECRETARY CLINTON

May 24, 2011

Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary,

We, the undersigned, appeal to you for help as left-behind parents of 114 American children who have been abducted and remain unlawfully retained in 25 countries. We also represent a number of U.S. servicemen whose children were abducted while serving our country overseas. Some of these countries are signatories to the Hague Convention while others are not, such as Japan, where we face overwhelming odds trying to reunite with our children. We and our families are devastated − emotionally and financially − by the loss of our children and seek your assistance in ensuring that the U.S. Government is exercising all lawful means necessary to return these American children to their home country and reunite them with us.

The continued retention of our children violates international law, ethical norms, and human decency. Put simply, our children have been stolen from us, and it is our legal and moral right to be a part of their lives. As our 83 cases demonstrate, there are a growing number of countries willfully ignoring or abusing their international obligations with regard to international parental child abduction. Each of us has had exasperating experiences seeking justice in foreign courts, where our cases are often treated as custody matters, rather than as abduction cases. Often times, victim parents are told to use the court system of the foreign country when it is well known that such action will likely result in a decision with custody of our abducted children being awarded to the abducting party.

Collectively, we have limited or no contact with our children, many of whom have been turned against us as a result of parental alienation, a documented form of child abuse. Our children lost half their identities when they were ripped from their homes, families and friends. Like us parents, our children’s grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and other family members have holes in their hearts left by the abduction of their loved ones.

We were encouraged by your July 2010 appointment of Ambassador Jacobs as Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI). However, in working with OCI, we have experienced little improvement in the quality of service provided by the Department of State and almost no positive results. The current system has failed us. While our children remain unlawfully in foreign lands, the number of new child abduction cases from the U.S. continues to grow at an alarming rate. There is an urgent need for change, not only to prevent more of our nation’s children from being abducted across international borders, but also to effectuate the expeditious and safe return of our abducted children.

International child abduction is a serious human rights violation in desperate need of your attention. In our experience, all too often these international child abduction cases do not appear to be addressed aggressively because of the State Department’s effort to maintain harmonious, bilateral relations with other countries or to pursue other compelling foreign policy goals. The Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual on the issue of child abduction highlights this point by instructing OCI case workers to remain “neutral” when handling these abduction cases. This inherent conflict of interest cannot be ignored and we need to place a higher priority on the welfare of our children. We understand the necessity of maintaining strong relationships with other nations, but this should not come at the expense of our children.

Over the years, both houses of Congress have held numerous hearings on the issue of international parental child abduction, yet precious little has changed as our absent children grow older. On Tuesday, another group of parents will gather in Washington, D.C. for yet another hearing. It is our hope that this will be the year that Congress and the Administration unite to pass new laws to strengthen our nation’s capacity to help the parent and children victims of international parental child abduction. We also hope that the State Department, under your leadership, will advocate for and embrace these changes to finally end this gross injustice affecting thousands of American children.

Madam Secretary, we applaud your past efforts and record on children’s rights issues, but we are desperate and plead for your assistance. It is long past time for this great country to show leadership on the issue of international parental child abduction. We cannot grow complacent with each successful return, nor can we forget about all the other children who are being wrongfully retained abroad. We are fortunate to have the strong support of groups which advocate for victims of international parental child abduction. However, we need your unwavering support and determination to bring our children home.

Madam Secretary, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you directly to discuss how progress can be made. Please help us to be reunited with our children.

Sincerely,

David Brian Thomas, father of Graham Hajime Thomas (Nishizawa) (Age 20)

Abducted to Japan in November, 1992

Walter Benda, father of M.B and E.B (Ages 22 and 20)

Abducted to Japan in July, 1995

Charles A. Hamilton, father of Dakota Carmen (age 15)

Abducted to Spain in December, 1996

Eric Kalmus, father of Amy Ito (Kalmus), (age 14)

Abducted to Japan in 1998

 James Filmer, father of Sarah (age 13)

Abducted to Germany in October, 1998

David Hendricks, father of Daniel and Patrick (ages 17 and 13)

Abducted to Norway in June, 1999

Mark & Lydia Harrison, father and grandmother of Jessica Danielle (age 15)

Abducted to Mexico in July, 2000

Craig Alciati, father of Peter Spencer (age 12)

Abducted to France in March, 2001

Michael C. Gulbraa, father of Michael K. & Christopher R. Gulbraa (ages 21 and 20)

Abducted to Japan in November, 2001

CDR Paul Toland, USN and Linda Toland, father / sole surviving parent and stepmother of Erika (age 8)

Abducted to Japan in July, 2003

Richard B Kephart Jr and Martha Kephart, father and grandmother of Richard Kephart III and Nicolle

Hyler Kephart (ages 15 and 10)

Abducted to Japan in November, 2003

Brett Weed, father of Takoda Tei Weed & Tiana Kiku Weed (ages 13 and 10)

Abducted to Japan in January, 2004

Klaus Zensen, father of Maria Carolina (age 7)

Abducted to Brazil in July, 2004

Ariel Ayubo, father of Lorenzo (age 10)

Abducted to Brazil in September, 2004

Robert A. McConnell, father of Bianca Damanik (age 8)

Abducted to Indonesia in January, 2005

Deana Hebert, mother of Bianca Lozano (age 17)

Abducted to Mexico in April, 2005

Paul Brown, father of Liam Shiratori Paul Brown (age 8)

Abducted to Japan in June, 2005

William J Lake, father of Mary Victoria Lake (age 14)

Abducted to Japan in August, 2005

Stephen Christie, father of James Kento Christie (age 16)

Abducted to Japan in October, 2005

John Donaldson, father of Michiru Janice Donaldson (age 10)

Abducted to Japan in November, 2005

George A. Petroutsas, father of Andonios (age 6)

Abducted to Greece in December, 2005, re-abducted in June, 2010

Michele Swensen, mother of Amina, Layla, and Sami (ages 14, 12 and 10)

Abducted to Yemen in February, 2006

Didier Combe, father of Chloe (age 7)

Abducted to Mexico in March, 2006

Kelvin Birotte, father of Kelvin Jr. (age 5)

Abducted to Brazil in July, 2006

Timothy Weinstein, father of Paul and Anna (ages 13 and 10)

Abducted to Brazil in August, 2006

Marty Pate, father of Nicole (age 10)

Abducted to Brazil in August, 2006

Nigel Lewis, father of Jasmyn Lewis and Cody Lewis (ages 9 and 7)

Abducted to Japan in November, 2006

Donna Hesse, grandmother of Kai Noel Hachiya (age 12)

Abducted to Japan in December, 2006

Michael McCarty, father of Liam Gabriele (age 9)

Abducted to Italy in March, 2007

Douglas Brian Gessleman, father of David and Joshua Gessleman (ages 7 and 9)

Abducted to Japan in May, 2007

Trevor Richardson, father of Andrew (age 5)

Abducted to Mexico in August, 2007

Paul Wong, father and sole surviving parent of Kaya Summer Xiao-Lian Wong (age 7)

Abducted to Japan in August, 2007

Kirsten M. Snipp, mother of Joichiro Yamada (age 13)

Abducted to Japan in September, 2007

Michael G. Canopin, father of Christian Lehua Haolalani Yuuki Inamura-Canopin (age 13)

Abducted to Japan in October, 2007

Jose Maria Cacho Polo, father of Jose Martín (age 11)

Abducted to Japan in January, 2008

Michael Sanchez, father of Emily Machado (age 5)

Abducted to Brazil in March, 2008

Randy Ernst, father of Joseph and Nicole (ages 13 and 11)

Abducted to Russia in May, 2008

Sean A. McKnight, father of Kelly and Julia (ages 15 and 7)

Abducted to Poland in May, 2008

Randy Collins, father of Keisuke Christian Collins (age 8)

Abducted to Japan in June, 2008

Carlos Bermudez, father of Sage Antonio (age 4)

Abducted to Mexico in June, 2008

Bandi J. Rao, father of Anand Saisuday (age 6)

Abducted to India in July, 2008

Carl Hillman, father of Sean (age 8)

Abducted to Japan in July, 2008

Conrad Washington, father of Conisha Kanna and Maximus Riku (ages 16 and 7)

Abducted to Japan in July, 2008

Patrick McCoy, father of Yuuki McCoy (Kojima) (age 3)

Abducted to Japan in August, 2008

Regan Haight, mother of Chloe and Aiden Kobayashi (ages 9 and 5)

Abducted to Japan in September, 2008

James Robert Allen, father of Joseph Martin (age 2)

Abducted to Colombia in September, 2008

Brandon C. Neal, father of Alexander Hikaru Neal (Sugashima) (age 4)

Abducted to Japan in September, 2008

Michael Elias, Nancy Elias and Miguel Elias, father, grandmother and grandfather to Jade Maki Elias and

Michael Angel Elias (ages 5 and 3)

Abducted to Japan in December, 2008

Jessie Duke, Roy Duke and Deborah Duke, father, grandfather and grandmother of Shanonyuma Ishida

and Rikki (ages 8 and 4)

Abducted to Japan in December, 2008

Matt Wyman, father of Jake Taylor and Alex Michael (ages 10 and 6)

Abducted to Japan in January, 2009

Roy Koyama, father of Emily Alina (age 2)

Abducted to Costa Rica in February, 2009

Devon Davenport, father of Nadia Lynn (age 2)

Abducted to Brazil in February, 2009

John Henry Richardson III, father of Matthew and Dylan (age 8 and 7)

Abducted to Mexico in April, 2009

Dhanika Athukorala, father of Kali Soleil (age 3)

Abducted to Dominican Republic in April, 2009

Richard C. Nielsen, Peter Nielsen and Karin Heintz, father, grandfather and grandmother of Leo Nielsen

(age 4)

Abducted to Japan in April, 2009

Darshaun Nadeau, father of Kaya Nadeau (age 2)

Abducted to Japan in May, 2009

Mzimaz Youssef, father of Ghali (age 2)

Abducted to Morocco in May, 2009

James Patrick Carol, Jr., father of Andrea Vanessa and James Patrick (ages 7 and 6)

Abducted to Mexico in June, 2009

Tracy Baumgart, mother of Saxon Rayne Kawar (age 10)

Abducted to Jordan in July, 2009

Michael M. Bergeron, father of Ami Amor (age 6)

Abducted to Peru in August, 2009

Douglass Berg, father of Gunnar and Kianna Berg (ages 11 and 10)

Abducted to Japan in August, 2009

Christopher and Amy Savoie, father and stepmother of Isaac and Rebecca (ages 10 and 8)

Abducted to Japan in August, 2009

Colin Bower, father of Noor and Ramsay (ages 10 and 8)

Abducted to Egypt in August, 2009

Evangelina Pena, mother of Ilias Badys (age 4)

Abducted to Morocco in September, 2009

Brett Purcell, father of Dante (age 1)

Abducted to Argentina in September, 2009

Bruce R. Gherbetti, father of Rion Suzuki, Lauren Gherbetti and Julia Gherbetti (ages 8, 6 and 4)

Abducted to Japan in September, 2009

Mark Gomez, father of Haydn (age 3)

Abducted to China in January, 2010

Jeffery Morehouse, Madeline Morehouse & David Sorlie, father, grandmother and grandfather of

“Mochi” Atomu Imoto Morehouse (age 7)

Abducted to Japan in February, 2010

Stan Hunkovic, father of Gabriel Julius and Anastasia Sierra-Marie (ages 3 and 1)

Abducted to Trinidad & Tobago in February, 2010

Sara Edwards, mother of Eli Kiraz (age 3)

Abducted to Turkey in March, 2010

Michael Hassett, Dennis and Ann Hassett, father, grandfather and grandmother of Noah and Kynan

Hassett (ages 10 and 7)

Abducted to Japan in March, 2010

Alex Kahney, father of Selene and Cale (ages 9 and 7)

Abducted to Japan in April, 2010

Brian Prager and Morton Prager, father and grandfather of Louis “Rui” (age 5)

Abducted to Japan in June, 2010

Antonio Quintana, father of Victoria and Virginia (ages 4 and 3)

Abducted to Argentina in July, 2010

Rex S. Arul, father of Rhea Immaculate (age 4)

Abducted to India in July, 2010

Simon Williams, father of Noan John (age 2)

Abducted to Brazil in August, 2010

Sheena Howard, mother of Talan and José Otavio Ribeiro da Silva (ages 5 and 2)

Abducted to Brazil in September, 2010

Dennis Patrick Burns, father of Victoria Emma and Sophia Marie (ages 4 and 2)

Abducted to Argentina in September, 2010

Richard Joseph Gatt, father of Natasha Joanie (age 6)

Abducted to Brazil in October, 2010

Douglas Trombino, father of Morgana Gray (age 2)

Abducted to Colombia in November, 2010

Ray Rose, father of Kaia (age 15 months)

Abducted to Japan in November, 2010

Robert W. Makielski, father of Isabel Marie and Gabriel Leonardo (ages 8 and 4)

Abducted to Dominican Republic in January, 2011

Tim Johnston, father of Kai Endo (age 6)

Abducted to Japan in March, 2011