http://www.dw.de/dads-doubt-tokyos-commitment-to-abduction-treaty/a-16647298

Society

Dads doubt Tokyo’s commitment to abduction treaty

Tokyo is inching closer to signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but foreign parents who have not seen their children for years have little faith the treaty will help them.

In the last 18 years, Walter Benda has only managed to see his two daughters once. That was for a few moments on a street in a Japanese town in 1998 after a private investigator managed to track down the girls and their mother.

His Japanese wife disappeared from their home in Chiba Prefecture, just outside Tokyo, after seeing him off to work one morning and rebuffed all his efforts to make contact with them. And as soon as he did find them again, they vanished once more.

Benda’s case is far from unusual. Critics of the Japanese judicial system accuse it of abetting Japanese nationals who want to leave their foreign spouse abroad and prevent them from staying in touch as the children grow up. And as Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japanese courts set the rules on access.

The situation is largely about foreigners living abroad with their Japanese partners who return to Japan, but the issue also affects foreign nationals who marry Japanese and opt to live in Japan. Unsurprisingly, foreign parents have been given short shrift in legal efforts to see their children in Japan. An estimated 20,000 children are born to mixed-nationality couples here every year.

Currently, Washington is dealing with 100 cases of US children being abducted to Japan, 30 cases involve Canadian citizens and British officials admit to dealing with around 10 cases.

Promises from Tokyo

The US is investigating nearly 50 cases of abductions to Japan

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with US President Barack Obama during his recent trip to Washington, the issue came up. The Japanese leader promised that politicians in Tokyo would soon sign the Hague Convention into law, bringing the country into line with 89 other signatory states.

Of the Group of Eight nations, Japan is the only one not to have signed the agreement. But even if Tokyo does sign the pact, foreign parents do not believe that Japanese courts will be even-handed.

“I believe it is quite possible Japan will sign it this year, but I feel it will just be window dressing, as is the case with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that Japan ratified in its entirety in 1994,” said Benda, the joint founder of the Japan chapter of the US-based Children’s Rights Council (CRC). “That agreement provides for regular, direct contact between children and both parents, but Japan does not honor it.

“I’m not very optimistic. I believe Japan is doing this more for symbolic reasons to satisfy its foreign allies rather than out of sincere concern about children’s rights.”

Benda’s experience with Japan’s appalling track record on child abduction dates back to July 21, 1995.

A normal farewell

“I had no clue that this was going to happen,” he explained. “It was the first day of school vacation, so the children were still at home when I left for work in the morning.

“I remember hugging both my daughters at the front door of our house before I left. When I returned home that evening, I immediately sensed something was wrong when I noticed that the children’s bicycles, which were normally parked in front of the house, were gone, and their shoes, and their mother’s shoes, were all gone.

“As I walked into the house I noticed a lot of the furniture, paintings and appliances were gone as well,” he said. “There was a note from my wife, along with a business card for an attorney, on the dining room table. In the note, my wife asked me to forgive her for leaving me.”

Talking to Japanese friends, however, he felt confident that he would be seeing his children soon and that the system would handle the situation in a similar way as is done in the US.

He was quickly to come face-to-face with the rules of parental abduction in Japan. Even though he remained legally married and shared equal custody of the children, it took Benda three-and-a-half years to even find out where they were living as none of the Japanese authorities would help locate them or provide information about their health or school situations.

He approached the local police, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the local city office, the health and welfare ministry, schools and education officials, the US Embassy, INTERPOL and various other organizations set up to assist foreigners in Japan. None were willing or able to help and he was forced to approach authorities in the US to have his children registered as missing and have an international arrest warrant issued against his wife for kidnapping.

No visits with daughters

“I have pursued custody and visitation rights through the Japanese courts twice now, each time appealing my case all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court,” said Benda. “I have never been granted a single scheduled visit with my daughters.”

Foreign fathers are often powerless in finding their children

In the US, the Justice Department has indicted his former wife under the International Parental Kidnapping Act as the girls are US citizens being retained overseas. The Japanese government, however, refuses to recognize the charge and will not take any action on the extradition request.

“I feel very angry and misled by the Japanese legal system,” he explained. “The Japanese Constitution guarantees the husband and wife equal rights in family matters and the Japanese have signed international treaties which guarantee children regular direct access with both parents.

“The reality is, the Japanese courts thumb their noses at these legal obligations.”

At the root of the problem, CRC of Japan believes, is that Japanese judges do not have very strong enforcement authority in family law cases. That means that even if the abducting parent is ordered by the court to ensure the other biological parent has access to the child, the court is essentially powerless if that arrangement is not adhered to. In other jurisdictions, if a parent is ordered to allow visitation and refuses to do so, that person can be charged with contempt of court and be imprisoned.

Pressure on Japan

CRC believes it is only the cumulative effect of international publicity and increased public awareness that have led the US and other foreign governments to put pressure on Japan.

In many ways, CRC Japan co-founder Brian Thomas admits, he and Benda are relatively lucky as they have at least sufficient financial resources to contest the legal cases through the courts and devote time to supporting other parents in similar situations. The majority of international marriages in Japan are between Japanese men and foreign women from other Asian nations. When those relationships hit the rocks, the women have fewer resources to fight for their right to see their children.

Parental abduction not only affects international marriages. Because there is no equivalent organization to fight for the rights of parents, CRC of Japan has several cases on its books of Japanese couples seeking access to their children as well.

Thomas moved to Japan from South Wales in 1988, two years after meeting his wife Mikako. Their son, Graham Hajime, was born in January 1990, but Thomas has not been permitted to see him since April 1993. He carries his son’s photo with him at all times.

And he is not optimistic that Japan signing the agreement will bring about meaningful change for him or other parents in his predicament.

“I hope that Japan can change for the better, for the sake of its own people, and I would like to be optimistic,” he said. “But history does not lend itself to optimism when dealing with Japanese matters of this nature.”

DW.DE

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/japan-eyes-change-over-snatched-kids

Agence France-PresseFebruary 19, 2013 23:00
Japan eyes change over snatched kids

(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be under pressure when he meets US President Barack Obama this week to pledge progress on a long-stalled treaty to prevent the snatching of children by a Japanese parent in international divorce cases.

Abe is expected to promise that Japan will follow through on a decades-old pledge to ratify the Hague Convention on child abduction, giving some legal muscle to hundreds of foreign fathers — including Americans, French and Canadians — kept apart from their half-Japanese children.

“Those are only the reported cases,” French Senator Richard Yung told AFP during a recent trip to Tokyo to press officials on the issue.

Japan is the lone member of the G8 industrialised nations — the others being the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia and Canada — not to have adopted the 32-year-old international treaty.

Key allies including the US, France and Britain have long demanded Tokyo step into line.

Diplomats say ratification of the Hague Convention could come during Japan’s current parliamentary session, which ends in the summer.

That would make it the 90th state to adopt the treaty, which is aimed at securing “the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or held” in another treaty state.

“These cases are particularly cruel — birthday or Christmas presents are returned,” said Yung, who added that he met a vice foreign affairs minister but was refused a sit down with Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki.

The changes would also offer hope to hundreds of thousands of Japanese fathers who face similar estrangement under domestic custody laws.

Japan is unique among major industrialised nations when it comes to the children of estranged parents.

Courts do not recognise joint custody — for foreigners or Japanese nationals — and almost always order that children live with their mothers, leaving desperate fathers with almost no recourse to see their children.

Many lose touch with their offspring if the ex-spouse blocks access, a common occurrence due to the widely held opinion that child rearing is a task for women, while men earn the money.

Yasuyuki Watanabe, the deputy mayor of a small Japanese town, has not seen his daughter in years. After the country’s devastating 2011 quake-tsunami disaster, he says he tried to make contact with the now five-year-old girl.

“And my wife called the police on me,” he said.

Michael, a foreigner who has lived in Japan for three decades, had a messy divorce that ultimately saw two of his three kids tell a Japanese court they had no wish to ever see their father again.

That, he says, was the product of “brainwashing” by his ex-spouse. Michael, which is not his real name, has never met his two grandchildren.

Sometimes, judges do order the custodial parent to send photos of a child to their former spouse, or to allow a short monthly visit.

But police almost never intervene when those orders are commonly ignored.

Ratification of the convention would not automatically change Japanese laws, but it offers hope for hundreds of thousands of Japanese men cut off from their kids, including Watanabe who said he recently met with the justice minister.

“I told him how the judicial system is malfunctioning and that judges encourage these abductions, whether it is international or in Japan,” he added.

But ratifying the treaty alone is no silver bullet and there are fears that future changes to domestic laws could lack both scope and substance, warned Yung, who cited public opinion as the biggest weapon in winning the fight for access.

Richard Delrieu, president of advocacy group SOS Parents Japan, has not seen his own half-Japanese son in years and also said that ratifying the treaty alone won’t change things overnight.

“This situation is not worthy of a great country like Japan,” he said.

jlh-pb/hg/ao/pdh

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/japan-eyes-change-over-snatched-kids

http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/abe-to-meet-obama-in-washington-on-feb-22

Abe to meet Obama in Washington on Feb 22
POLITICS FEB. 16, 2013 – 03:05PM JST ( 10 )

TOKYO —
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Feb 22, with North Korea high on the agenda.

Abe will leave Tokyo next Thursday on a four-day U.S. visit, accompanied by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is planning to meet new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news briefing on Friday.

Abe and Obama will use their first summit to “exchange views on wide-ranging issues, not only bilateral relations but also the situation in the Asia-Pacific region including the North Korean question, and to clearly demonstrate an enhanced Japan-U.S. alliance,” he said.

Abe, who took power after his conservative party won an election landslide in December, is expected to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative amid antipathy at home toward the U.S.-led scheme.

The two leaders held telephone talks on Thursday and agreed to seek tougher sanctions on North Korea two days after the communist country carried out its third nuclear test in defiance of international opposition.

© 2013 AFP

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20130117a9.html

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

Hague pact on fast track, Abe to tell Obama
Kyodo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will tell U.S. President Barack Obama when they meet, probably in February, that he wants to speed up the procedure for Japan to join the international treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes, sources said Wednesday.

The previous administration led by former Democratic Party of Japan leader Yoshihiko Noda had already made participation in the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction an international commitment.

The Abe team is aiming to submit a bill to the Diet early this year to endorse the convention, which sets rules for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of international marriages, to the country of their habitual residence.

Domestic legislation is necessary to join the convention, but a related bill was scrapped when the Lower House was dissolved in November.

Among the Group of Eight nations, Japan is the only one yet to join the convention and has been facing calls from the United States and European countries to get on board soon.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20121231a4.html

Monday, Dec. 31, 2012

CABINET INTERVIEW
Altering nonnuclear principles not on the table, Kishida says

By MIZUHO AOKI
Staff writer
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not considering revising the three nonnuclear principles that forbid the possession, manufacture or storage of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil, new Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida says.

Fumio Kishida
In a group interview with the media recently, Kishida said the Cabinet is not discussing relaxing the principles so that U.S. ships can carry nuclear arms when visiting Japanese ports. In July last year, a report by the Liberal Democratic Party’s national strategy office advocated altering the three principles to “2½.”

“The three nonnuclear principles are very important rules that previous Cabinets have valued,” said Kishida, 55, who was appointed foreign minister on Wednesday. “This should be kept in the future. We are not having a discussion on a revision.”

Unlike Abe, the former state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs is not regarded as a hawk. In fact, his appointment is viewed by some as an effort by Abe to placate foreign governments.

“I know that Abe’s Cabinet is considered rightwing or hawkish. But we have to explain (to the public that) there is a positive side as well, such as to execute things that we must do as a nation,” Kishida said.

“But I think it is also important to show our breadth . . . and show a sense of balance,” Kishida said, adding he hopes to help bring balance to the Cabinet.

However, he showed no compromise on the Senkakus dispute with China, insisting that the islets in the East China Sea are historically, and by international law, part of Japan.

He also emphasized that it was important to keep the lines of communication open with China to avoid any incidents.

Since Japan purchased three of the five Senkaku islets from their Saitama-based owner in September, Chinese vessels have been cruising near or inside Japan’s territorial waters around the disputed islets, which are called Diaoyu in Chinese. On Dec. 13, a Chinese state-owned plane breached Japanese airspace for the first time on record near the islets.

On the issue of nuclear weapons, Kishida, a native of Hiroshima Prefecture, said he wants to work toward abolition.

Noting that the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative, a 10-country coalition formed in 2010, will be holding ministerial-level talks in Hiroshima in 2014, Kishida said he wants to use the opportunity to improve cooperation with other nations.

As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Kishida said the LDP remains opposed to entering into negotiations as long as they are premised on abolishing all tariffs without conditions.

“If the prime minister visits the United States sometime soon, I presume (they) will touch on the TPP issue,” Kishida said.

As for joining The Hague Convention against child abductions by estranged parents, Kishida only said that relevant parties will be looking into the matter.

In March 2011, the DPJ government decided to prepare to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects on International Child Abduction.

“It is embarrassing that Japan can’t even have discussions about this issue due to confusion at the Diet,” Kishida said.

The government submitted draft legislation for joining the convention to the Diet in March, but it has been shelved due to confrontation between the ruling and opposition camps.

A graduate of Waseda University, Kishida worked at the defunct Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan before starting his political career as a secretary to his father in 1987. Kishida won a seat in the Lower House in 1993.