In International Child Abduction Cases – quiet diplomacy is not working


December 29, 2013

Source:  Washington Post

SEAN GOLDMAN was 4 years old when his Brazilian-born mother took him from their New Jersey home for what Sean’s father, David Goldman, thought would be a two-week vacation. Five years passed before the father again laid eyes on his son.

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“It was very painful,’’ David Goldman recalled. “The first time I saw him after nearly five years, he looked at me and asked me where have I been all this time. . . . He was told that I didn’t love him, that I abandoned him, that I never wanted him.”

The only unusual feature of this story is that David Goldman eventually regained custody, though even after the boy’s mother died in 2008 her Brazilian family continued to resist his efforts. He succeeded in part because Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)relentlessly focused attention and pressure on the case. Now a bill written by Mr. Smith, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, has been approved by the House, 398 to 0, and is set for consideration in the Senate. But the State Department doesn’t want the additional diplomatic tools the bill would provide.

According to State, 1,144 children were reported abducted from the United States in 2012. There were 1,367 in 2011 and 1,492 in 2010. State Department officials say they work hard to get those children back — or at least to get the cases fairly adjudicated — but they can’t or won’t say how many of those abducted children remain overseas. That raises questions about their claims for success for “quiet diplomacy.”

In a letter to Mr. Smith, Robert E. Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW), said the abduction of children by a separated spouse is a particular problem for service members, especially in Japan. Mr. Wallace said the service members’ appeals for help “are too often met with bad legal advice, misinformation or indifference. . . . It is time for the U.S. government to take concrete action.” An organization of victimized parents said that the result of quiet diplomacy is “that the Government of Japan has not once assisted in returning a single abducted child.” Japan at least is in the process of acceding to an international treaty on the subject; most countries have not done so.

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The House bill provides for a series of graduated sanctions against countries that demonstrate a pattern of non-cooperation; it also would encourage the United States to negotiate agreements with countries that have not ratified the treaty. In both cases, the executive branch would act only if it chose to do so; the bill provides for a presidential waiver. Nonetheless, a State Department official told us putting tools in the tool kit would be counterproductive because U.S. officials would face pressure to use them and other countries would resent the implied threat.

Given the administration’s inability to quantify its success, or to report any results at all, the argument for the status quo is not persuasive. An aide to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told us that the committee will take the measure up soon. We hope soon means soon. For thousands of parents deprived of the chance even to communicate with their children, quiet diplomacy isn’t getting the job done.

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Japan remains a nightmare when it comes to parental child abductions


December 29, 2013

Source: Vancouver Sun

There are few more heart-wrenching stories than those of parental child abductions. Forget the emotional dynamics that drive ex-wives and ex-husbands to use their children as weapons in an ongoing war. The greatest damage inflicted is on little kids, which is why for the past 35 years all but Japan among the developed countries in the world and dozens of others have signed on to the Hague Convention of Child Abduction.

Japan_Child_Abducted

The convention requires signatory countries to honour the court orders of other member states. The goal is to protect children’s right to have access to both of their parents.  And while the Hague Convention’s application isn’t always perfect, it’s the best we’ve got so far. Of course, it would be better if more countries signed on and then lived up to both the convention’s letter and spirit.

I’ve written a number of stories, most recently an update on five-year-old Max Kawabata-Morness, who was abducted July 26 by his mother Chie Kawabata. In the column, which follows below, I mentioned that as far as I knew Canada has never put pressure on Japan to either ratify or enforce the Hague Convention.

It turns out I was wrong. Strangely, the correction didn’t come from Prime Minister Stephen Harper or anyone in the Canadian government. The mistake was pointed out by  — Capt. Paul Toland, executive assistant to the deputy surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. Toland’s daughter, Erika, was less than a year old when she was abducted by her Japanese mother in August 2003. His last contact with her was in July 2004.

(Toland’s story is one of five in a documentary of parental child abductions called From the Shadows.)

Toland provided me a link to a 2006 Kyodo News International report on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first meeting with Japan’s then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Here’s part of what that report says: “Harper, who took office in February, was meeting Koizumi for the first time, took the Japanese delegation by surprise when he brought up the issue of parental child abductions and called on Japan to accede to the Hague Convention.”

Toland also gave me a link to a Japanese government press release from the June 17, 2013 meeting between Harper and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that referenced Harper’s 2006 comments about the Hague Convention and updated him on Japan’s intention to become a signatory.

Of  course, as I noted in my Nov. 1 column, Japan’s enabling legislation appears to have a massive loophole that would allow Japanese judges to reject any foreign court orders regarding children that run contrary to Japanese “custom.”

Here’s the column.

Kris Morness and his son, Max Kawabata-Morness, in Vancouver a few weeks before the five-year-old was abducted by his Japanese-American and taken to Japan.

Kris Morness and his son, Max Kawabata-Morness, in Vancouver a few weeks before the five-year-old was abducted by his Japanese-American and taken to Japan.

Kris Morness spent thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to ensure that his worst fear wouldn’t come true. It was a waste of the Vancouver father’s time, money and effort.

On July 26, his ex-wife Chie Kawabata abducted their fiveyear-old son, Max. A Washington court had previously denied Kawabata’s request to move with Max to Japan, ordering her to remain in Kirkland, Wash., and comply with the court-approved parental order, which included Max having regular visits with Morness in Vancouver and frequent Skype calls.

After Max missed a scheduled Skype call, Morness contacted Kirkland police, who determined that Kawabata had flown on a one-way ticket and had arranged to ship “500 pounds of household goods and personal effects” to Tokyo.

On Sept. 15, King County Superior Court issued a warrant for Kawabata’s arrest on the charge of custodial interference in the first degree, with bail set at $100,000. The prosecutor’s report noted that “the State has serious concerns about the well-being and whereabouts of the five-year-old child as well as the defendant’s unwillingness to follow court orders.”

But Morness’s court orders and even the arrest warrant aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as Kawabata stays in Japan.

The arrest warrant is only valid in the United States and there’s no way that a Japanese

court will honour the court orders. Simply put, from a stolen child’s point of view or that of a left-behind parent, Japan is one of the worst places in the world.

There’s no firm estimate of how many Canadian children have been abducted to Japan and not returned, but I know of at least six including Max.

And while Canadian politicians don’t appear to have ever raised this abuse of both human rights and children’s rights with their Japanese counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama spoke of the more than 120 abducted American kids often enough that Japan’s parliament agreed this Spring that it would ratify the Hague Convention on child abduction. Japan has yet to implement the legislation. And even if it had, while it may meet the Hague Convention requirements, it doesn’t appear to reflect its spirit.

The convention has been in place for nearly 35 years and requires that signatory countries respect and implement each other’s Family Court orders. The goal is to protect children from the trauma of abduction and ensure that children don’t end up stateless without any legal rights.

Before any foreign order would be enforced, a Japanese judge would have to agree to allow it. And that’s no easy thing.

According to information provided to me by the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa, the foreign court where the judgment was made would have to have international trial jurisdiction over the case “based on Japanese standards.”

Additionally, the legislation would only require a Japanese court to enforce a foreign judgment if it and the legal procedures of the foreign court are “not against the manners and customs or public order in Japan.”

So, what is Japanese custom? A year ago, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation asked Japanese legislator Masao Ido about parental abductions.

“While Westerners call it abduction, it’s common among the Japanese that a mother and child return to the mother’s parents after a divorce,” said Ido, a member of the judicial affairs committee. “If anything, (the Japanese) think it is not a bad thing. It’s really a custom.”

Ido snatched her own three children after her marriage ended. “Like other parents, I left a note so the other parent knew where the children were and understood that they were in a safe place.”

Morness holds out hope that Kawabata may change her mind and bring Max back. That would seem to be the best outcome for everyone.

But that rarely seems to happen. Like Morness, Richmond teacher Murray Wood spent thousands of dollars trying to get his son and daughter back. His son, who is now an adult, returned to Canada earlier this year after spending nine years in Japan. His daughter remains in Japan.

(Wood’s story is one of five documented in a film called From The Shadows, which is being screened Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Roundhouse at 1181 Seymour Street in Vancouver.) Morness worries every day about Max. But since September and around the time of the arrest warrant being issued, Kawabata agreed to resume Max’s Skype calls with his father.

Morness says the calls seem to be made at Starbucks and the connection isn’t great. The calls are often brief, ending abruptly when he asks questions like whether Max wants to come home.

Morness also isn’t certain whether his son is in school.

Even though Max has only been gone for three months, Morness has noticed that his little boy’s English is more heavily accented than before and the phrasing is a bit off. That’s another huge concern, he says, because English is the only language Morness speaks.

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Ken Spooner is finally bringing his abducted children home after 5 years


August 2 , 2013

Source: findandrewthompsoneeurope

Ken Spooner is finally bringing his abducted children home after 5 years 

Ken has returned home to England with his two sons. We wish him and the boys all the best.

Ken-Spooner-UK

On 18 July 2013 the Supreme Court of Zambia advised Ken Spooner that he was allowed to take his two children Devlan and Caelan back to Milton Keynes, UK.
In 2008, 4 year old Devlan and 18 month old Caelan were taken to Zambia by their mother on a holiday from which she never returned.
Ken appealed to the High Court of England and managed to get an order to return the children home but had to travel to Zambia to execute it. The order was successfully registered and despite an appeal from the mother’s lawyers, Ken was given permission to take the children home.
When Ken reached the airport he was met by the mother and her lawyers and the children were taken again with the help of the Zambian police.
He did not give up. He has fought long and hard over the past 5 years. He has had to give up everything.
The children have been deprived of a relationship with Ken and his family. Amazingly he is not going to do the same on his return with them. He is hoping that his boys can have a relationship with both parents, a testament to his character.
Ken is an inspiration in the way that he has approached the abduction of his children. We wish him all the best in bringing his children home to England. Emergency passports are being issued and it is hoped that they will return home very soon.
Further reading at these links
 

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Indiana mom could be jailed in Cyprus as she fights for kids


August 2 , 2013

Source: internationalparentalabduction.org

Indiana mom could be jailed in Cyprus as she fights for kids

Marla Theocharides is locked in an ugly international custody dispute

In a desperate attempt to stay close to her two children, Marla Theocharides packed her belongings and moved in April from Northern Indiana to Cyprus, where her ex-husband has kept their kids for more than two years despite US orders from Indiana giving the mother full custody.

Marla Theocharides

On a number of occasions, her attempts to spend time with Katerina, 7, and Marcus, 4, have been thwarted by their father, who has denied visitation and ignored an order from the US court in South Bend, Indiana that grants custody of the children to their mother.

It’s yet another international custody dispute, similar to that of another Hoosier mom who traveled to Greece earlier this year in order to get her son back. That case ended happily for Alissa Zagaris, whose son is now with her in Noblesville.

But for Marla Theocharides, 33, things are not going well. In fact, she is about to go to jail.

A Cyprus court issued an arrest warrant for the Mishawaka native Friday, alleging failure to pay child support — despite the fact she cannot get a job because the financially struggling island country has yet to issue her a work permit.

“I expect to be arrested this week,” Theocharides said in an exclusive interview with The Indianapolis Star. “I am not ­legally allowed to work in ­Cyprus until they issue me a pink slip. I have applied for it but have not received it yet.”

Theocharides is supposed to pay her ex-husband 500 euros a month under a local court’s shared-custody decree that is supposed to guarantee her visitation rights. According to Theo­charides, her ex-husband, Charis, is a business consultant for NCR (National Cash Register) in Nicosia and makes 4,200 euros a month, information she says she got from court documents.

Attempts to reach Charis have been unsuccessful.

Theocharides, on the other hand, is struggling. “I am living on my credit card for food and gas,” she said. “I cannot pay the money back; I have no income.”

For that, she expects to go to jail, though probably not for long.

“I am told they will put me in jail until I can pay,” she said. “When they realize that I cannot pay, they will make payment arrange­ments and release me.”

Theocharides moved to Cyprus because child welfare officials told Cypriot courts that her children need to have a close relationship with their mother. Both children were born in America when the couple were married. She quit her job at a South Bend dentist’s office and moved to ­Cyprus. Since that time, she’s seen her kids only a handful of times.

“They were all very brief (visits), of course,” she said. “My daughter is very brainwashed, so she will not speak to me or have anything to do with me. My son is fine. He plays and laughs with me. He lets me hold him and doesn’t want me to leave when it is time to go.”

Back in Indiana, her parents and sister are deeply concerned about events in Cyprus.

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“My mom has been taking it pretty hard,” said Raquel Muessig, 32, Granger, Theocharides’ younger sister. “It’s very frustrating because all the doctors there recommended she come, but then nobody helps when she tries to visit them.

“I feel like her ex-husband is just wanting ­revenge and wants her to suffer. She is causing stress in his life, and he does not handle stress well.”

Theocharides notified the U.S. State Department. An official there told The Star that the State Department is aware of “this private legal matter” before the Cypriot courts and is “providing all appropriate assistance and will continue to monitor the case closely.”

Theocharides first reported that her children were taken from her by their father on Jan. 10, 2011.

The couple met in 2001 while in college in Arizona and married in 2004; their kids were born in a South Bend hospital. Theocharides’ husband took the oath as a U.S. citizen in 2009.

In October 2009, the family moved to Cyprus, a move that Theocharides thought would be temporary but her husband considered permanent. In July 2010, she returned to the U.S. with the kids, and in the face of what she said was an increasingly violent husband, she filed for divorce.

Her husband complained to authorities in Cyprus, prompting the U.S. State Department to send Theocharides a letter requesting that she return the children. That was followed by kidnapping charges against her.

In January 2011, on the advice of the State ­Department, Theocharides reluctantly allowed her husband to take the kids back to Cyprus. Since then, St. Joseph Circuit Court in South Bend has tried to intervene, retaining its original jurisdiction in the divorce proceedings.

In September 2011, ­despite the absence of her husband and his attorney, the court finalized the ­divorce and awarded custody to Theocharides.

Since that time, she has been back and forth to ­Cyprus for visitation ­attempts that often proved fruitless and on at least one occasion re­sulted in her arrest and a short stay in jail.

Late last year, the welfare department and a child psychologist in ­Cyprus reported to the courts that the children were not doing well — they live with their grandmother and are cared for by unrelated nanny — and they recommended that Theocharides go to ­Cyprus for an extended stay to re-establish her ­relationship with them.

Alissa Zagaris, who endured a similar struggle with an ex-husband in Greece, said this case is more difficult than hers.

“Marla’s case is so much more complicated than mine, but the basic facts are the same,” Zagaris said Monday. “Hoosier kids stuck in a foreign land against all laws and treaties.

“I hate the fact Marla has put her own safety and freedom at risk by moving to Cyprus, but I understand why she has. Marla is my hero and 1,000 times braver than I.”

In Cyprus, Marla Theocharides says she is becoming very concerned about her own safety.

“I have been assaulted, jailed, followed and har­assed,” she said. “Anything can happen at any moment over here. My ex and his family are always planning something. I am even scared to go on the visits with my kids because I don’t want to get arrested in front of the children.”

But in a recent Facebook post, she showed ­resolve to stick it out until the end.

“He threatened me and told me that he has people after me and I will never last in Cyprus. WATCH ME. I will die for my kids. I am not afraid of him anymore.”

 

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PARENTAL KIDNAPPING CASE: Father In Court


July 16 , 2013

Source: whotv.com

An Iowa man accused of kidnapping his daughter and triggering an Amber Alert Friday appeared in court Monday to set his bond.

sean-shannon

Police say Sean Shannon abducted his 11-year-old daughter, Kiley from her Shellsburg home.  Fortunately, she was found safe in Cedar Rapids about an hour later.

According to Benton County officials, Shannon is not the custodial parent and did not have the mother’s permission to take Kiley. Authorities also say Shannon assaulted Kiley’s half-brother when he took her which led them to issue the Amber Alert Friday to find the girl.

Shannon is charged with third degree kidnapping.

During his court appearance Monday, Shannon became irritated and began swearing. Deputies escorted him out of the courtroom. His bond has been set at $10,000. Shannon is due back in court later this month.

 

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Lawmaker looks to reduce risk of child abductions in divorce cases


July 13 , 2013

Source: wincountry

LANSING, MI- State Senator John Proos is backing new legislation that would give divorce judges the power to order a change of custody for children when they perceive a risk of parental abduction. 

Senator John Proos

Proos says that, sometimes, a parent will kidnap a child when the divorce isn’t going smoothly. This plan would let judges evaluate possible risk factors and respond accordingly.

Risk factors for parental abduction might include previous threats to do so, or recent actions to get a passport. The new law would let a judge order prevention measures like imposing travel restrictions or placing the child’s name in the US Department of State’s Child Passport Issuance Alert Program, in addition to the possible custody changes.

 

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Kidnapping for Ransom Too Lucrative for Terrorists


July 7 , 2013

Source: ASP

Kidnapping Western nationals for ransom has unlocked an alarming source of funds for terrorist organizations, and current counter-strategies don’t seem to offer an effective deterrent.

Kidnapping

According to David Cohen at the U.S. Treasury Department, terrorist organizations have accumulated over $120 million through kidnapping for ransom (KFR) between 2004 and 2012—a fairly enticing supply of cash for organizations that have increasingly turned to criminal networks and techniques to finance attacks.

The U.K.’s Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism estimates that over 150 foreign nationals have been kidnapped by Islamist terrorist groups since 2008, many by al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). In fact AQIM alone received an estimated $65 million in KFR payments between 2005 and 2011, with notable kidnappings that include the In Amenas hostage crisis and the abduction of a German, a Swiss, and two British tourists in Mali.

Providing a rare look into the inner workings of the AQIM organization, a few weeks ago the Associated Press discovered a letter (verified by the Pentagon) from AQIM leaders scolding Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the AQIM faction al-Mulathameen Brigade, for his handling of the hostage negotiations for kidnapped Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler.

While the letter did provide valuable insight into the inner workings of AQIM, it most notably confirmed that leaders recognize the profitability of KFR as a long term strategy and that they are confident in their ability to negotiate higher and higher sums.

Although Canadian officials denied involvement, the letter indicated that Belmokhtar had negotiated $1.1 million in ransom (“meager” by AQIM standards) to secure the release of captured diplomat Robert Fowler in 2009. Some argued that while the Canadian government may not have paid the sum directly, officials have not denied that a third party was involved.

Most Western governments denounce negotiating with terrorists, but with the exception of the U.S. and the U.K. few seem to actually adhere to this pledge.

g8The G8’s communiqué issued last week did include a staunch guarantee from all member states to not paying terrorist ransoms. In addition to the three T’s—trade, taxes, and transparency—on the agenda, the world leaders united to “unequivocally reject the payment of ransoms to terrorists.”

This declaration marks an important step towards showing solidarity among world leaders and publicizing the issue of KFR in regions like North Africa. Higher awareness among travelers and private sector workers might be the best first step.

However given the inconsistency of governments in the past, the G8 declaration needs some more prescriptions to have consequence.

Interestingly the other recommendations that the G8 made to improve transparency and fight corruption could also help to mitigate KFR if thoroughly pursued, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.

Pertinent FATF standards include:

  • Linking customs and tax agencies to prevent money laundering and cash couriers
  • Establishing financial intelligence units that track illicit money flow
  • Stricter requirements for financial institutions to report suspicious activity
  • Criminalizing funding a terrorist organizations regardless if those funds are linked to an attack

These will help expose private companies or third party organizations that may be paying ransoms, with or without government knowledge, and impose much stricter consequences.

One potential obstacle is the difficulty with which governments label terrorists. As terrorist groups and other criminal organizations collaborate more, radicals will begin to use criminal surrogates to kidnap foreigners and negotiate ransoms on their behalf.

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This aspect has to be approached at a local and regional level. The U.S. can work with high KFR risk nations to improve protection services and institutions, but regional cooperation must improve, especially in North Africa. Morocco and Algeria have to reengage and participate in organizations such as the Arab Maghreb Union. Intelligence sharing from local sources and border cooperation can effectively combat criminal and terrorist operations.

If AQIM and other groups continue to reap cash from the KFR industry, other efforts to limit terror financing will become futile. The U.S. and the U.K. must continue to press Europe to commit to non-negotiation, foster greater regional cooperation in the Sahel and Maghreb, and increase public awareness of the high risk of kidnapping.

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