[House Hearing, 112 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION:
BROKEN LAWS AND BEREAVED LIVES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AFRICA, GLOBAL HEALTH,
AND HUMAN RIGHTS
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS
MAY 24, 2011
Serial No. 112-72
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
DAN BURTON, Indiana GARY L. ACKERMAN, New York
ELTON GALLEGLY, California ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
DONALD A. MANZULLO, Illinois DONALD M. PAYNE, New Jersey
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California BRAD SHERMAN, California
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
RON PAUL, Texas GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MIKE PENCE, Indiana RUSS CARNAHAN, Missouri
JOE WILSON, South Carolina ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
CONNIE MACK, Florida GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
JEFF FORTENBERRY, Nebraska THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas DENNIS CARDOZA, California
TED POE, Texas BEN CHANDLER, Kentucky
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
JEAN SCHMIDT, Ohio ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
BILL JOHNSON, Ohio CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY, Connecticut
DAVID RIVERA, Florida FREDERICA WILSON, Florida
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania KAREN BASS, California
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina
ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York
RENEE ELLMERS, North Carolina
Yleem D.S. Poblete, Staff Director
Richard J. Kessler, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey, Chairman
JEFF FORTENBERRY, Nebraska DONALD M. PAYNE, New Jersey
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas KAREN BASS, California
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania RUSS CARNAHAN, Missouri
ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York
C O N T E N T S
Mr. David Goldman, father of child abducted to Brazil and
returned in 2009............................................... 6
Ms. Sara Edwards, mother of child abducted to Turkey............. 26
Mr. Carlos Bermudez, father of child abducted to Mexico.......... 32
Mr. Michel Elias, father of children abducted to Japan........... 52
Mr. Joshua Izzard, father of child abducted to Russia............ 59
Mr. Colin Bower, father of children abducted to Egypt............ 67
Ms. Patricia Apy, attorney, Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C.............. 80
Ms. Kristin Wells, partner, Patton Boggs LLP..................... 94
Mr. Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis, World
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Mr. David Goldman: Prepared statement............................ 13
Ms. Sara Edwards: Prepared statement............................. 29
Mr. Carlos Bermudez: Prepared statement.......................... 35
Mr. Michel Elias: Prepared statement............................. 56
Mr. Joshua Izzard: Prepared statement............................ 64
Mr. Colin Bower: Prepared statement.............................. 70
Ms. Patricia Apy: Prepared statement............................. 86
Ms. Kristin Wells: Prepared statement............................ 102
Mr. Jesse Eaves: Prepared statement.............................. 112
Hearing notice................................................... 126
Hearing minutes.................................................. 127
The Honorable Ted Poe, a Representative in Congress from the
State of Texas: Prepared statement............................. 128
The Honorable Christopher H. Smith, a Representative in Congress
from the State of New Jersey, and chairman, Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights: Material submitted for
the record..................................................... 129
INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION: BROKEN LAWS AND BEREAVED LIVES
TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2011
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health,
and Human Rights
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2 o'clock
p.m., in room 2203 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon.
Christopher H. Smith (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. Smith. The subcommittee will come to order, and I want
to thank each and every one of you for joining us this
afternoon to focus on the deeply troubling and growing problem
of international child abduction, which occurs when one parent
unlawfully moves a child from his or her country of residence,
often for the purpose of denying the other parent access to the
child. It is a global human rights abuse that seriously harms
children while inflicting excruciating emotional pain and
suffering on left-behind parents and families.
International child abduction rips children from their
homes and lives, taking them to a foreign land and alienating
them from a left-behind parent who loves them and whom they
have a right to know. Their childhood is disrupted, in limbo,
or sometimes in hiding as the taking parent seeks to evade the
law or to conjure legal cover for his or her immoral actions.
Abducted children often lose their relationship with their mom
or their dad, half of their identity, and half of their
culture. They are at risk of serious emotional and
psychological problems and may experience anxiety, eating
problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances,
aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt, and fearfulness. As
adults, they may struggle with identity issues, their own
personal relationships, and parenting.
In 1983, the United States ratified the Hague Convention on
the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to try to
address this serious issue. The Convention creates a civil
framework for the quick return of children who have been
abducted and for rights of access to both parents. Under the
Convention, courts are not supposed to open or reopen custody
determinations, but rather decide the child's country of
habitual residence--usually where the child was living for a
year before the abduction. Absent extenuating circumstances,
the child is to be returned within 6 weeks to his or her
habitual residence for the courts there to decide on custody or
to enforce any previous custody determinations. This framework
is based on the premise that the courts in the country where
the child was living before the abduction have access to
evidence and witnesses and are the appropriate places for
custody determinations to be made. However, even though more
than 80 countries have signed the Hague Convention, the return
rates of American children are still devastatingly low. In
2010, 978 children were abducted through Hague Convention
signatory countries, and 360 children were returned. That is
only 38 percent.
Some Hague signatories are simply not enforcing return
orders. The State Department's 2010 Hague Convention compliance
report highlights 15 countries, Argentina, Australia, Austria,
Costa Rica, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Mexico,
Romania, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey, for
failing to enforce return orders. Many other countries,
Bermuda, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Honduras, Mexico, the
Bahamas, and St. Kitts, and Nevis, are failing to abide by the
Hague Convention provisions concerning the central authority
charged with implementing the Convention, the performance of
their judiciaries in applying the Hague Convention, and/or the
ability or willingness of law enforcement to ensure swift
enforcement of orders issued under the Convention.
Some taking parents will try to drag out proceedings for so
long that the child reaches the age where a court will consider
the child's wishes regarding a return. And David Goldman,
certainly, and others have experienced that very infamous
tactic. Tragically, abducted children are often the victims of
parental alienation, where the taking parent has filled the
child's head with lies about the left-behind parent. If the
child was not of an appropriate age to be heard when the child
was abducted, the taking parent should not be enabled to drag
out proceedings or motivated to psychologically manipulate a
child, harm a child, or manipulate that child to testify that
he or she does not want to return to the left-behind parent.
Countries that permit these practices encourage the child abuse
known as parental alienation.
In 2010, the United States lost 523 children to countries
that have not signed onto the Hague Convention and received
back 228 of those kids, a return rate of some 45 percent. Japan
has by far the worst record of all. It has not issued and
enforced the return order for a single one of the more than 321
American children abducted there since 1994, when the
recordkeeping began. Japan is currently protecting the
abductors of 156 American children under the age of 16. You
will hear from some of their left-behind parents at this
Japan announced this week that it is introducing
legislation needed to ratify the Hague Convention. However, I
am very concerned that Japan will add exceptions and
reservations to its ratification that would render its
ascension to the Convention meaningless. And, tragically and
unbelievably, Japan has already indicated that its approval of
the Convention will be meaningless to the 156 American children
already abducted to Japan. The Hague Convention is not
retroactive unless Japan makes it retroactive.
I and members of this committee strongly urge Japan not to
ignore the abducted children already within their borders. Just
this year, the United States lost 31 more children to Japanese
abduction. I can assure Japan that the hundreds of left-behind
American parents whose children are in Japan are not going away
if Japan signs the Hague Convention. Japan will not move past
its reputation here in the Congress and elsewhere as a safe
haven for child abductors until Japan returns all abducted
children. These 156 American children are bereaved of one of
their parents. They cannot be ignored, nor will they be
In the last Congress, I introduced legislation to impress
upon both Hague and non-Hague countries alike that the United
States will not tolerate child abduction or have patience with
countries that hide abductors behind the Hague Convention.
Yesterday I reintroduced a bill, the International Child
Abduction Protection and Return Act of 2011. The new bill, H.R.
1940, will empower the President and the Department of State
with new tools and authorities to secure the return of abducted
Under this new proposed law, when a country has shown what
we call a ``pattern of non-cooperation'' in resolving child
abduction cases, the President will be able to respond
decisively with a range of actions and penalties, 18 in all. I
included penalties that we included back in 2000 in the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act. I am the prime author of
that legislation. It has worked in combatting human
trafficking. It will work in combatting international child
We also included language taken right from the
International Religious Freedom Act, enacted in 1998, which
went through my committee. It was a bill that was sponsored by
our good friend and colleague Frank Wolf. That, too, has worked
to promote international religious freedom by having a penalty
stage, without which we can admonish all we want, but we have
to have something, carrots and sticks, in order to ensure
Based on past experience, as I said, we know that penalties
get the attention of other governments, and we know that they
Also reflecting my anti-trafficking legislation, H.R. 1940,
will raise the profile of the international child abduction
issues by appointing a new Ambassador-at-Large for
International Child Abduction to head a new office charged with
helping left-behind parents secure the return of their children
and to collect detailed information and report on abducted
children in all countries. This has to be taken to a much
higher level, and we have to put the full force of penalties
and the ambassadorial rank of this new position behind that
The growing incidence of international child abduction must
be recognized for the serious human rights violation that it
is. And decisive, effective action is urgently needed. Our
hearing this afternoon will help us all to understand better
the impact that child abduction has on children, parents, and
entire families and provide us with the opportunity to explore
the actions needed to end it.
I would like to now yield to my good friend and colleague
Don Payne, the ranking member of our subcommittee, for any
comments that he may have.
Mr. Payne. Thank you very much. Let me begin by commending
you for calling this timely hearing. As many of us know,
tomorrow is National Missing Children's Day. And it is fitting
that we examine a problem of child abduction in an
Losing a child is a terrifying experience for any parent,
regardless of where they live, anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, reported cases of international child abduction
are on the rise. In fact, the number of cases involving a child
kidnapping kidnapped out of the United States into countries
that signed the Hague Convention doubled since 2006, 2 times
more in simply 5 years.
The troubling trend of increased international child
custody disputes is likely to deteriorate as our society
becomes more interconnected and mobile. These heart-wrenching
cases warrant congressional vigilance and action. Currently the
Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child
Abduction, with 85 participating countries, is a principal
mechanism for enforcing the return of abducted children.
Though imperfect, the Convention has successfully resolved
many abduction cases and pressed signatory countries to
properly return children to their rightful residence. Through
the Convention, for example, the United States Government
successfully returned 262 children, abducted to or wrongfully
retained, in the United States in 2010 alone.
Nevertheless, as all of our witnesses will testify today,
key challenges remain. For example, the Convention's available
remedies do not apply to non-signatory countries, which leave
parents, like my witness Colin Bower, with limited legal
resources and support. Colin, I thank you for being here and
willing to share your distressing personal story and providing
us with insight on the hardship and difficulties of regaining
children abducted to Egypt, a country that chose not to
participate in the Hague Convention.
Many here in Congress are concerned with your case,
including my friend Congressman Barney Frank, who is here in
the audience--and I'm sure the chairman will invite him to come
forward and sit on the panel if he chooses--who along with my
colleague Mr. Smith introduced a resolution calling on Egypt to
return your children.
I want to thank all of the parents here today for sharing
their stories with us. Furthermore, the Convention promotes the
prompt return of abducted children. Long delays are often and
still too common. We are not satisfied. And often parents of
abducted children still face protracted legal battles with
potentially prohibitive legal costs.
Although international parental child kidnapping is a
Federal crime in the United States, the Convention also fails
to impose any criminal sanctions on the abducting parent,
despite the serious danger such action poses to the mental
well-being of the child.
The International Parental Child Abduction Deterrence Act
of 2009, introduced by my colleague from New Jersey,
Representative Rush Holt, which I co-sponsored, is designed to
deter potential foreign national parental child abductors by
increasing the potential penalties associated with such
abductions. Proposed penalties against the parental abductors
including freezing financial assets of foreign nationals within
the United States' jurisdiction, and revoking or denying their
visa eligibility to the United States.
Ms. Wells, I look forward to your analysis of the
Convention, the opportunity for improvement, including U.S.
As we reflect on the risks abducted children face
internationally, I would like to further draw special attention
to Africa, where at times we governments through our legal and
judicial systems and widespread poverty prevent adequate
response to child abduction and trafficking cases and leave
children especially vulnerable. Globally children in conflict,
post-conflict, and natural disaster crisis are especially at
risk for child abduction or its pernicious counterpart: Child
In some African countries, like Sudan and regions in that
area, such as the Sahara countries in northwest Africa,
abduction into slavery remains a horrendous practice. Child
abductions between ethnic factions in the Sudan conflict, and
especially of Dinke and Nuba children to the North from the
South, speak to the enhanced vulnerability children face during
conflict. As a matter of fact, many of us got involved
initially in the Sudan crisis, even before war really broke
out, because of the abduction of children. And they were being
sold into slavery.
In other conflicts, such as those in Somalia and Central
African Republic, amongst others, children are still at risk
for abduction and forcible conscription as child soldiers.
Scandals, such as the case of French aid workers from Zoe's
Ark, attempting to remove Chadian children, whom they falsely
claimed were often Sudanese refugees when arranging for
adoption abroad, for that of the Americans from the Southern
Baptist missionary, who attempted to remove Haitian children 2
weeks after the devastating earthquake, also false claimed to
be orphaned, remind us of the need to ensure that children are
protected in poor and especially in post-conflict and post-
Mr. Eaves, I look forward to your testimony on the risks
children face in such situations and how we can work to protect
children from abduction and trafficking when they are in the
most vulnerable states.
And so I look forward to hearing the witnesses. And, with
that, I will yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much.
We have two rollcalls on the floor. So we are going to take
a very brief--we are almost out of time on the first. So we are
going to run over, vote, vote on the second one, and come right
back and reconvene the hearing. So we stand in recess pending
the outcome of those votes.
Mr. Smith. The subcommittee will resume its sitting, and I
would like to introduce the witnesses to the subcommittee,
beginning with Mr. David Goldman, who is the father of Sean
Goldman, who was born in the Red Bank in 2000 and was abducted
to Brazil in 2004. Mr. Goldman spent 5 arduous years devoting
enormous amounts of time and financial resources and had a
great number of people supporting him in the community to
secure the return of his son.
In December 2009, I had the extraordinary privilege of
being with David and Sean when they were finally able to return
to the United States. Mr. Goldman recently published a book
about his ordeal entitled ``A Father's Love: One Man's
Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home.''
Mr. Goldman has been a trailblazer in opening the eyes of
our country to the agony endured by left-behind parents, and I
would say the human rights abuse of child abduction, obviously
we have all known about it. We have worked on it, many of us,
for many years. It wasn't until David Goldman opened the eyes
of Members of Congress and hopefully other policymakers around
the world that they realized just how the Hague Convention is
often gamed by countries, in this case Brazil, where endless
appeals can be lodged by the abducting family, so-called
family, the abductors, the kidnappers. And, frankly, that
process can be carried on week after week, month after month,
year after year, precluding the return of an abducted son or
sons or daughters or family members. He has really refocused
and revitalized a human rights movement that he launched by his
leadership. And I want to thank him for it.
All of the other left-behind parents have been tenacious
and courageous in their own right. But David's case, the
breakthrough case I think, will help everyone else. And that is
our, I think, the subcommittee's sincerest hope.
Secondly, I would like to introduce Ms. Sara Edwards, who
is the mother of a 3-year-old, Abdullah Eli Kiraz. Eli's father
took him to Turkey in March 2010 and has since refused to
return him to his mother. Ms. Edwards lives and works in Akron,
Ohio and is seeking concrete assistance in navigating the
obstacles of her fight as a left-behind parent.
We have another witness who is on his way. He is not here
yet. I would like to now ask Mr. Goldman if he would proceed
with his testimony as he would like.
Mr. Goldman. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF MR. DAVID GOLDMAN, FATHER OF CHILD ABDUCTED TO
BRAZIL AND RETURNED IN 2009
Mr. Goldman. Let me take us back in time a little bit. Good
afternoon, Members of Congress. I am honored for the privilege
to testify before you today.
For 5\1/2\ years, I walked in the shoes of the left-behind
parent. I lived in a world of despondency and desperation, with
a searing pain throughout my entire being. Everywhere I turned
I saw an image of my abducted child. Sleep was hard to come by
and never restful. If I smiled, I felt guilt.
When I saw children, whether it was in the store, a park,
or on television or even on my charter boat, where clients
often take their families for a day on the water, it was more
than painful. For the longest time it was too painful to be
around my own family members. I couldn't even be around my
nieces and nephews. It was too painful.
Where was my son? Where was my child? He had been abducted.
He was being held illegally. He was being psychologically,
emotionally, and mentally abused. I needed to help him. I
needed to save him. He needed me: His father. It was our legal,
our moral, our God-given right to be together as parent and
I did everything humanly possible, leaving no stone
unturned, but for many years, the result remained the same.
Sean was not home.
Although I remained determined and hopeful, I must admit,
the outlook for a permanent reunion with my abducted child
often seemed bleak, at best. I felt like a dead man walking.
The void left me a shell of the man I had once been.
There were orders in place. There were many orders from
U.S. courts demanding the immediate return of my child. The
courts in Brazil acknowledged that my child had been held in
violation of U.S. and international law. However, he remained
in the possession of his abductors.
Why were so many laws being ignored? Why were the abductors
and in my case, the Government of Brazil, allowed to flagrantly
violate international law with no consequences? Why were my
child and over 50 other American children still in Brazil,
another 80 or more in Mexico, and thousands of other American
children also held illegally in various countries in clear
violation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of
International Child Abduction?
It would take 4\1/2\ years, numerous court hearings,
extraordinary work from my attorneys in Brazil and the U.S.
(one of whom is here today, sitting behind me, Ms. Patricia
Apy, who will testify), a tremendous amount of political
pressure applied publicly and internally, and House, Senate and
state resolutions for me to finally be able to visit my
abducted son for a few short periods of time.
My son had been abducted by my wife and her parents and
held illegally for over 4 years. It wasn't until the tragic
passing of his mother that my son's abduction became
newsworthy. This finally brought it to the attention of those
who could and would actually assist me.
It took Congressmen Smith traveling to Brazil with me. It
took Senator Lautenberg holding up a bill that would have given
Brazil nearly $3 billion in trade preferences for my son to
Sean and I are extremely grateful for all of the assistance
we received from supporters, elected officials, the Secretary
of State, and the President of the United States of America.
Nevertheless, it is extremely rare for a left-behind parent to
be the beneficiary of this level of help. Yet, every other
parent whose American citizen child has been abducted deserves
the same help that I received.
This committee must realize that if the system had been
working properly, our Government would have had the tools
necessary to bring Sean and all of the other abducted children
home years earlier. It should not have required the
extraordinary efforts of Congressman Smith and Senator
Lautenberg. Senator Lautenberg should never have needed to
threaten a trade bill with Brazil because that option should
have been available to our State Department when countries
violate laws and refuse to return abducted American children.
As of today, there are many black and white Hague abduction
cases in Brazil and other countries where the law is clear that
the children must be returned. My case was the exception
because the abducting parent had passed away, but almost always
the abductor is still alive. These abducting parents and their
attorneys manipulate the legal system to their advantage,
stalling legal processes for years while our children grow up
apart from half of their families. For these left-behind
parents and families, time is the enemy.
With all the assistance and support I received over 4 years
and then another 1\1/2\ years after the death of my son's first
abductor, on Christmas Eve 2009, Sean and I were finally
reunited and returned home. It was nothing short of a miracle.
After 5\1/2\ years of my son's illegal retention and documented
abuse, he is now home, and he is flourishing.
He will be 11 years old tomorrow, May 25. As Congressman
Payne pointed out, his birthday, my son's birthday, is on
International Missing Children's Awareness Day.
Although the remaining abductors of my son have challenged
the Brazilian Supreme Court decision that brought him home and
continue litigation in Brazil seeking my son's return, in
addition to filing lawsuits in New Jersey courts, he is home.
He is happy. He is loved. He is allowed to be a child again.
And we are father and son again.
One thing my father said when my son and I finally reunited
and returned home, which will always resonate within me--and
that is how these parents and families live every day. My dad
said, ``Not only did I get my grandson back, I got my son
Our family will always be so very grateful for every ounce
of support from wherever it came. It is for this reason that I
am here today. To do whatever I can to ensure the pleas from
the remaining families, desperately fighting to reunite with
their abducted children, do not fall on deaf ears, as my own
pleas did for so many years.
Our foundation is assisting a number of left-behind
parents, including nine whose children remain illegally
retained in Brazil. None of these children have been abducted
by someone with great influence and power, like those who
abducted my child. However, the results are the same. The
children remain held illegally.
Other than my son, we are aware of no other child returned
to the U.S. by Brazil under the Hague Convention. In fact,
since Sean's return, two U.S. cases in Brazil received return
orders by Brazilian first-level Federal courts, which is very
good news. However, the rulings were appealed, the children
were not returned, and the lives of the left-behind parents and
their children hang in the balance while every day, the
abductors live with impunity as these cases drag on. Brazil
continues to defy international law.
I would like to note that Ambassador Jacobs recently
returned from a trip to Brazil where she had gone to discuss
international child abduction with senior Brazilian officials.
Ambassador Jacobs reports that the trip was a success and that
the U.S. and Brazil have established a working group, which
will meet this summer to discuss how to speed up Hague
applications and the adjudication of these abduction cases.
Hopefully, real change will happen, but to be clear, the only
way progress can be measured is by the number of American
children who are returned.
Right now, there are zero, zero consequences when a nation
flagrantly violates the Hague Convention and refuses to return
abducted children to the United States. Nations, including
Mexico, Germany, Brazil and Japan, which finally appears ready
to ratify the Hague Convention, discover quickly that the
United States is all talk and no action. These countries play
endless legal and diplomatic games with left-behind parents,
frustrating their hopes and breaking their hearts month after
month and year after year through endless, bureaucratic
maneuverings. The method and the excuses may vary from one
country to country, but the results are almost always the same.
Children illegally abducted from the United States almost never
come home. The current system is broken.
In the letter inviting me to speak at this hearing today,
the chairman states that the purpose of this hearing is to
explore ways the U.S. can help increase return rates of
children abducted internationally by a parent. First of all, we
can only help increase return rates if we start with a complete
understanding of the full magnitude of the problem, including
the true number of American children who were abducted and
continue to be illegally retained abroad. This is a difficult
number to find, and it is not presented as part of the annual
Hague compliance report submitted to Congress by the State
We keep hearing that the figure is around 2,800 American
children. However, the last three annual Hague compliance
reports prepared by the State Department show that the total
number of abducted American children for those 3 years was
These reports also show about 1,200 children were returned,
although we weren't able to find return data for 2010. That
would account for an increase of 3,528 abducted American
children in those 3 years alone. And clearly there have to be
literally thousands of American children illegally retained
abroad whose abductions date back prior to the most recent 3-
How are returns categorized? How were these children
returned if they were, in fact, returned at all? Do returns
also include cases which the State Department has closed for
various reasons? If so, what are the criteria for closure?
Things need to change. We need a system by which these
abduction cases are registered and monitored by each parent's
elected Member of Congress. We need our elected officials to
work closely with the State Department on these cases to make
sure that all resources and additional tools are at their
disposal to make it clear to these countries that we want our
children sent home.
There is no valid reason for foreign governments to
illegally hold American children and support international
child abduction. This statement, however true, defies all logic
because there is never a valid reason to break the law and
support kidnapping. But as I testify before you today, this is
exactly what is happening in many countries to thousands of
American children and their families. These countries are
breaking the law with impunity.
The fact is very few left-behind parents will be as
fortunate as I was in having President Obama, Secretary of
State Clinton, Congressmen Smith, and Senator Lautenberg all
make my son Sean's return a fundamental foreign policy goal of
the United States. Even then, Senator Lautenberg had to put a
hold on renewal of GSP privileges for more than 100 nations,
including Brazil, to put the final pressure on both Brazil and
the administration, which led to Sean's return.
I wish every left-behind parent could have that kind of
support in the future, but we all know that few, at most, and
possibly none, will ever have that kind of leverage and power
backing them. What kind of leverage will these parents be able
to wield without the kind of personal, high-level support I was
so fortunate to receive from the White House, State Department,
Senate, and House to bring their children home? Not very much
and, in fact, probably none at all.
The Hague Convention has the force of law, but we all know
there can be no rule of law if there is no system of justice to
punish violators. Today Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and a host
of other countries face no real consequences for refusing to
adhere to the Hague Convention requirements that abducted
children be returned to the country where they were legally
domiciled within 6 weeks.
American treasure and our armed forces have safeguarded the
security of Japan since 1945. Yet, Japan pays no price for
refusing to return the abducted children of those American
service members as well as ordinary U.S. citizens whose
children have been abducted to Japan.
This committee and this Congress must pass legislation that
arms the State Department with real sanctions to exemplify U.S.
intolerance for other nations which remain flagrant violators.
Chairman Smith has authored such legislation. I support it, and
I urge all members to do so as well.
Similar to our anti-human trafficking laws authored by
Chairman Smith, his bill to combat international child
abduction provides a real and credible inventory of sanctions
to be used to help get our kids back. If you arm our
negotiators with such sanctions, they will immediately be taken
more seriously. If the Department employs such sanctions
against the worst offenders, other nations will get the message
also, and hopefully start to return our children.
What I do know is that if all we do today is express
outrage and vow to do better as committees like this in both
houses of Congress have done for more than 12 years, but fail
to enact Congressman Smith's legislation with real and credible
sanctions, our kids will not be returned. And we will be back
before another committee next year with more left-behind
families, more internationally abducted children, and no new
mechanism of improvement.
It is worth noting that this is the seventh hearing on this
issue since 1998. And I respectfully ask this committee to
think about something at the conclusion of this hearing. What,
if anything, has changed in those 12 years since we
acknowledged the seriousness of the problem of international
child abduction and realized that the system was failing these
parents back then?
When you read the testimony, it is as if we are caught in a
time capsule and suddenly the dates on the hearing transcripts
don't matter. All of these stories could be told today because
the reasons for the failures are the same. This is as much of a
bipartisan issue as there could ever be, and I continue to
plead on behalf of all the suffering families torn apart by
child abduction for our Government to act now.
My son Sean and I can never get back the time we lost
because of his abduction, but now that he is finally home, not
a day is lost on either one of us. Let us help the rest of the
families and begin with providing the much-needed tools that
the State Department so desperately needs to apply across-the-
board pressure that will ensure abducted American children come
I would like to conclude with a letter from the left-behind
parents of 117 American children unlawfully retained in 25
countries. The letter is addressed to Secretary of State
Clinton and was written for the purpose of giving a voice to
the thousands of parents who were not invited to speak here
today. Their presence is felt and many of them are here in this
room today. If I may, I would like to read this letter. And if
any of the parents or families would like to stand with me? If
the room were bigger, you could be assured there would be more
families. If this room were bigger, you could be assured there
would be more parents and families, making it even hotter.
``Dear Madam Secretary, we, the undersigned, appeal
for your help as left-behind parents of 117 American
children who have been abducted and remain unlawfully
retained in 25 countries. We also represent a number of
U.S. service members 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. It
is our legal and our moral right to be a part of their
``As our 85 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 abduction cases.
``Oftentimes, victim parents--and court systems of
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
``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. 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
``The State 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
relations 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
``On Tuesday, another group of parents will gather in
Washington, DC for yet another hearing, as we are
today. 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 embrace these changes to
finally end this gross injustice affecting thousands of
``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 strong support of groups
which advocate for victims of international parental
child abduction. However, we need our Government's
unwavering support and determination to bring our
``Madam Secretary, we would welcome the opportunity
to meet with you directly to discuss how progress can
be made. Please help us reunite with our children.''
And the families and the names of the children are at the end
of the letter.
Mr. Smith. Thank you.
Mr. Smith. Without objection, the letter will be made part
of the record.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Goldman and the letter
referred to follow:]
Mr. Smith. Mr. Goldman, thank you for your very powerful
testimony, for speaking and articulating the deeply held views
of virtually everyone in this room and all of those who
couldn't be here.
I would note that this is the beginning of a series of
hearings. We will hear from other left-behind parents in
subsequent hearings--we have three panels today--because every
single one of your situations needs to be aired, needs to have
the full backing of our subcommittee, which they do, in order
to hopefully, God willing, effectuate the return of those left-
I would like to yield to Ms. Buerkle for any comments she
might have, the distinguished gentlelady from New York.
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding
this very important hearing on the issue that will benefit from
more attention and more action from this Congress.
The testimony of the witnesses is truly heartbreaking. And
as a mother of six, I can only imagine what the pain is when a
child is abducted by a former spouse. It is probably the worst
nightmare divorced parents could face. And I want to applaud
the vigilance and the persistence of the left-behind parent in
your pursuit to get your child back.
Reading through the testimony was eye-opening. And
especially disturbing was the non-return rate for the
signatories to the Hague Convention. In 2010, the return rate
for signatories to the Hague Convention was actually 7 percent
lower than for the non-Hague Convention countries. Last year
alone, the State Department handled 1,501 child abduction
American citizen and residents.
These are our children. We must do better. This Congress
will do better. And I assure you that with our chairman here,
we will do better.
Thank you. And I yield back.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much. I want to thank Ms. Bass
for joining us, a distinguished member of this subcommittee as
I would like to now recognize Sara Edwards. And please
proceed as you would like.
STATEMENT OF MS. SARA EDWARDS, MOTHER OF CHILD ABDUCTED TO
Ms. Edwards. Thank you all for the opportunity today to
share my son's story.
My name is Sara Edwards and I am the mother of a 3-year-old
boy named Abdullah Eli. Eli is a beautiful, curious, and active
little boy who gives the most wonderful bear hugs, but I have
not held him since March 4th of 2010. And on that day, more
than 14 months ago, Eli's father, my husband, Muhammed Kiraz,
took Eli to Turkey for a family visit.
Muhammed and I met while we were both in college, and we
married in Kent, Ohio in 2003. Our son was born 5 years later,
while I was in graduate school at The Pennsylvania State
University. My family and parts of Muhammed's family lived in
northeast Ohio. So when Eli was 6 months old, we moved back
In January 2010, after 7 years of marriage, Muhammed and I
separated. We drafted an informal shared parenting agreement to
outline our intentions for raising our son. I believed this
document was a framework for us to work together as separated
parents in raising Eli. We acted under the plan, which called
for equal custodial time of alternating weeks with Muhammed and
I each visiting 2 days a week with Eli during each other's
I fully believed that Muhammed's participation meant he was
committed to shared parenting, as I was. Therefore, when
Muhammed wanted to go forward with a visit to see his family in
Turkey and take Eli, I did not object. I thought it would be
good for them to have the support of his family during the
separation. Muhammed provided me with the round trip tickets of
travel itinerary and also a signed, notarized statement
promising to return with our son.
Muhammed and Eli were supposed to spend 2 months in Turkey.
Now 14 months later, Eli is still not home. I certainly did not
want to be without my son for 2 months. I knew that I would
miss him more than I had ever missed anything, but I have
always felt it is important for our son to know his Turkish
family and to have exposure to that half of his culture. I
wanted to be fair.
I myself had traveled to Turkey five times before Muhammed
abducted Eli. On two of those times, Eli came with me. And we
also stayed for 2 months during the visit. It all seemed
I drove them to the airport on the day of the travel. And I
was there as they went through ticketing and security. I blew
kisses and waved to Eli as Eli waved bye-bye from Muhammed's
shoulders. Excuse me.
As I hold onto that happy last look at him, I now realize
that Muhammed actively deceived me from the moment we decided
to separate. For the first 2 weeks of their trip, I was able to
visit with Eli daily, but on March 22, 2010, my nightmare
began. Muhammed told me that he would only bring Eli back to
Ohio if I declared myself an unfit parent and gave full custody
to him. He told me he had already got a divorce and there was
not a thing I could do about it.
So the next day, March 23, 2010, I contacted Department of
State Office of Children's Issues; National Crime Center,
American Embassy; Turkish Consulate; and scores of attorneys
across Turkey and all over the U.S.
It is certainly now clear Muhammed never intended to bring
Eli home. He traveled to Turkey on March 6. And on the 10th of
March, 4 days later, he attended a divorce hearing. One day
later, March 11, 2010, the domestic court of Nevsehir, Turkey
granted full custody of our son to Muhammed. Muhammed got full
custody and divorce in a domestic court in a country where we
According to Turkish law, I should have been physically
present for the divorce hearing. Not only was I not present, I
was never informed of the case in any way. I never had contact
at all with the attorney, Hasan Unal, who was supposed to have
represented me. I did not even have hard evidence that a
foreign case took place until Muhammed filed the Turkish
court's ruling as evidence in our Ohio custody case.
To date, Muhammed continues to ignore the Summit County
court order to return Eli to Ohio. The judge signed the order
adopting our original shared parenting plan in June 2010, and
Muhammed and I are still legally married in Ohio.
My Turkish attorney submitted my Hague petition to the
Turkish Central Authority on January 24, 2011. I have learned
that the Turkish authorities have investigated Muhammed's and
Eli's whereabouts. And just this month, the Turkish Central
Authority has opened a case on my behalf in Kayseri, Turkey for
the return of my son. I await updates daily. I await updates
Over the past 14 months, Muhammed has permitted me to visit
with Eli by webcam, sometimes on a regular basis, but he also
abruptly cuts off access for long periods with no warning. I
schedule my daily life around the chance to speak with my only
child, and my despair or elation turns upon Muhammed's whim. My
son no longer understands or speaks English, and I struggle to
keep up with him in Turkish, but I am so grateful to still have
contact and maintain our bond.
Eli was only two when Muhammed took him. And now at age
three, I see him growing and changing drastically with each
visit. Every day I wonder, ``Is he thinking about me and
missing his mother the same way I am thinking about him and
Muhammed threatens to take Eli to Syria, torturing me with
the reality that each webcam visit could again be the last time
that I ever see Eli. Excuse me.
The obstacles I face fighting the abduction of my son are
great. I am essentially on my own to fight a court battle in a
foreign country where I do not know the language or understand
the culture. I have to be continually vigilant as I learn to
maneuver this nightmare of uncertainty that accompanies
fighting for my son. Excuse me.
To date, I still do not know whether Eli has been issued a
Turkish passport. No one can give me confirmation that Muhammed
will be questioned if he tries to abscond from Turkey while the
Hague case is pending. No one can give me confirmation that
Muhammed will be questioned if he returns to the U.S. to renew
his legal resident status. These are things we can know. These
are obstacles that are ahead that need to be avoided. These are
things we can do.
I love my son more than anything in this world. And I am
ready every minute to welcome him home. And I personally ask
each of you now to commit to do all that is within your power
to restore the right of our children to have relationships with
both of their parents.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Edwards follows:]
Mr. Smith. Ms. Edwards, thank you.
Mr. Smith. Thank you, Ms. Edwards, so much for sharing
We now welcome Carlos Bermudez, who is the father of Sage,
who was born on May 14, 2007. Sage's mother abducted him to
Mexico in June 2008. Mr. Bermudez has spent 3 years trying to
bring his son to Durham, North Carolina. His presence with us
today is testimony to the fact that he continues to do so, just
like all of the left-behind parents who are so valiantly
struggling to reclaim their children.
STATEMENT OF MR. CARLOS BERMUDEZ, FATHER OF CHILD ABDUCTED TO
Mr. Bermudez. Thank you, Chairman Smith.
Your amazing support of Mr. Goldman and advocacy on behalf
of all families victimized by international child abduction is
something that I respect gratefully. I am sincerely grateful
for your efforts and honored to have the opportunity to address
My only son, Sage, was born May 14, 2007. Like many
parents, I spent the months preceding his birth rearranging my
priorities toward fatherhood and anxiously awaiting his
arrival. I knew being his father would now be the most
important role in my life.
In 2008, amidst increasing signs that something was amiss
with my wife, I was having serious reservations about the long-
term viability of our romantic relationship.
I was ultimately at a loss for what to do. While quietly
and thanklessly maintaining a demanding work schedule to
provide for my family, I tried not to read the writing that
was, in hindsight, on the walls, and hoped that our problems
would somehow work themselves out with time or keep long enough
for me to be able to find the time and energy to deal with them
Time was, however, not on my side. In June 2008, 3 years
ago, my wife falsely claimed there was a family emergency in
Tucson, Arizona. The emergency involved her never-before-
mentioned cousin, a 12-year-old who had gone missing himself
and whose mother was scared to go to the authorities for fear
of being deported.
Despite great discomfort, I didn't object to my wife going
to Arizona with our son to see what she could do to help during
this dire crisis. The only alternative I saw at that time was
to take time off from my job at IBM to care for our son alone
while my wife went to help find her endangered cousin. Being
the sole provider for our family that, regrettably, did not
seem feasible to me at that time.
My wife went to Arizona with our son for what was supposed
to be a few days. Once there, she turned off her cell phone and
only sent me occasional e-mail saying she was in Arizona and
continuing to work on this family emergency.
I didn't know what was really happening. Was my child
suffering or in danger? The idea that my son might be in
trouble forced me to stop refusing to ask myself the hard
questions about what was really going on.
As my uncertainty and fear grew, I began a frantic
investigation into my wife's recent activity, plans, and
associations. I traced the origin of her e-mails to find out
she wasn't in Arizona at all. She was in Mexico. I began to see
what she was doing and what her intentions were.
Although my wife has never endeavored to explain to me why
she did this, before long, I would learn that my wife had been
having a long-running affair with one of her friends in her
social group and had left to live with him in Nogales, Mexico.
After significant effort, I located my son and initiated
legal proceedings for his return under the Hague Convention.
For good reason, the abduction convention is widely viewed as
completely ineffective in Mexico.
While I could discuss the various problems in Mexico that
prevent the effective implementation of the abduction
convention there, I feel that doing so in this forum misses the
forest for the trees. In my own sincere opinion, our priorities
should not be to address problems in Mexico that we have very
little control over.
Child abduction in Mexico from the U.S. is as much an
American policy problem as it is a Mexican one. Inasmuch as
Mexico is cited for failing to take appropriate measures to
curb the international abduction of children, the U.S.
Government is likewise criticized for not taking appropriate
measures to protect American children or support American
parents in their efforts to recover their internationally
The proximity and close relationship between the United
States and Mexico makes the problems of one country the
problems of both and, by extension, places the responsibility
of addressing the problem on both countries. This type of
bilateral cooperation is part of a broadening recognition of
the fact that as neighbors, both nations share the
responsibility of addressing our problems.
American parents rightfully complain that they are alone in
dealing with foreign courts and legal systems. The U.S. State
Department has a virtual monopoly on information in such cases
but refuses to share this information or act as a vigorous
advocate for America's victimized families. There is an
explicit conflict of interest between states' goal of
maintaining pleasant bilateral foreign relations and assertive
and effective advocacy and assistance on behalf of American
Upon being assigned a case worker at the Office of
Children's Issues and having a first conversation with him, I
remember thinking to myself, ``My God. They have put the
Department of Motor Vehicles in charge of recovering my son.''
To my subsequent horror, I have come to appreciate just how
accurate that initial impression was. All of my entreaties for
advice, guidance, or practical information on how I should
proceed were immediately rebuked with claims that they could
not provide legal advice.
When I look back on the way that the Office of Children's
Issues orientated me on how to handle the abduction of my son,
I have very little doubt that they were essentially setting me
up for the rapid collapse and failure of the Hague application
for my son's return. By not providing me with some very basic
and essential facts, they were effectively guiding me down a
path that would lead to the fast resolution of the Hague
proceedings but which would also inevitably result in the
denial of my son's repatriation.
Because such a result leads to the quick resolution of a
potential diplomatic incident, they consider such results a
form of success and view the American children's loss of their
American family and heritage as an acceptable level of
collateral damage. It was only through obsessive focus and
efforts on my part that I managed to avoid the road that State
had laid out for me.
In 2009, the Mexican family court rendered a decision that
blatantly got every issue of fact and law wrong. In
contradiction of virtually every piece of evidence other than
my wife's unilateral testimony, the judge denied my son's
return to the U.S., claiming that my wife had been in Mexico
since October 2007, rather than the actual date of June 2008
and that I had waited too long to file an application for his
In order to further prove during my appeal that my wife had
provided criminally fraudulent testimony in Mexican courts, I
requested that the U.S. State Department obtain copies of her
entry and exit records to the United States. In the Kafkaesque
conversations that ensued, I escalated this issue to the
Abduction Unit Chief, who claimed they could not give me this
information because it would violate my wife's privacy.
In spite of the fact that we remained legally married and
that she had criminally abducted our child to a dangerous Third
World country, when I asked to then have the entry and exit
records for my son, for whom I am the legal custodial parent, I
was told that this was not the role that OCI played and that
they aren't allowed to give legal advice or assistance.
Furthermore, they said, the information I am looking for
would be of no use to me in court because Mexico and the U.S.
share a land border that allows for the fluid entry and exit of
persons between the two countries. Therefore, they claimed,
proving she had subsequently entered and exited the country
would not prove the date of the illegal abduction and
I couldn't help but wonder if moments after they had just
said to me for the thousandth time that they couldn't give me
legal advice, why were they now giving me legal advice. So I
asked OCI if they had a Mexican attorney, to which they replied
that they did not. Then why were they not telling me that the
information I was requesting was of no legal use to me in
Mexican courts during my appeal when it was my own Mexican
attorney telling me to obtain this information.
At various points throughout this request, OCI told me
something to the effect that a decision had been made in my
case, sometimes adding that the appeal is now up to me and my
attorney. The clear subtext of these statements was ``We
consider your case closed. We agree with the family court's
decision. And we aren't going to get involved or help you undo
what we view as the acceptable resolution of your son's
abduction case.'' No matter how unjust the resolution itself
may be, the important thing was that an aura of legitimacy had
been created around my son's abduction, and a potential
diplomatic irritant had been eliminated.
We cannot continue to offer up our abducted American
children as sacrificial lambs at the altar of pleasant
bilateral relations. The U.S. State Department and, by
extension, the rest of the U.S. Government's own willingness to
invest even the smallest amount of political capital in
protecting our children is inconsistent with our values as
Contrary to the idea that abandoning these children helps
us achieve our other more important policy goals, our callous
indifference to the plight of our abducted children only serves
to bolster the argument of America's critics that our foreign
policy is dominated by the interest of American corporations,
rather than a fundamental respect for justice in human rights.
America leads best when it leads by example. And I hope we can
continue to do that. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Bermudez follows:]
Mr. Smith. Mr. Bermudez, thank you.
Mr. Smith. Mr. Bermudez, thank you very much for your
Let me just begin the questioning first. And I will start
with you. I thank you for your very blunt assessment. You know,
I have spoken now to dozens of left-behind parents. And one
sense that I get from some and maybe from many is a fear that
if they are too strong with the Office of Children's Issues and
with our own Government and even with Congress and Senate
perhaps, there is a sense of retaliation that might come their
way or a lack of robustness in resolving their case and somehow
the case would be mothballed out of fear for that retaliation.
And you spared no words in expressing your profound dismay over
the performance of our Government. And I think that has to be
taken to heart in a very, very meaningful way.
No child should ever be a sacrificial lamb. You talked
about the aura of legitimacy, Kafkaesque in terms of your
description. And, frankly, when it comes to human rights, it
has been my experience over the last 31 years as a Member of
Congress who takes human rights very seriously, writes many
laws on human rights, that very often human rights is demoted
to an asterisk when it comes to pleasant state relationships.
Statecraft somehow looks askance at the human rights agenda as,
``Oh that,'' an irritant, I think, as perhaps you suggested.
And I am wondering if any of the panelists, and especially
you, Mr. Bermudez, because you were so strong on this, would
like to address that issue because I--you know, these are your
children and all of your children. And to think that you need
to walk on eggshells out of fear that all is being done that
should be done is done is appalling.
We are here to serve you. All of us see it that way. The
members who are here believe passionately in human rights. I
know that. And I think you will see that by their comments. But
no one in the State Department or here or on staff or anywhere
should ever put you, any of you, ill at ease that somehow your
concerns are not front and center and foremost in our minds.
So, you didn't sugarcoat one iota. And I think we need to
take it to heart, learn from that. Your bluntness is well-
received, at least by this Member. So perhaps you might want to
speak to that.
And let me also ask, because I don't want to take too much
time--we have two additional panels. You know, I mentioned the
diplomatic side very often putting this down at the bottom. We
heard that at our previous hearing.
We have heard that before. You know, one of the things that
our legislation would do on child abduction would be to give
the State Department serious tools to say, ``We are not
kidding.'' We say to Japan, ``We are not kidding. We hold you
to account. And we will take or impose serious measures of
penalty if you continue this pattern of noncooperation and if
you lead the left-behind parent astray the way you have done so
repeatedly.'' So if you might want to speak a little bit
further, that is up to you.
Let me also ask, Mr. Goldman, with regard to so many
tactics that were used against you. And the other parents might
want to speak to this as well. But the delay is denial. You
know, I found in your case--and I have seen it elsewhere but
especially in your case--where you had a Hague-literate
attorney using all of what should have been done against you--I
am talking about the opposition's attorney--and that is to
somehow suggest in the proceedings that the child has become so
accustomed to their new home, the place of abduction, that it
would be ill-advised to pull them out of that environment. It
says to the abductors, ``Hold onto that child long enough. And
then you can use that, too, as one of your argument points to
continue the abduction.''
The abduction occurs every day. It is called ``retention,''
but it is almost as if the abduction has been done anew each
and every day. Every 24-hour period, that child has been
reabducted. And so if you want to speak to that?
And then, if I could, to Ms. Edwards, I wonder how helpful
our Embassy in Ankara has been for you, whether or not they
have stepped in and made this an important issue. You mentioned
the Office of Children's Issues. If you might want to elaborate
on that a little further?
They should be passionate advocates. They may feel ill-
advised or ill-equipped to provide legal advice, but they have
to fight for American parents and American children's human
rights. And that seems to have not gotten through in the way it
ought to. So if you perhaps want to elaborate further on that?
So please, Mr. Bermudez, if you could begin?
Mr. Bermudez. Yes. And just as an initial response to your
comments, you know, you continue to demonstrate an uncanny
intuition or knowledge of just really what this issue is about.
And it really helps bring hope to me that there is someone in
our Congress that really understands this and is really working
toward addressing this problem.
I guess to address the various parts of your comments, one
concern I have, I have read carefully both pieces of your
legislation that you have authored related to this issue. One
concern that I would like to--one overriding concern, rather,
that I would like to raise is that providing the ability of
State to enact sanctions will be an empty half-measure if we do
not address the fact that State has consistently demonstrated
the lack of will to use any such tools.
In regards to my comments, I shared the concern that
speaking out about what I viewed as the American Government's
complicitness in the abduction of our children--I was also very
concerned that, in doing so, I was going to lose whatever
assistance they were actually providing me. And, in deep
reflection on that very idea, I convinced myself that they were
doing nothing and that, in speaking out about these issues, I
was effectively losing no assistance whatsoever, though this is
something that many parents that I have spoken to have also
expressed as their concern that, you know, if they say anything
publicly, there will be a retaliation. And, actually, there is
some precedent for that.
Tom Johnson, a parent, left-behind parent and also attorney
at the State Department; and Patricia Roush, were both denied a
seat at the various discussions on this various topic after 10
years ago, which kind of speaks to the longstanding nature of
this program, 10 years ago speaking out against what they
viewed as various inadequacies in the State Department's
handling of this issue.
I think that covers all the points I wanted to make. Thank
Mr. Smith. Thank you.
Ms. Edwards. My experience has shown that the OCI can be
characterized as professional but also extremely distant. And
what that means is they can give an A, B, C set of steps but
they won't commit to give me G, H, and I. And I need to know
those in order to make my plan work properly. So it is almost
like they feel like they have a role and the assistance is to
make it as--I don't know how to word this. I guess I just was
not at all satisfied knowing how the process would continue and
that if I finished one hoop, there will be another one waiting.
That's assured. But I didn't know how to make that plan go
The biggest issue now that my Hague is filed and going
forward in Turkey is that the communication between the central
authority there and my case representative in OCI has been less
than full. So I get in touch with her every couple of weeks to
The last time she contacted me, instead of as a response,
it was because someone in the Turkish media wanted to film our
reunion. And the news got back to her. And she couldn't believe
that I would do that.
I couldn't believe that she wouldn't have had the sense to
ask me, ``Have you heard about this?'' I can't believe in her
experience, she didn't know that people come out of the
woodwork all the time. There are ridiculous amounts of people
that have harassed or, I should say, approached every single
one of us in this situation.
There is Turkish media who say they know where my son is
and that if I go on their show, they will assure a reunion.
Yes. Well, I want them to report where my son is to the Turkish
authorities. And that is not something that the American
Embassy has been able to help me with.
And so I guess that little anecdote kind of fills you in on
Mr. Smith. Was there any attempt by the Consulate Office in
Turkey to do a welfare whereabouts or have they----
Ms. Edwards. I have not requested that visit because I
still have, thankfully, right now webcam access. I kind of have
to put that on hold. I don't feel like that is an infinite
resource. So I am using that when I have to have that. Any time
my husband threatens to take my son to Syria, which is a
border-sharing country, I open the communication again so they
know that I am ready to have that sent out as needed.
But no, I have not had a well check ordered so far.
Mr. Smith. Now, has our Ambassador in Turkey raised your
particular issue with the foreign ministry, as far as you know?
Ms. Edwards. I am completely not aware that that has
happened. It is not a request that I put through.
Mr. Smith. It's something you shouldn't have to ask for.
Ms. Edwards. Yes. No. I am not aware at all if that has
Mr. Smith. Mr. Bermudez, has that happened on your case?
Mr. Bermudez. Yes. Actually,--and just to make her aware,
actually, under ICARA, U.S. legislation that implements the
abduction convention, parents are entitled to have a welfare
and whereabouts visit every 6 months. This is also something
that is allowed by the Geneva Convention.
I have had two visits over the last 3 years. The first one
they did immediately. The second one I had to get my
congressman and senators involved to get State to actually act
on my request to have my son's well-being ascertained. But I
have had two visits.
Actually, I was most recently in Mexico trying to get them
to do another one and allow me to attend, if at all possible.
And that is still something that I am working on.
Mr. Smith. Mr. Goldman?
Mr. Goldman. We all face sort of a feeling like we are
marked with a scarlet letter initially when our children are
abducted. There is this guilt. There is this feeling of what we
did wrong, people are looking at us. We must have been some
terrible people for a mom or a dad to run off with our
children. Clearly, it is not the case. These are oftentimes
very badly behaved people.
There is no real punitive measurement on the actual
abductor. They can stay within the country that they are
living, file for a divorce or separation, like parents do when
they separate, couples do, or they could say, ``You know what?
I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to go to this country,
where I know I will have a jurisdictional advantage. And the
worst case scenario is I get sent back and then have a normal
divorce proceeding in the country, which I should have started
this out to begin with.''
So I know there have been suggestions of exit control,
which is great. It wouldn't have helped me. I drove my wife and
son and her parents to the airport with love, hugs, and kisses.
And she goes to this foreign country, applies for custody in
the courts of Brazil without me even knowing it for many, many
months later. So that's how we start.
If we show anger, if we show like we're outraged, I think I
feel like our State Department wants to look for something to
dismiss us as much as someone who just can't believe that a
parent could take a child from another parent without the left-
behind parent to have done something that deserves it. So we
are already starting out with this overwhelming feeling that we
are behind the eight ball with a scarlet letter.
They are very adept at maneuvering and stalling in the
courts. As you noted, the abductors of my son were, in fact,
lecturing to different legal fellow attorneys in Brazil on how
the abducting parent can turn the abducted child into an attack
missile against the left-behind parent, parental alienation.
And he also was lectured. While they were holding my son
illegally in Brazil, this family of lawyers was also lecturing
on how a clever lawyer can stall the judicial system with
endless appeals and motions to keep that child in the abducting
country for years on end.
And eventually the courts will say, ``Well, we know the
child has been held illegally. We get that he has been
abducted'' or ``she has been abducted. But now they are
adapted. So let's reward the kidnapper. And let's be a country
that actually rewards child abduction to the abductor.'' And,
again, this is where we need to step in with these sanctions to
show we're not going to tolerate this.
There is no real deterrent for these abducting parents. And
there is no punitive measure for them to face. The first thing
a country would do is if you filed criminal charges, the Hague
Convention, as good as it is, abductors use it as a double-
edged sword because it is a civil remedy.
If America starts filing criminal prosecution against all
of these child abductors, which we would in our own country if
they took them across state lines, then the country where the
child is abducted will say, ``Well, we're not going to return
that child back to their home state because then the abducting
parent will be in jail and they won't be able to see the
So, I mean, as the left-behind parent, all of these
thoughts go through your mind and your heart. What do we do?
What can we do? And it seems to me that the most sensible is to
start with these sanctions and use them.
Colin Bower in the back, his sons Ramsay and Noor, they
were taken to Egypt by an abusive, drug-addicted mother, who
forged passports. They entered Egypt with different last names
on the passports than the mother. They entered Egypt. Egypt
recognizes that they're held illegally. Yet, they still are in
We just basically gave Egypt $1 billion. We forgo a debt of
$1 billion, and we are going to give them $1 billion more. Glad
that they are going to be a democracy, glad that Mubarak is
out, bad that our children are still held there illegally by
unfit parents, let alone just abducting that should have been
We have another case--and I believe he is going to be
testifying--with Michael Elias. He served two terms in the
deserts, came back a wounded veteran. The Japanese Embassy in
New York gave fraudulent passports to the abducting mother of
the children. And they are in Japan illegally. There has got to
be something we can do. It is outrageous. And it is only
getting worse year after year.
As I said earlier, the room is smaller and the crowds are
bigger. And hopefully we won't have to be here next year
because countries will be returning our children.
Mr. Smith. Thank you.
Mr. Payne. Let me say I really appreciate the testimony,
those of which I heard and those that I've read. And I think
that you probably, through your testimony and the letter to the
Secretary and also your answering of the questions, have
answered the primary questions that I had.
I would, though, like to review your case. What do you
think? The primary reasons that you finally got the release of
your son was through senators or Congressman Smith, the
Convention? Because your case is successful--of course, it took
a long, long time--I wonder what advice you would have
specifically to other parents that you would give right now?
Mr. Goldman. Well, essentially, I walked in their shoes
with my pleas falling on deaf ears. I had a very skillful team
of attorneys. The first order that I received that would call
for the return of my son, that first order is the most crucial
order as you go through the process in the legal arena. It
needs to be basically as solid an order as you can get. You
only get one first shot. So you definitely need an attorney who
is very skillful on international child abduction, Hague or
non-Hague countries, for that first order is paramount.
Second, what brought it to the attention essentially was
the media. The media in my case acted as a fourth branch of
government. It brought the story. It called people's attention.
For so long I had, like many people do, had family members,
friends wanting to help, but what could they do? They could do
little more than I could do. And, finally, when it caught the
attention of Congressman Smith and your colleagues, who could
actually do something and would do something, that made the
It began with the media. Ultimately it ended with sanctions
by Senator Lautenberg. That shows sanctions mean something.
These countries want our money more than they want our
children. And it is unfortunate, but that is what it takes.
We give so many of these countries billions of dollars of
aid. And if we do have these sanctions ready and waiting, more
often than not, they will return our children without us having
to use them. If we use them once or twice on the worst
offenders to get our kids home, they know we are serious. We
Most of these countries are our friends and our allies. And
some of them, it is just inherent in their whole domestic
system, as Japan. They have very archaic domestic laws when it
comes to child custody to begin with. So they need to start
there before they can--I can really feel comfortable with them
acceding to the Hague Convention.
Mr. Payne. Are you able to find attorneys or were you or
any of the others an attorney in the host country, so to speak,
that would be willing to fight the red tape in their country,
or in other words, to take your side against their government,
either one of you? What was your success or lack of success
trying to get a qualified attorney to really fight on your
behalf against their countries?
Ms. Edwards. I myself am relatively early in the process
still. So I have a Hague case under investigation. And it is
going forward. And the government has opened the case on my
behalf for my son's return. And, actually, they had a hearing
this morning, 9 o'clock this morning.
So in finding the attorney, though, it is a maze to find
someone who has passible English or to constantly be dealing
with a translator. For that person to be versed in the Hague is
very rare. And for that person to be in the city where you need
them is also rare. So what you are doing is going through an
entire country and trying to find an expert and put them in a
location where they can serve you.
And while I would love to have had the money to get the
best attorney anywhere in Turkey and have that person relocate
for the course of this case or to pay them a travel for every
hearing or whatever, those are not the conditions that we live
in, you know. So you do the best you can.
And I have an attorney who represents me. And we do work
with a translator because I decided that her proficiency in
English was less important than her proficiency in Hague. But
these are decisions you have to make.
And you have to also be timely. And then you have to
constantly have a fear, was that the right choice? How do you
know? This person I talk to is on Skype. How do I know that
they're not going to take the money and run or how do I know
that this person is even acting in my interest when clearly a
judge and another Turkish attorney went way around the law to
grant my husband full custody of my son?
That case I am having overturned in Turkey. And it is going
to be reheard, not that that should have any effect on the
Hague, which is pending, but every little bit--I don't know
what my Hague judge is going to consider when he sees a Turkish
custody ruling. But also that I had to put off for a long time
because I am always concerned about what I do there. How will
that have implications here? What do I do here that will mess
I am still married to this man because I was worried that
divorce would allow him the opportunity to appeal the Ohio
custody. So there are all of these very intricate things to
balance and maneuver.
So finding the attorney, sure, is an issue. It is just one
of many. And I would say that the list of attorneys on the
State Department's Web site is not the way to go. You have got
to go through the social networks and word of mouth. That way
it is a whole lot of time and money wasted trying to find
someone. But they will say, ``Yes, you can retain me for
$10,000 up front and then $20,000 when you get your son home.''
You know, it is a racket.
Mr. Payne. Mr. Bermudez, your experience?
Mr. Bermudez. Actually, that is a very important question.
Attorneys, not for nothing, don't have the best reputation in
any country. Mexico is somewhat legendary in terms of not
having a national way of accrediting attorneys. So there was
actually a very large number of incompetent attorneys in
Mexico. And selecting a competent attorney that has all the
qualities that Sara just listed is essential.
And initially I asked the State Department if they could
just provide me a list of attorneys that had previously handled
these types of cases so I knew I had someone with experience.
And they refused to give this to me. They flat-out said, ``We
can't provide legal advice. We can't make any kind of
recommendations.'' And I think that is atrocious. I think this
is the very least they can do.
And, through trial and error and through lots of interviews
and a massive amount of effort, I have had somewhat some luck
in hiring attorneys in Mexico, but I do speak Spanish. And I
can really relate to the difficulty of finding an attorney in a
country where you do not speak the language. So it is
Australia is a great example where they handled this much
better. There is financial assistance provided directly to
parents to hire an attorney and to locate one. So that is one
of many things that I think can be improved upon in the United
States' handling of child abduction cases.
Mr. Payne. So in your opinion, probably the tactic is
people would expect you to be worn down eventually and----
Mr. Bermudez. Absolutely.
Mr. Payne [continuing]. And quit.
Mr. Bermudez. Absolutely.
Mr. Payne. I mean, it's frustrating. You know it's your
child. Number one, finances becomes an issue. Number two,
delays, bureaucracy, postponements. And they figure they will
just--time is on their side. They will win just by inertia of
inaction. Is that what you think your goals are?
Mr. Goldman. One hundred percent. One hundred percent. Time
is our enemy. And they are adept at stalling and manipulating
and keeping these cases going for years until we are
emotionally, financially, physically bankrupt. And then we just
walk as a dead man walking forever. And it is a terrible pain
to deal with and to live with.
In Brazil, it was taking so long for the Brazilian Central
Authority to even process my case that I had to hire a private
attorney. And then the Government of Brazil says, ``Well, no.
We're not going to support you because now it is an individual
case. You had a private attorney.'' So you are damned if you
do, you're damned if you don't. They look for anything to keep
the kid there.
Mr. Payne. And in your two cases, because both have less
publicity than, of course--well, maybe it did, but I am a New
Jerseyite. So I follow the case very closely. Did they attempt,
as they normally would do and as in your case, to turn the
child against you, I mean, the parents? How did both of your
children? And what were their ages? How young were they?
Ms. Edwards. Well, my boy is three now. He was two when he
left. And because I am able to see him by webcam, I know that
he knows who I am. He calls me ``Sara.''
He doesn't have any English. So I learned Turkish to keep
up with him. We look at picture books. I am constantly
concerned about losing his attention. I can't hold him. I can't
play with him. I can't kick the ball. So I am trying to find
new ways all the time to keep him involved.
Back to the previous statement, I have not dealt so far
with legal maneuverings that were uncouth. But I strongly
believe that, even if I win my case, Muhammed is a flight risk.
Then what? He is going to go somewhere else. Then what? He goes
and hides in a village and the family protects him.
So the other side of that is some kind of enforcement, some
real political will to say, ``This person has won her case'' or
``This person's case was wrongfully ruled'' or whatever the
case is but to follow through on that because just, like I was
mentioning before, knowing where to go next, knowing how this
step affects the next. You have got to be able to see this all
the way through.
I am not going to wait until he leaves to try to find him.
I mean, I am not going to wait until he leaves to try to
prevent it. But, thankfully, so far that hasn't been the case.
I do not know what he says about me. I don't know. I only
imagine that it is very bad things because his family, whom I
have known for 8 years and loved closely, turned against me. So
clearly he is saying something bad.
I really try to enjoy my time with my son. I really try to
only focus on those moments we have. So I don't poke the beast
and ask his father what he says. I don't poke the beast and
say, ``What do you think this is doing to our child?''
I have many questions I would love to ask him, and I don't
have that chance because it is much more important for me to
see my son and to know that Mommy is not crying and we're happy
and we're having a good time because that's his normal right
This boy doesn't have a mom. This boy is there completely
separate from half of his life. And I don't want to be
continually adding to his distress. So it's eggshells.
Mr. Payne. Okay. And, just finally----
Mr. Bermudez. My son was 1 year old when he was taken to
Mexico. And I hadn't seen him for 2 years. So parental
alienation was not a major concern because it's hard to
formulate concepts of ``That is a bad person'' in a very young
child's mind. As my son gets older, it is a concern that I
definitely have. And following these cases for years now, it is
something that happens all the time.
I just recently saw my son 3 weeks ago for about 15 minutes
for the first time in 2 years. And, as Ms. Edwards spoke to, it
is--you know, we are really concerned about our children.
We really want to--you know, I didn't run and grab my son.
I hadn't seen him for 2 years. I wasn't sure. I believed he
wouldn't remember me when he saw me. And so I didn't run and
grab him. I kind of came up to him, and I said, ``Hi.'' I said,
``How are you doing?'' And I asked him what his name was. And
he looked at me. And I was relieved to see that there was a
recognition that I was someone important, that I was someone he
knew, even if he didn't know that I was his dad. And they had
been teaching him to call his grandfather ``Father.'' And I
believe that is a very serious piece of parental alienation
that is going to be hard to change.
So for the time being--I think seeing the reaction my son
had to me--we played for about 15 minutes. And we both enjoyed
ourselves. And I think when they saw that reaction, that
empathy that we had, that relationship kind of still existed,
and the potential for it to grow.
I haven't been able to see my son since, 3 weeks. I've been
in Mexico for a total of 4 weeks immediately prior to this
hearing. And I saw my son the first week about 15 minutes. And
they have been completely unresponsive to allowing me to see
him again. And I think it is an effort of parental alienation
to at some point be able to say, ``Look, the child doesn't know
him. He doesn't respond to him. He doesn't know. You know, he
has no relationship.'' So it's a legal tactic as well as just a
form of child abuse, frankly.
Mr. Payne. Thank you very much.
Mr. Smith. Ms. Buerkle?
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Goldman, in your letter to Secretary Clinton and the
letter that was signed by the left-behind parents of 117
children, you state that, ``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.''
And, Mr. Bermudez, you alluded to the same thing in your
testimony, the frustration with the State Department.
Now, I would like to ask the three of you, if we were the
State Department, what is it you want to tell them? And what is
it you want us to ask of them and to tell them? So if you could
be specific with us? What do you see? What do you want the
State Department to do?
Because I disagree with the fact that the State Department
doesn't work for the American people because they do.
Ultimately they are to be representing American people. You are
the American people. So I would like to hear from you
specifically. What is it you need and you want from the State
Department so we can have that opportunity to make those
demands of them? We will start with Mr. Goldman.
Mr. Goldman. Well, first, as the former Assistant Secretary
of State for the Western Hemisphere pointed out at the last
hearing 2 years ago, when there is an Ambassador who is
appointed, say, to Mexico or Colombia, their first order of
business is going to be immigration, drugs, arms, economics.
And that is why we do need to have this special Ambassador-
So those other issues are taking precedent. And our
abducted children are on the bottom of the totem pole. And we
need to make them a priority. It is growing. The number of
children that are being abducted and also the ones that are
remaining held illegally, it's just growing and growing.
So we need to have this Ambassador-at-Large to focus
specifically on our abducted children. We need to have some
sort of system where Congress, each congressman knows when a
child is abducted from their district. And they will be the
advocate and get involved with the State Department.
Also, the State Department needs tools. They should be here
begging us for help that they need and have needed for so many
years. It shouldn't be anything that we have to introduce and
then hope for votes and then hope that Democrats and the
Republicans will get together to help our children. The State
Department should be here begging for us for the help and to
give them the tools that they so desperately need in their
Mr. Goldman. And if it has to go all the way up to economic
sanctions, it has to go up to economic sanctions.
Ms. Buerkle. Ms. Edwards, I have the same question for you.
Ms. Edwards. Aside from the points that David mentioned,
one huge specific is that there should be a way for the State
Department to correspond with the central authorities in Hague
signatory countries, mine specifically the Turkish Central
Authority, and that they should be able to flag people who are
subject to a current Hague case and prevent them from traveling
outside of the country during a current Hague case. This is
something that can be done and something that should be done,
the fact that there is a good possibility Muhammed will come
back and try to maintain his legal residency status, retain his
green card status, he can go into any port, do that, stay a
couple of days, and go home, without my son ever coming here,
without my son having rights to me.
I guess those are the specifics that I really, really would
pray for. Yes. I will leave that.
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you.
Mr. Bermudez. The State Department hiring process. I think
one of the problems we have with our Foreign Service officers
might be called a form of clientitis. I think one of the things
I would like them to do in their hiring process is to ask
everybody applying for a job there to identify the United
States on a globe. I think what we see is that sometimes there
is some confusion as to whether they represent foreign
interests in America or American interests in foreign
Mr. Smith. Could you repeat that?
Mr. Bermudez. Yes. Sure. I think one of the problems we
have with our Foreign Service officers might be called a form
of clientitis, where it is unclear whether our Foreign Service
officers represent foreign countries' interests in America or
American interests in foreign countries.
I think one thing that would be of value to us is to have
each applicant at the State Department identify where the
United States is on a globe to be sure that they know who they
are working for.
Mr. Bermudez. The other thing I would really like them to
know is that, you know, when we want to promote the interests
of abducted children, we are not asking for something that is
unpopular. This is something that we will be respected for.
This is not an irritant. This is something that every other
country has, this problem.
You know, we have to look beyond the trees to see the
forest. I mean, it's a case where if we could lead on this
issue, this is a human rights issue. And let's be very clear
about that. Contrary to spending political capital, we'll gain
political capital. We will have the opportunity to speak with
moral authority on other issues.
And I think that is something sorely lacking. And I think
that our lack of advocacy on this is detrimental to our foreign
policy. I think it has a negative effect, rather than----
Mr. Goldman. And we are not asking these countries for any
favors. We are just asking them to abide by the rule of law. We
don't want favors. It is not a favor to return our abducted
children. It is abiding by the rule of law. It is simple,
should be so simple.
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you very much. I appreciate your courage
to be here today and to all of the folks in the room. Thank you
very much for your willingness to come out. And I ask you not
to be discouraged.
I understand all of these hearings and this many years
later, but I think you have a pledge from these Members of
Congress that we are concerned that we will hold the State
Department. We will talk with them and certainly hold them
accountable. They do work for the American people, and we do
pay their salaries.
So thank you all very much for being here.
Mr. Smith. Mr. Marino?
Mr. Marino. No.
Mr. Smith. I want to thank our very distinguished panel.
I just want to ask one ``Yes'' or ``No'' question. You
know, it's been said that if you say you don't have time, you
stated a priority, you haven't stated a fact. I know, David,
you have spoken to the U.S. Ambassador in Brazil. It took a
long time. But I wonder, Ms. Edwards and Mr. Bermudez, have you
had contact with the U.S. Ambassador?
Ms. Edwards. No.
Mr. Bermudez. Absolutely not, not----
Mr. Smith. Anything else you would like to add before we go
to panel number 2?
Mr. Smith. Thank you so much for your testimony.
Mr. Smith. We would like to now welcome our second panel.
And beginning with Mr. Michael Elias, who is currently a Bergen
County Sheriff in the State of New Jersey. He is a former
sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and met his wife
while stationed in Japan in 2004 to 2005. She abducted their
two children, Jade and Michael, to Japan in December 2008.
Through his testimony here, we will hear about the
particular challenges that parents whose children are abducted
to Japan face, particularly from when they happen to be
I would note parenthetically that earlier this year, I
traveled to Japan with Nancy and Miguel Elias, Jade's and
Michael's grandparents, Michael's mom and dad. I spent several
days there meeting with high officials in the Japanese
Government. And it was very clear that when they got to make
their case, there were very empathetic ears, but the question
is whether or not those empathetic ears turn into tangible
policy that will permit the return of children who have been
abducted to Japan.
As I said at the outset, it needs to be underscored with
exclamation points if there is a mere ascension to the Hague
without resolving the existing cases, there will be a gross
miscarriage of justice perpetrated upon those American children
and those left-behind parents. So this committee, and I'm sure
members of both sides of the aisle, will be very emphatic to
our friends in Japan--and they are indeed friends--in the
government that they need to resolve these cases.
Next, we will hear from Mr. Joshua Izzard, who is the
father of Melisande Izzard, who was born in Chicago, Illinois
on June 18th of 2008. She was taken by her mother to Russia in
October 2010. Mr. Izzard has not seen his daughter since
September of last year and has not been allowed to talk to her
Then we will hear from Mr. Colin Bower, who is the father
of Noor and Ramsay Bower, ages 10 and 8. Noor and Ramsay were
abducted by their mother from Boston to Egypt in August 2009.
Colin remains committed to the safe and swift return of his
children. I am pleased to have joined Barney Frank in
sponsoring H. Res. 193 with regard to their particular case.
So I would like to now ask Mr. Elias if he would proceed.
STATEMENT OF MR. MICHEL ELIAS, FATHER OF CHILDREN ABDUCTED TO
Mr. Elias. Thank you.
Congressman Smith and distinguished members of the
subcommittee, my name is Michael Elias and I would like to
thank you for all your opportunities to share with you my
personal experience involving international child abduction.
I would like to first extend my deepest sympathies to the
people of Japan affected by the devastation of the earthquake,
tsunami, and nuclear disasters.
I am a former sergeant of the United States Marine Corps,
from August 2003 to November 2007. I am currently a Bergen
County Sheriff in the State of New Jersey. While stationed in
Japan in 2004 to 2005, I met my wife, Mayumi Nakamura.
Shortly thereafter, I was stationed in Camp Lejeune, North
Carolina. She contacted me and informed me that she was
pregnant. In September 2005, Mayumi relocated to the United
States. And on October 18, 2005, we were married in Rutherford,
New Jersey. Our first child, Jade Maki Elias, was born on
January 5, 2006, at the naval hospital in Camp Lejeune.
In March 2007, I was deployed to Iraq. On August 2nd, 2007,
while I was serving my country, my son Michael Angel Elias was
born at Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey. This inspired
new levels of patriotism and responsibility inside of me that
were matched with love for my family and children.
While I was deployed, Mayumi and our children lived with my
parents in New Jersey. During that time Mayumi started a
relationship with a Japanese national, Kenichiro Negishi, who
was her travel agent.
When I returned from serving my country in Iraq, Mayumi, my
children, and my extended family were all reunited and living
together in New Jersey. Sadly a few months after my return,
Mayumi and I separated.
I was then served with a document from Mayumi, headlining,
``An Agreement for Travel and Residency,'' stating that ``I,
Michael Elias, allow Mayumi and my two children to visit Japan
without any restrictions under any circumstances.'' If these
conditions were not met, I would have to surrender any custody
rights of Jade and Michael to Mayumi. This would also result in
a relocation of Mayumi and our two children to Japan from the
United States if Mayumi elects to do so. The document then
stated, ``Whether or not any actions of Michael Elias is
complied with the conditions above are determined by Mayumi
Elias, and Michael Elias must respect her decision at any time.
Also, regardless of the courts' decisions, Michael Elias
respects and follows the terms stated above.''
I sought counsel after Mayumi asked me to sign that
document that she had already signed on September 26, 2008. On
October 29, 2008, before the Honorable Judge Alexander H.
Carver of the Superior Court of Bergen County, New Jersey, I
was awarded joint custody of my children. On that day, Judge
Carver clearly ordered three times that the children's
passports, both American and Japanese, be turned over to her
attorney, Victor Nezu, because she was an obvious flight risk.
I did everything I could to ensure the safety and well-
being of my children. I felt confident and had every reasonable
expectation in our legal system with the ruling of Judge Carver
and the strength of the United States Government, that my
American-born children would be protected from being kidnapped
to Japan. I was wrong.
Mayumi was an employee of the Japanese Consulate in New
York City issuing visas and passports. She used her position in
the Consulate as a tool to carefully collaborate the abduction
of our children. Mayumi had replacement passports issued in the
Japanese Consulate in Chicago, where she and her boyfriend,
Kenichiro, exited the country through Chicago's O'Hare airport.
They carried out the abduction of our children on the
Japanese Airline flight number 9, bound for Tokyo Narita
airport in Japan on December 6, 2008. I still have in my
possession their original passports.
My family and I are horrified and sickened by Mayumi's
actions. We have repeatedly attempted to contact the Japanese
Consulate in New York, Chicago and Washington DC and continue
to receive no cooperation whatsoever.
Shortly after she had arrived in Japan, I was contacted by
Mayumi, saying she had unilaterally decided that she would
raise the children in Japan. When explaining to her that she
had kidnapped our children, she maintained that, I quote,
``It's not kidnapping. My country will protect me.''
Thereafter I was awarded full custody of our children here
in the United States. The judge also ordered the immediate
return of the children to the United States from Japan by means
of The Hague Convention. Unfortunately, the judge was unaware
of Japan not being a signatory of the treaty and Japan's lack
of accession, something Mayumi seemingly understood.
To date, no child has ever been returned by the Japanese
Government. According to the State Departments statistics,
there are 321 documented cases of abduction from the U.S. to
Japan alone. If we include numbers of American children
abducted while living in Japan, statistics would significantly
It is no doubt that these heinous crimes will continue and
at the time of our next State Department meeting, these figures
will have risen as more children will continue to be
unwillingly and unlawfully abducted.
Since the abduction I have pleaded with Mayumi to return
our children back to the United States, assuring her that there
were no criminal charges pending in fear that she will not
return under those conditions.
On January 5, 2010, I was granted the privilege to see my
children via Skype. It was my daughter's fourth birthday.
Although it was very hard to see my children through a monitor,
it was very satisfying to see them so happy to see me. My
daughter, Jade, looked at her mother in heartache and said to
her ever so softly something in Japanese. When I asked Mayumi
what Jade had said, she replied, ``She wants to be with you.''
The monitor immediately went blank. That was last time I saw my
February of this year, my parents flew to Japan. With the
assistance of the United States Embassy in Tokyo; Congressman
Smith; and my attorney, Patricia Apy, they tried to contact
Mayumi to ask if they could visit their grandchildren. After
countless e-mails and phone calls were ignored, the U.S.
Embassy was able to reach Mayumi. And she denied any access for
my parents. She also told the Embassy she was not accepting any
of their calls. Excuse me. Needless to say, my parents were
devastated, but not shocked.
The sense of longing for my children can be completely
unbearable and crippling at times. It does not get better with
time. It only grows deeper and deeper along with the sense of
hopelessness. As a father who no longer has his children to
hold in his arms, I cannot deal with the sorrow. So I try my
best to stay strong and keep fighting for their return.
All my hopes and dreams for their future now lie in the
hands of others. I am begging our Government to help not only
my family, but hundreds of other heartbroken families as well
to demand the return of our American children who are being
held in Japan and in most cases never seen or heard from again.
This goes against everything we stand for as Americans and
especially for our children's lives and well-being. This is not
just a family issue or an international issue. This is a human
Our children are too young to speak for themselves. I am
expecting our Government to be their voice.
In conclusion, I would like to read the names of the
following American children abducted to and wrongfully retained
in Japan who are unaccounted for since the earthquake/tsunami
and ongoing nuclear disaster: Kianna Berg; Gunnar Berg; Keisuke
Collins; Michiru Donaldson; Kai Endo; David Gesselman; Joshua
Gesselman; Ayako Lucy Greenberg; Shanon Yuda Ishida; Riki
Ishida; Ricky Kephart; Noelle Kephart; Mary Victoria Lake;
Yuuki McCoy; ``Mochi'' Atomu Imoto Morehouse; Rui Prager; Rion
Suzuki; Tiana Weed; Takoda Weed; and Kaya Wong.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Elias follows:]
Mr. Smith. Mr. Elias, thank you so very much. And I would
like to now ask Mr. Izzard if he could proceed.
STATEMENT OF MR. JOSHUA IZZARD, FATHER OF CHILD ABDUCTED TO
Mr. Izzard. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of
Congress, for inviting me to testify today regarding the
ongoing tragedy of international parental kidnapping.
I am Joshua Hannum Izzard, bereaved father and sole and
legal guardian of Melisande Izzard, my American-born-and-raised
daughter and only child, who was taken almost 8 months ago to
Perm, Russia; whose voice I haven't heard for many long months
I have been living for nearly 8 months with a hole in my
life, while some, like Mr. Tom Sylvester of Cincinnati, Ohio,
whose testimony I read during the preparation of my own, and
his daughter and others like them have lived with that hole for
years. Our great country must stop this constant bleeding of
its most important resource, its children, in the interest of
other, may I say, more tangible or natural resources or
As a nation, we need to construct legal mechanisms to
facilitate resolution of existing parental kidnappings and put
in place effective preventative mechanisms to assure that our
citizens are not subjected to this daily, unbearable sorrow
that comes in the wake of an international parental kidnapping.
I was in Rome, Italy when Tatiana Ivleva, my decade-long
partner, the love of my life and the wife of 5 years, the
mother of my daughter, Melisande, called to inform me that she
and my little blue-eyed angel were in Russia and would never
return, that I would never see my daughter again. In shock, I
nearly collapsed on the street.
I wrote the first of many letters for my daughter while
flying home, speeding westward away from her to Chicago. My
heart seemed a spool of thread unwinding, my life unraveling as
the distance between us grew.
At home I opened the door to our Chicago apartment
overlooking Lake Michigan. Desolation overwhelmed me as the
golden afternoon light filtering through the dead silence of
our living room gently touched on a semicircle of my daughter's
favorite toys, left exactly as she had been playing with them.
No joyous ``Daddy's home,'' only silence, thundering silence.
Initial denial became steely resolve to protect my child,
who now lives in grave danger, to bring her back to her loving,
lawful home. Since the kidnapping, my offers of compromise and
reconciliation have gone unanswered, court orders and decisions
ignored, and pleas to at least have phone calls with my
A local arrest warrant has been issued for Tatiana. The
FBI, INTERPOL, Chicago PD, National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children, State Department, and congressmen's offices
are all involved, though the FBI open case crawls along due to
the Office of Children's Issues' steadfast refusal to inform
the FBI as to how they have been contacting my ex-wife.
I have given interviews to U.S. and Russian media, each
time imploring Tatiana to simply speak with me, to negotiate a
Melisande was torn away from me and everyone and everything
she had known from birth in one cruel, selfish instant by her
mother, Tatiana, and maternal grandmother, Galina, and abruptly
plunged into a strange world of darkness, mental illness, and
Tatiana's own signed statements declare that she
immediately moved in with her high school boyfriend in Russia,
an abusive individual named Andrey Medvedev, with whom, it has
been proven, she had been having an extramarital relationship
for some time prior to the kidnapping.
Mr. Medvedev is a violent alcoholic, with numerous
documental citations for public intoxication; drunk driving,
for which he lost his license; and physical violence, offenses
ranging from assaulting a bar employee to terrorizing neighbors
with his drunken rages to purported accusations of child
molestation. Both his former wife and a long-time live-in
partner report that his inability to control himself when
drinking was a primary cause of the breakup of their
relationships. He is furthermore reported to be a devoted
adherent of a cult which advocates the use of psychoactive
drugs, engaging in ritualistic sexual behavior, and forcing
women to submit to dominant males, isolating themselves from
This is precisely what my ex-wife has done. Despite not
working, Tatiana attended only two court hearings in Russia
before signing over her full power of attorney regarding all
aspects of our divorce, including Melisande's upbringing and
custody, to a violent alcoholic, whose decisions will impact my
daughter's life forever.
The role of the Russian Consulate in the abduction itself
and the ensuing legal processes has seen Russia make a joke of
its own laws and flaunt its impunity to the international
To accomplish the abduction, Tatiana turned to the Russian
Consulate in Washington, DC, for help. What she said is
unknown, but she was issued a one-time Russian Repatriation
Certificate with our American daughter's name written on it.
This document allowed her to abduct our daughter, a U.S.
citizen, from U.S. soil and transport her directly to a non-
Imagine the situation, please, anyone here who travels
frequently: Two nervous Russian women with a bewildered 2-year-
old U.S. citizen in tow passing through security and boarding a
foreign-bound commercial flight at one of America's busiest
airports, without passports, without the signed permission of
Tatiana wrote to thank Russian diplomats Nikolay Teoglot
and Ekaterina Polozkova for the certificate issued shortly
after the kidnapping. This note is in the possession of the
To reiterate, TSA officials accepted a travel document in
lieu of a passport. And the airline they flew with required no
further checks as to why and how these individuals were
boarding an international flight with no passports and no
written permission from the other parent, while at that very
moment the father was happily scouting shops in Rome for
presents to bring back to his beloved family. Diplomatic abuse
and lack of exit controls and effective screening procedures
made this abduction possible.
I have many close friends in Russia, but, sadly, it is a
country in which not only international laws and human rights
are frequently violated but one which does not follow the
letter of its own law.
Consider the fact that since 2003, Russia has unilaterally
refused to observe its duties under the 1965 Hague Service
Convention. It will not serve its citizens with divorce papers
or legal documents from the United States of America. Yet, it
permits its citizens to argue in court that they were not
properly served because the papers were not delivered by Hague
Service Convention through the Ministry of Justice in Russia.
Despite this, I was able to satisfy both American and
Russian process service requirements and went on to win the
American custody case when we were divorced on December 29,
I proceeded to legalize the divorce decision at the Russian
Consulate in Washington, DC. And this decision was affirmed by
the Russian Government's Vital Records Office in Moscow, who
stated that the American divorce was valid in Russia from the
moment on December 29, 2010, that it went into effect.
Now please prepare yourselves for an entry into a bizarre
no-man's land of lawlessness and intrigue. Provincial Russian
Judge Olga Sherbakova, being in possession of the properly
served American divorce petition and divorce decision,
translated into Russian, allowed Tatiana to initiate a divorce
suit with me as respondent. The first hearing was on January
20, 2011, nearly a month after we were divorced with a decision
that the Russian State had already considered valid.
Maxim Ivlev, my ex-wife's brother, as former head of the
Legal Department of the Perm Duma, Senate, is a person with
deep political, judicial, and intelligence service connections.
Within days, a media smear campaign, including primetime
specials vilifying me, was undertaken. The media campaign
included public statements and letters by politicians Pavel
Mikov and Ilya Neustroev, who both violated Russian
constitutional law regarding separation of the political and
judicial systems. They both approached judges--they themselves
publicly declared so--and requested an expedited outcome in
favor of the Russian mother. Politician Neustroev, Tatiana's
brother's former superior, runs a live blog, in which he
immediately published an entry about my family titled, ``I am
I then received serious threats against my life, so serious
that I won't travel to Perm, lending credibility to my former
wife's publicized statement that I don't care enough about my
daughter to even visit her.
Please note, Mr. Chairman, there is never mention of the
welfare of my daughter. Rather, it's Russia against America and
my daughter a disposable political pawn.
The process leading up to my ``second divorce'' from my
only wife on March 24, 2011, was fraught with bias. Legal
infractions were numerous. The presiding judge met in private
with Tatiana's side. Evidence was mysteriously introduced into
the court clerk's files. Decisions consisting of several typed
pages were ready within minutes or even seconds of the
conclusion of the hearings, indicating that they had been
At one hearing, it was claimed that 2\1/2\-year-old
Melisande had said she did not wish to Skype with her father,
and it was argued that it would constitute child abuse to
enforce Skype visitation. This argument was upheld by Russian
It was stated that I am currently in Perm, Russia, plotting
a Rambo-like attempt to bring Melisande home and was,
therefore, forbidden to travel with Melisande. My passport
proves I have not travelled outside of the United States since
I was in Rome. Russian Immigration and Border Control or the
Russian Consulate here in Washington, DC, could confirm that I
have not had a Russian visa, without which it is impossible to
travel there, since 2007.
On March 24, 2011, I was divorced from a person that Russia
had acknowledged I was not married to and had not been for the
preceding 3 months. During the hearing, 20 procedural norms of
the Russian Code of Civil Procedure or Civil Code were broken.
Tatiana was awarded full custody and another divorce as well as
child support, which if applied by Russian standards would
require a local father to pay 80 percent of his income.
A complete list of these violations is available upon
request, but here is a quick sampling in order of their
breaking. I won't enumerate the numbers, they being
meaningless. However, a summary of them is by violating
existing Russian laws, the Russian courts provided a
legalization of the abduction.
I was never served with any court documents from Russia.
Neither was I allowed to give testimony or present statements
from scores of witnesses willing to testify for me. My ex-
wife's only witness, Mrs. Kseniya Vorontsova, gave fallacious,
mendacious testimony against me, including statements that we
had spoken in 2011, when, in fact, the last time that I had
spoken with this individual was 2009.
I was not given time for translation of the documents. My
lawyer was denied or given delayed access to case materials. My
legalized Russian court decision and Russian governmental proof
that I was already divorced were not taken into consideration.
A higher court process was ignored by a lower court. And the
courts refused to accept and register official evidence.
The case was tried in a court which had no jurisdiction
because no evidence was even presented that Melisande could be
a Russian citizen.
My daughter and I were denied and continue to be denied
contact with each other throughout the course of the
proceedings, again explicitly violating Russian law. But there
is no mechanism for enforcement.
So grievous were the violations that 10 days ago an
Appellate Court in Russia upheld my viewpoint, overturning the
lower court's decision in its entirety, and sending the case
back to the same lower court but to be retried by a different
judge. My ex-wife and I may soon have the singular distinction
of having been married once but divorced three times.
However, the appeal was reviewed without notification of my
legal counsel. And the second half of the session occurred
without him being present, as has happened numerous times. And
while it's cited the many infractions the overwhelming reason
for the overturning of the previous decision was that no
evidence has been presented that Melisande is a Russian
And so, to my surprise, in the course of this very hearing,
at the beginning, I was given a fax, copy of a fax, from the
Russian Consulate confirming indeed that my daughter is a
Russian citizen and, furthermore, with a document, which I have
never seen before, that bears my signature giving permission to
the granting of Russian citizenship to my daughter, very
Mr. Chairman, I contend that my daughter and I have the
inalienable right to a full and loving parental/child
relationship. The Russian Consulate's, courts, and government's
assistance to Ms. Ivleva and Mr. Medvedev have facilitated
violation of my daughter's and my right to that most basic
human relationship, eroding the foundations of law;
international diplomacy; and one of the most important elements
of society, in fact, the fundamental element: The family. The
alienation that is likely beginning now will have lifelong
consequences for Melisande and for me and for Melisande's
entire family in the U.S. I can't imagine doing to my daughter
what is being done to her.
I deplore my family's tragedy being politicized. And I
appeal to Russia to look beyond political one-upmanship and to
acknowledge that a horrible injustice is being done to a little
girl who needs her father, and to a father and family that love
her little golden head, sparkling eyes, and joyous laugh.
Americans must take a decisive stance on defending our own
citizens, our own inalienable rights to the most basic of
relationships and bonds that a person has: Those between
children and their parents.
I pray that our testimonies might lead to legislation which
would unite all bereaved parties, which would prevent similar
situations for other parents and children who might suffer due
to selfish decisions of one or the other parent.
Intervention by government agencies whose hands are tied by
incomplete or non-existent laws and enforcement mechanisms can
lead to one eventuality and one alone. In non-Hague cases and,
as we see, many Hague cases of child abduction, physical
possession of the child spells complete control of the
situation and of the other parent. The situation must be
remedied for our children's future.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Izzard follows:]
Mr. Smith. Mr. Izzard, thank you.
The Chair recognizes Mr. Bower.
STATEMENT OF MR. COLIN BOWER, FATHER OF CHILDREN ABDUCTED TO
Mr. Bower. Thank you.
Chairman Smith, honorable subcommittee members. Thank you
for inviting me to testify today. Chairman Smith, thank you, in
particular, for your support of H. Res. 193 with Congressman
My children, both American citizens, were kidnapped and are
being held illegally today in Egypt by Egypt. Meanwhile, the
United States rewards Egypt by giving them billions of dollars
in aid, $2 billion, in particular, announced last week.
This is wrong, by any definition. And I call for cessation
of any aid to Egypt from the United States until they recognize
human rights, the spirit of their own revolution, and, in doing
so, return my sons: Noor and Ramsay Bower.
Noor and Ramsay, now ages 10 and 8, were kidnapped to Egypt
in August 2009 by the mother, Mirvat el Nady. In light of
Mirvat el Nady's condition, outlined in H. Res. 193, I have
always assumed the parenting responsibilities for my two boys.
I woke up with them every day, fed them, clothed them, made
sure they got to school or to an appropriate activity I
scheduled for them, and I brought them to their play dates and
parties. I bathed them. I read to them. And I put them to bed.
I changed jobs in order to simultaneously support my family
financially and act as a de facto single parent. Before and
after the divorce, I remained their sole legal and primary
What I think of today and worry about most is Noor's and
Ramsay's present safety and their future quality of life. I
wonder what they are being taught. I believe this will
materially determine what they think and what choices they will
ultimately have in life.
Their futures are being impacted each day they remain
parented by an unfit mother, remain supported by her
government, and enabled by her family from the abduction to the
ongoing support of parental alienation and child abuse, both
financially through their family company, Egybelg, and
otherwise. My boys are being forced to hide from the rest of
the world. And I can't imagine what this must be like for them.
There are several notable issues involved in this tragedy.
First, this is not a custody battle. There was a 20-month court
case in Boston completed in December 2008 in which both parties
participated fully from start to finish, including Mirvat el
Nady being represented by six separate high-powered U.S.
This is a Federal crime. The FBI issued a Federal warrant
for the arrest of Mirvat el Nady, including the issuance of an
INTERPOL red notice.
Third, this involves national security. Mirvat el Nady
obtained Egyptian passports for the children in false last
names. The passports were in false names. The Egyptian
passports were real. Passport fraud, which this is, is an
extraditable offense under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty,
the MLAT Treaty, that exists today between Egypt and the United
States. False passports, by definition, are used to commit
crimes in other countries, just as in this case.
Fourth, this is child abuse. U.S. Supreme Court and other
international bodies deemed both child abduction and parental
alienation child abuse. This is not debatable.
The fact that Mirvat el Nady was found to be a long-tern
addict of schedule 2 narcotics and incapable of to this day
anticipating the boys' needs it yet another level of child
abuse, which imperils the boys today.
Lastly, this is a state-sponsored crime. The Egyptian
Government issued false passports. They indirectly own the
airline that ignored all the obvious flags by letting Mirvat el
Nady kidnap these boys to Egypt using Egypt Air. And they
provided el Nady security through the Egyptian State Security
Agency, an agency which is now defunct after the revolution for
being corrupt. The Egyptian Government shut down streets for
Mirvat el Nady to travel, something they don't do for the
highest level politicians.
There are many things we can do immediately to protect our
children in basic human rights. Because time is limited, I am
going to focus on five. The first and most obvious given
current events, before receiving the $2 billion de facto aid
package announced last week, Egypt must demonstrate through
action its commitment to human rights.
Even the people of Egypt, who will either benefit or suffer
from this aid, have spoken about the need to make sure this
money does not simply continue the power structure that existed
under the now defunct Mubarak regime.
By fact and definition, my children's rights are and have
been abused for 21 months now. I call on the U.S. Government to
ensure that the new Egyptian Government is protecting human
rights, not violating them, and demonstrates this with the
return of Noor and Ramsay before giving any aid to Egypt.
Second, before receiving aid, we need to ensure that the
MLAT is being enforced by our partners and appropriate
extradition is being carried out. This is a national security
issue and one that impacts all of us in the United States. We
should not provide aid to countries that have enabled crimes to
be committed in our country against our citizen and who do not
implement conditions of the MLAT.
Any agreement can be signed, but if it's not enforced, it
is worse than having no treaty as all as it allows purveyors of
deceit to fly under a false cloak of legitimacy.
Third, before they receive aid, we need countries to agree
to recognized and mirror existing probate orders involving
custody decisions reached in residential jurisdictions where
both parties were active participants and legally represented.
The country harboring the fugitive should issue a mirror
order consistent with the existing order in the country of the
children's primary residence. These are principles not
inconsistent with the Hague Convention today.
Fourth, I call on the Republican Party to stop the
moratorium on resolutions being heard this Congress and make
available the ability of House resolutions to be heard on the
floor, including and notably H. Res. 193, which is bipartisan
and involves the lives of my two little boys.
Alternatively, I ask for exceptions to be made in cases
crucial to the lives of American children, including my boys
and others in similar situations.
I ask that both parties stand together to send a strong
message to Egypt and other countries that we support the
Egyptian people's goal of obtaining democracy in human rights
by assuring their new government acts in concert with these
values before receiving the financial backing of the United
Given the relevant facts, it is not a stretch to say that
H. Res. 193 if acted upon could very well save the lives of
Noor and Ramsay.
Fifth, there must be further controls in place to protect
against the unlawful removal of our children to foreign
countries. In my case, the divorce judgment did call for a
restriction on my ex-wife, Mirvat el Nady, to remove the
children from the Commonwealth. Were such controls in place,
this removal would not have happened.
Subcommittee members, I thank you for your invitation to
speak today and for your consideration of this most important
[The prepared statement of Mr. Bower follows:]
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much for your testimony.
Mr. Smith. I thank each of you for your very specific
recommendations and for very carefully delineating your
individual heartache because that helps us to get a better
handle on what we can do to be, hopefully, positive in our
response as well.
I would again note that this is a panel of non-Hague
countries. You know, the three of you have had your children
abducted to a country that has not signed the Hague, unlike our
first panel. We will have a series of votes, so I will be
brief. But on the Office of Children's Issues, if you could
tell us briefly how well or poorly they have served you.
And I would encourage you not to worry about retaliation,
even though that is easier for me to say than you. And if any
of you, any of the parents, know of an instance where someone
copped an attitude or worse as a result of your candor, we as
an oversight, as well as a lawmaking subcommittee, legislative
subcommittee, need to know that because we all serve you. And I
want to say that again with emphasis.
I would like to know if each of you have had a phone call
from perhaps the Ambassador or any contact with the Ambassador
in Russia, Egypt, and Japan. And also two of you spoke in
Michael Elias' case of a passport being issued under fraudulent
circumstances; in other words, the judge took the original
And then someone at the Consulate's office in Chicago,
Illinois falsely issued, either knowingly or unknowingly--we
don't know still, but the Japanese Government told you that
there would be an investigation. What has happened to that
investigation? We asked. And before you answer, in the case of
Mr. Bower, you talked about outright fraud, where it's clear
the wrong names in violation, as you put, of the MLAT. What has
been the response of our Government to you on that issue?
And then I will yield to Mr. Payne for any questions he
might have. Please?
Mr. Elias. As far as the Office of Children's Issues,
Congressman Smith, I have spoken with them directly. I have not
gained or lost or anything from them. So there is no comment I
could really make upon that.
And as far as the phone call from the Ambassador goes from
Japan, I have not personally spoken, received a letter, or
heard any news of good or bad, from him personally.
Mr. Smith. Briefly, has somebody from the Embassy called
you at any time or has it all been OCI or what?
Mr. Elias. There is that ongoing investigation, but for the
past almost 3 years in December that my children have been
gone, I have not received anything upon an investigation or
call from their Embassy directly from Chicago or New York.
Mr. Smith. Do you and the other left-behind parents whose
children have been abducted to Japan with the G-8 Summit very,
very shortly to be convened and the anticipated announcement by
Japan that they may sign the Hague, of course, with
reservations--that could be catastrophic--how does that make
you feel and the other left-behind parents whose kids are in
Mr. Elias. As far as them signing the Hague Convention, I
don't see it happening personally. And, like we discussed
before, even if they do, there's going to be numerous different
kinds of language in it that would probably prevent me or any
other left-behind parent as of right now from being
grandfathered in. And it would definitely have to be--I think
we should definitely--if we're getting them to sign the Hague
Convention, we should sit down and declare what we want in the
Hague Convention, not what they see as right to be put in just
so they can have us off their back and say, ``Don't worry about
Mr. Smith. In your view, there would need to be a sidebar
agreement, country to country, U.S.----
Mr. Elias. There needs to be a sit-down with them.
Mr. Smith. Thank you.
Mr. Izzard. I would like to answer first the question
regarding OCI and how OCI has served me. It has been competent.
They have conducted two welfare and whereabouts visits in
Russia based entirely on the information which I had to
literally spend a fortune on to actually locate my wife and
daughter via private means.
However, the Office of Children's Issues has refused to
coordinate with the FBI so that the FBI investigation could
move forward because the agent that I had been working with out
of the Chicago field office obviously has an open case with a
number. However, because of the unusual circumstances that we
were not getting divorced when my daughter was abducted, there
is a very high bar to clear in order for there to be Federal
However, OCI has not provided the relevant information as
to how they contact Tatiana so that the FBI could, hopefully,
get the attaches in Russia to contact her and get her side of
Regarding contact with the Embassy or the Ambassador, my
mother actually assisted me greatly in contacting the Embassy
in Moscow. She was at the time living in Moscow. However, the
OCI here in Washington discouraged us from continuing to do so
because they said that they would like all of the communication
to be handled directly through the office in Washington, DC,
even though in my opinion the people on the ground in Russia
have a better understanding of the very unique circumstances
regarding, say, the way things are done in Russia.
I think that is all.
Mr. Smith. Mr. Bower?
Mr. Bower. In my case, I have spoken with Ambassador Scobey
and met with Ambassador Scobey in Cairo a number of times. I am
in almost weekly contact with the Consul General there. I speak
directly and communicate directly with Ambassador Jacobs.
Attention and responsiveness have not been my issue.
Really, it is ironic in a way that this amount of attention
almost takes away from the need to act on either party. And I
would give up all of this attention for one single act, linear
move, in the direction of a return. And I have not seen that.
And I think a lot of the diplomatic speak gets in the way of
any activity whatsoever.
I would also note that, for the record, it is difficult to
speak directly about the State Department when you believe that
the return of your children falls squarely into their hands and
to think about being negative in any which way.
As a family, as a parent in this situation, you do not in
any way want to speak out against an entity that could
potentially provide an avenue for the return of your children.
Regarding the MLAT, the State Department has filed a
request for information. The Assistant U.S. Attorney has filed
a formal request. Senator Kerry has sent a letter. I have, as
is my right according to Egyptian law, filed a request for
information regarding the passport documents. All have been
summarily denied or ignored.
The Attorney General's office is continuing to pursue this.
They have said, the Assistant U.S. Attorney, they have another
arrow in their quiver. I do not know what that means.
There has been no precedent set for extradition under MLAT
Mr. Smith. Mr. Payne?
Mr. Payne. Thank you. Thank you all for your testimonies.
And I just wondered, Mr. Elias, being a military person, do you
see these issues perhaps even being more prevalent with members
from our military, regardless of where they are serving?
Mr. Elias. I see it being more prominent in the military,
strictly because you are subjected to overseas at long periods
of time. And if I could give anything to that, that question,
when you are brought overseas, any country that you go to, as
being a Marine, you are briefed on everything from the number
of people that have AIDS over there to the amount of robberies.
And you are given classes on how the ocean comes in and hits
Our of all of those classes, I should have been given a
class on child abduction or at least----
Mr. Elias. Thank you.
--had it aware to me because I was so young in Japan. I was
only 19 years old serving my country in Japan. And I had no
idea I would be sitting here before any of you today.
Mr. Payne. It seems like that should be a part of the
military training. Japan has had a relationship with the U.S.
military in Okinawa and other places that had been strained for
a long period of time. And it seems like that would be a part
of what they would be talking about.
Hopefully perhaps with the great support that the United
States has been giving with the current tragedy in Japan,
perhaps, you know, there could be some opening up of dialogue
to the Government of Japan about taking a look at the manner in
which they treat their friends.
In Egypt also, a country that is going through transition,
perhaps it may be an opportunity. There is a very close
military relationship to the Egyptian military currently in
charge. And it might be a suggestion to our State Department
officials and even the Department of Defense because they were
probably the ones that influenced the Egyptians not to fire on
the people, Egyptian people, military, military kind of
relationship they have. And, as we saw in other countries,
Syria, Tunisia, the military fired on the people. They did.
So there could possibly be at this time an opportunity to
have our Government talk, even if it's with military, State
Department, to the Egyptian Government. So I would hope that
that might be a window of opportunity.
And, even, actually, in Russia, there is a better working
relationship with the Russian authorities and the U.S. They
have cooperated with us on Iran, for example, on the
proliferation of potential nuclear weapons.
And so I would hope that perhaps one of the moves from our
subcommittee would be that we make a special appeal because of
the changing situation. I mean, it doesn't apply to everybody
in every country but, at least your three countries, I think
that there is some hope, at least, that there could be some
So, with that, I won't ask you any other questions at this
time. We have votes coming up. And I will yield to other
members of the panel. Thank you.
Mr. Smith. Ms. Buerkle?
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to you all
for being here today. Mr. Elias, thank you for your service to
I will ask three brief questions and allow other members to
ask their questions and then submit additional questions in
writing. Mr. Izzard, in your testimony, you mentioned about the
two Russian diplomats in the Russian Embassy and your ex-wife
worked with them.
Has any follow-up been done? Has anyone held them
accountable for their part in this? And was there any
Mr. Izzard. There has been no prosecution. There was a
meeting approximately 1 month ago between the United States
Department of State and Russian Consulate employees. The State
Department declined to tell me with whom they met in
particular. I do not believe that it was these two individuals.
And the Russian Consulate stated that their policy is that
any person that comes in their front door that can prove that
they are a Russian citizen, that that person's word will be
taken at face value on good faith. And, therefore, they felt
that they were justified in doing whatever that they did in
issuing whatever, the Repatriation Certificate, which allowed
my ex-wife and daughter to leave the country without passports.
Ms. Buerkle. And so someone from the State Department had
attended that hearing or that meeting, but you were not
involved in that meeting?
Mr. Izzard. I was not involved in that meeting, and I was
given very limited information as to what was divulged.
Ms. Buerkle. Do you know who the person from the State
Mr. Izzard. I believe it was Ms. Janelle Guest. And I think
she was accompanied by someone else, but I do not know that
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you.
Mr. Elias, same with regards to you. After the judge
ordered that the passports be surrendered, you testified that
your ex-wife obtained new passports. Has there been an
investigation of her actions, anyone who may have assisted her,
and any outcome to that or prosecution?
Mr. Elias. I have my speculations of who assisted her and
everything like that. I don't want to get into that, but there
is supposedly an ongoing investigation that I have not received
a conclusion for at this time.
Ms. Buerkle. And in your situation, is it State Department
as well? Who is conducting this investigation? Is it the FBI?
Mr. Elias. The actual Embassy of Japan.
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you.
And, lastly, Mr. Bower, you mentioned about the TSA's role
and the airline's role and the fact that they let the children
go through. Has any further action been taken against the
airlines and/or the TSA? Have you had a conversation with them
and made them aware of the situation?
Mr. Bower. Yes. As a matter of fact, there is currently a
suit that I filed against Egypt Air in this matter. And the
suit is ongoing. So I can't speak much about it. So I will
leave it like that.
But yes. We are in discovery about this very issue.
Ms. Buerkle. And with regards to the TSA, have they been
put on notice of what happened?
Mr. Bower. Yes, they have.
Ms. Buerkle. Thank you. I will yield back my time. Thank
you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to our witnesses today.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much.
Mr. Marino. Chairman, I do not have any questions. I would
like to make a statement, though.
First of all, I cannot begin to imagine what pain all of
you have gone through. You have my deepest sympathies. I know
the two best wonderful days of my life have been when I adopted
Before I was a prosecutor, I was involved in domestic law
here in the United States. And it can be extremely difficult. I
can only magnify that by a million times with domestic law or
international divorce law and custody, but I think where we can
start here is because you have answered all of the questions
There is no question that I could ask that would elicit a
resolution, but I think I speak for my colleagues. And it has
been certainly the chairman has gone down this path once or
twice. I think the place for you to start is with your
representatives, your congressman, your congresswoman, your
senators because we deal a great amount of time with foreign
We deal with ambassadors given the fact that we are on
Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security. These all
overlap. And in many cases, having a congressman or a
congresswoman or a senator involved may to a certain extent
expedite the matter.
I see my colleague to the left of me has been writing down
names from State Department. And we can make phone calls. We
can ask for meetings with these people and, if we have to,
demand what can and should be done.
And we are talking about international law. We are talking
about treaties. We are talking about relationships or lack
thereof with other countries. But I think we can initiate the
task that you have undertaken. And it seems like many of you
have undertaken these tasks yourselves.
So the only thing that I can offer at this point is contact
us from the beginning. We will play a vital role in this,
communicating with our State Department and our ambassadors.
I am a new member of the Congress, but I can tell you that
I have spoken with numerous ambassadors in addressing this
specific issue with them. I presented to the ambassadors a
situation that had nothing to do with why they were visiting me
but with what the United States had on their mind concerning
other issues and got their attention rather quickly.
So perhaps in the future we can assist that way, at the
very least, and help you through the process until we get this,
your particular issue, resolved or until we get this resolved
concerning any abductions of American children.
I yield my time.
Mr. Smith. Mr. Marino, thank you very much. You know, you
raised an extraordinarily important point that we can be
advocates. And I would encourage you, if you haven't already,
to be in contact with your individual member and two senators.
In the last appropriations bill, we wrote language that was
included in the bill that admonished, told, instructed the
Office of Children's Issues to inform a left-behind parent who
files with them that a good advocate could be their own
individual representative; but because of Privacy Act reasons,
they can't automatically say to us--because I would like to
know who in my district or in my state, for example, who is a
left-behind parent. And I am not sure how well that is being
I ask but don't necessarily get good answers back, but it
does mean that we will then be on their backs, just as our
constituents, rightfully, should be on our backs to do our job.
You know, we all serve the people and not the other way
around. So I thank you all. If there is anything else you would
like to add before we go to panel number three? You have been
tremendous witnesses. And I agree with my colleagues on both
sides of the aisle. Our hearts go out to you. And we will do
everything we can possibly do to keep the pressure on.
Yes, Mr. Bower?
Mr. Bower. Chairman, I would just like to make one point. I
understand that the Foreign Services Committee has jurisdiction
over bilateral aid.
Mr. Smith. Yes.
Mr. Bower. And I would note that the aid, as announced last
week in President Obama's speech, would, therefore, fall under
the jurisdiction of this committee. And I would ask that you
make a stipulation that my children be returned before $1 of
that aid is given to Egypt.
Mr. Smith. I thank you. Yes, sir. Your point is well-taken.
Mr. Smith. Both the Appropriations Committee and the
authorizing committees have jurisdiction. So thank you so much
for that, appreciate it. Anything else you would like to add?
I would also like to say to all of the other left-behind
parents here and others who couldn't be here today there will
be additional hearings. We will focus on the military side,
like Michael Elias.
I did do an amendment to the Department of Defense bill a
couple of years back, in 2009, that requires them, as Mr. Payne
was pointing out so well, to begin educating--and Patricia Apy
will speak to this, I'm sure, when she testifies--so that
people who are deployed overseas are not unaware of what the
risks are, and also so that our JAG corps is much better
acquainted with the issue of child abduction to better serve
those who are deployed overseas.
So thank you so much, all three, for your tremendous
testimony. Thank you.
Mr. Smith. I would like to now introduce our third panel of
experts, beginning with Ms. Patricia Apy, who is a partner with
the law firm of Paras, Apy, and Reiss, who specializes in
complex family litigation, particularly international
interstate child custody litigation. Her qualifications for
testifying for us are impressive and extensive. And I will
reference only a few of them.
She has litigated, been qualified as an expert witness, and
consulted on international family disputes throughout the
world. Ms. Apy frequently consults and is regularly qualified
as an expert on family dispute resolution in non-Hague
countries and risk factors for child abduction. She has also
participated in numerous reported decisions on Hague treaties
regarding child protection and abduction. She is also a
consultant to the U.S. Departments of State and Defense on
issues involving families and children and the application of
She was also, as we all know, one of the lead attorneys,
certainly the lead U.S. attorney, for David Goldman, and
provided expert advice and counsel in that long, arduous case.
Next we will hear from Ms. Kristin Wells, who is a partner
in the law firm Patton Boggs. Ms. Wells provides lobbying
services on a range of international affairs issues. She is
well-known here on the Foreign Affairs Committee as she
previously served as deputy chief counsel to now Ranking Member
In that capacity, she worked on international child
abduction issues with me and with my staff and others,
including the crafting of H. Res. 125, known as the Sean and
David Goldman Resolution, which also included Patrick Braden's
case of his abducted child, Melissa.
I introduced this resolution, calling on the Brazilian
Government to return Sean to his father. It passed the House in
And then we will hear from Jesse Eaves, who is a child
protection policy advisor at World Vision right here in
Washington. Jesse coordinates the advocacy portfolio for issues
of child protection. That includes child soldiers, exploited
child labor, child trafficking, and child sexual exploitation.
He works with World Vision programs around the world to ensure
child protection is integrated into programming and
international advocacy strategy. Jesse also educates and
mobilizes Americans to take a stand against abuse,
exploitation, neglect, and violence toward children.
Ms. Apy, the floor is yours.
STATEMENT OF MS. PATRICIA APY, ATTORNEY, PARAS, APY & REISS,
Ms. Apy. Good afternoon, Chairman Smith and Ranking Member
Payne and members of the subcommittee. Earlier in the
testimony, there was reference by one of the witnesses to the
concept of a time capsule. And that immediately resonated to
the testimony I am about to give because, actually, 11 years
ago, in May 2000, I was asked by the Clinton administration to
travel to Japan to begin discussions addressing the Hague
Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child
Abduction and to discuss international child support
Ironically, both of those meetings were--and I have since
obviously been to Japan, most recently in the congressional
delegation headed by Congressman Smith. Both of those meetings
and discussions about the Hague Convention were immediately
preceding the G-8 Summit.
Now, in 2000, I met with Japanese officials, attorneys,
judges, American diplomats, and American military commanders
and addressed the issues of parental kidnapping, the abduction
convention, allegations of domestic violence, and cases
involving American service members.
I left the meetings having been told by the Japanese that
they were considering the protections found in the Hague
treaty. And I wad told by American diplomats that they were
discouraged at what appeared to be little more than lip
When I returned with Congressman Smith in February, the
topics discussed were precisely the same as the discussions
that had been held 11 years earlier.
I am expecting to return to Japan in July to provide on-
site training to American judge advocates and civilian
attorneys serving our military families abroad regarding
international child custody considerations.
I think that, given that we have had the announcements with
respect to the Hague Convention, it is extraordinarily
important to understand exactly what is being proposed and how
it is and is not responsive to the issues raised and the
extraordinarily poised and heartfelt testimony you have heard
from left-behind parents.
Encouraging accession to the Hague Convention is, of
course, a laudable goal. For one thing, it is a positive step
in international law to define and recognize parental
kidnapping as a wrongful act, which, believe me, as we sit here
is not appreciated in Japan.
It ensures that the eventual resolution of a child custody
dispute will be done in the place where the evidence is located
regarding what is in the best interest of a child. That is the
focus of the Convention. That is the child's habitual
However, the moment that the Japanese deposit the accession
to the Convention and request the accession to be accepted by
the United States of America, a number of things will happen.
And those have to be considered and appreciated, particularly
by the Congress. One is that the people who are sitting behind
me with children who have been abducted to Japan will be left
in a position of legal limbo.
Now, in cases in which we have accessions filed by
countries that have a family law construct and a type of family
law which has a legal culture that appreciates custody and
appreciates visitation, it consigns those whose children have
been abducted to have to litigate their cases in the country to
which the child has been taken. That is not what I am talking
In this situation, there is no remedy. Promises that the
Japanese domestic law is going to be changed are welcome but
not responsive to the issue that this is an international
parental abduction. And, of course, it is not responsive to the
real issue that is being raised here. And that is what happens
when we are talking about issues parental abduction that rise
above the individual cases to a nation state's issue.
No parent should be in the position of having to become the
United States Department of State, which is essentially what
you have heard described to you here today. The treaty provides
that the Convention will apply between contracting states only
to wrongful removals and retentions after its entry into force.
So as an initial preposition, that will cut off all of the
individuals, who, by the way, you have numbered incorrectly.
Non-Hague countries are historically under-reported by the
United States Department of State for good reasons. First of
all, there are no central authorities in the countries involved
which are keeping accurate numbers. We keep numbers based on
who has applied for assistance through the State Department or
applied for assistance through a central authority abroad.
In the case of a non-treaty signator, there is no
repository. And many of the individuals who have been affected
don't bother to file, certainly historically, with the United
States Department of State because there were no services
provided, no advantages to have done so. So, as a result, you
have a whole host and percentage of cases who have simply
The second issue is, particularly as it relates to American
military members, abductions from our bases in Japan, for
example, are considered internal domestic abductions and,
therefore, aren't considered as international abductions,
despite the fact that an American service member may have been
living on one of our bases.
So if the purpose of this hearing is, in part, to identify
how we can improve the rate of the return of children, the very
first thing you have to do is have a legitimate way of
identifying how many children you have and what the problems
The other issue is that if the accession is deposited as it
is expected with extensive reservations, it will be a lot worse
than form over substance.
In a recent press account issued in Japan, there were
assurances that the proposed legislation would specify that
returns will be denied in the case of child or spousal abuse
and there will be--and I will quote here--``no negative effects
on the welfare of the child.'' Let me tell you that what that
means is that it implies a best interest determination, which
is prohibited by the express language of the treaty. In other
words, it converts it from an abduction case to a child custody
And, finally, the chairman of the Japanese Federation of
Bar Associations cautioned,--and I will quote--``Urging the
government not to rush into concluding the treaty, citing the
need for thorough discussion by experts and related parties.''
Well, as I indicate in my written remarks, it would be
difficult to imagine, since the dialogue regarding the treaty
was alleged to have begun before July 2000, when the world's
leaders met in Okinawa, and assurances were made to President
Clinton what further internal discussions could be conducted
which would do anything other than delay and obstruct the
return of abducted children.
The recommendations, which are included in my written
remarks, include as it relates to not just the Japanese issue
but any offering of an accession to not merely accept the
accession without some critical analysis, which has been the
policy of the United States Department of State. We accept the
accession. And then we worry about how it actually works.
I must caution it is a dangerous precedent. American judges
rely on accessions as evidence that if they allow a child to
visit grandma in a Hague country like Turkey, that the child
will be returned in accordance with the Hague Convention,
despite the fact that there may be no central authority that
has been provided, despite the fact that there is no political
or actual will on the part of that country to do so.
I recommend that in advance of full compliance with the
treaty, that the United States Department of State encourage
the return of children through a number of diplomatic
mechanisms. One is that they enter into a memorandum of
understanding, which is drafted to include an immediate
protocol for the resolution of existing cases involving
children alleged to have been abducted to Japan, abducted
within Japan, as well as Japanese children alleged to have been
abducted to the United States.
By setting this model protocol, issues of particular
concern to Japanese legislators could be addressed in advance
of finalizing the language in domestic legislation. So if we
are going to start talking about issues, for example, of
domestic violence, which are genuine concerns, and issues of
spousal and child abuse, which are genuine concerns, by having
an MOU, the good faith nature of those concerns, as opposed to
what have seen in many, many of these cases,--and that is
pretext to avoid returns--can be ferreted out. And the Japanese
legislators, who are dealing with the rewrite of their domestic
law, can have the benefit of experts in the United States who
are failed with these issues and create a objective and
credible mechanism for ensuring that such allegations are
seriously addressed, protections assured, mutual recognition
encouraged, and preventing the use of false allegations to
reduce the effectiveness of the treaty.
We have to deal with the issues of American service members
and their families and assist judge advocates and command
authority with tools to advise American service members and
Japanese national family members of reasonable and enforceable
And we have to assess Japan's genuine commitment to the
process of fighting international parental abduction by setting
objective standards, which can be evaluated and can be
addressed critically, if necessary. This would provide a
template for other countries which are considering the steps
approaching signing onto the Hague Convention.
We have other nations, particularly--and, again, my written
remarks will address it. And I know we are short on time, but
there was comment made about statecraft and the issues of
statecraft as it relates to this particular problem.
We have countries like Pakistan. Not only do we have
significant issues of aid, but we have huge populations of
Pakistani-Americans who have relationships and travel regularly
back and forth.
The United Kingdom has entered into bilateral agreements
with the Pakistanis to deal with child abduction issues. We
should be in that same position.
Now, again, historically the United States Department of
State has taken a position that they will not entertain a
memorandum of understanding because historically it was viewed
to dilute the global effectiveness of getting everyone on
board, if you will, to the Hague Convention.
The problem with that is the countries now, the non-Hague
countries, in vast majority that have not entered into the
Hague have unique issues with respect to the religious and
cultural elements of their law, which make it necessary, very
frankly, to find other ways to assure that they can become full
reciprocal partners under the Hague.
A memorandum of understanding provides that opportunity.
And the United States Department of State should immediately
engage in discussions with judicial and governmental officials
in non-Hague countries that have indicated that they want to do
that, like the United Arab Emirates, India, and Pakistan.
Finally, with regard to reciprocity and the comments that
were made with respect to the United States Department of State
and the Office of Children's Issues and the perception of
American left-behind parents that they're not being advocated
for, there is no question that the United States Department of
State Office of Children's Issues has as a client, not the
individual parent, but the United States of America. That is
The problem is not that parents in my experience want them
to be lawyers or want them to be involved in individual family
litigation. They want them to do their job, which is to address
the diplomatic issues and efforts, collection of information,
and accountability that an individual litigant cannot possibly
In order for them to have the tools to do that, there have
to be some very concrete things that are done. One is there has
to be in real time an acknowledgement when a country is not
acting in compliance with the treaty and cull that out in more
than the report form. That is that reciprocity has to be
something that an American judge and American parents who were
formulating settlements of custody disputes can rely upon.
Legislative efforts in this body and in the other body must
provide mechanisms for diplomatic actions that deal with the
systemic lack of reciprocity. These parents can't do it
The protections outlined in now numbered 1940, the Smith
bill, provides an objective, transparent process to evaluate
reciprocity, which is the first step. Is this really a
reciprocal relationship anymore? If it's not, like in Ecuador,
where there is no central authority anymore, an American judge
in Illinois might want to know that there is no way to get a
child back because an American parent is going to have to hire
three lawyers to be able to do it because there is no central
By way of example, in circumstances in which there are
persistent and historical misuse of this process and treaty,
other American parents and judges who are similarly situated
need to know that. No one should have to hire experts to appear
in family courts, which right now they do, in order to get
protective orders to prevent abductions.
The work of this body in having resolutions, which
addressed Brazil and Japan, has been used in hundreds of cases
around the United States to provide the opportunity for parents
and judges to formulate protective orders.
But you shouldn't have to do that. You should be able to--I
mean, this body should not have to go to work on every
individual child abduction case. There should be a process that
evaluates that a country is not in compliance, enter into, if
necessary, an MOU, which addresses the deficiency and allows
for an objective review.
Ms. Apy. A reasonable system of diplomatic consequences
must be available to the Secretary of State and the President
of the United States so that no country may engage in the
repeated and flagrant violation of its treaty obligations with
In conclusion--and I appreciate the extraordinary amount of
time that this issue has been given by this committee, and I
will tell you that the prior committee hearings and commission
hearings have made incredible impacts on the operation of
domestic law in the United States. And so I congratulate the
chairman and the members of this subcommittee for spending the
time that they have.
You are already aware that two of my clients, David Goldman
and Michael Elias, have offered testimony to you today. I am
most certainly not the only family lawyer working to see that
families and children are protected from the scourge of
international parental abduction. And I cringed when earlier
there was a moment or two of concern about the motivation of
lawyers, but I need to say that the American Bar Association
Family Law Section and international sections, in particular,
have been asked by the President of the ABA at the request of
Congressman Smith to review the legislation that has been
presented and the issues and to make recommendation on this
legislation and other actions of this body.
Additionally, the American Chapter of the International
Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have also offered their
expertise, both in evaluating proposed legislation and in
providing assistance to the United States Department of State.
Both the members of the ABA and the IAML have given thousands
of hours of pro bono assistance in support of the return of
abducted children and in advice and counsel to our colleagues
at the United States Department of State.
I am personally appreciative of the continued willingness
of Secretary Janice Jacobs to entertain my concerns and those
of my colleagues in attempting to address these complex issues
on a case-by-case basis. However,--and this is the take-away--
her accessibility is no substitute for a genuine, identifiable,
and transparent process to address issues involving all
similarly situated parents diplomatically.
My colleagues continue to provide incredible insight and
advice and a willingness to work with the Members of Congress
to improve the working of the treaty. The comment to contact
your Congress person is only part of the step.
The members of this subcommittee I do not believe are
representative of what usually happens. And that is, the people
behind me contact their Congress person, who contacts OCI, who
sends a self-serving letter that basically goes through
administrative steps that have been taken and nothing more.
There is no advocacy associated with that.
My observations during my most recent visit to Japan
revealed the extraordinary access and contact that Congressman
Smith was able to achieve, which undoubtedly advanced the
serious dialogue with the Japanese Government in which we are
I am honored to have been given the opportunity to
participate in those meetings and to testify before this
subcommittee in its efforts to bring every abducted child home.
And I thank you.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Apy follows:]
Mr. Smith. Ms. Apy, thank you very much.
And Ms. Wells?
STATEMENT OF MS. KRISTIN WELLS, PARTNER, PATTON BOGGS LLP
Ms. Wells. Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Payne,
Representative Marino, and members of the subcommittee, I am
honored to be here today to share with you my thoughts and
concerns about the parental abduction of American children to
I am here today testifying on my own behalf. And in no way
should any of my comments be attributed to the partnership of
Patton Boggs or any of its clients.
My written testimony provides an overview of some of the
policy issues around international abduction of children. A
number of these have been discussed already. So I am going to
shorten my oral comments today. But my testimony does highlight
some issues with the Hague Convention. It addresses obstacles
associated with non-Hague Convention cases, discusses some of
the challenges and improvements that have occurred at the
Department of State, but I am going to discuss that a bit more.
We had highlighted issues relating to abductions in Africa
and Japan and made some suggestions on some practical actions
that Congress and other parts of the U.S. Government can take
to improve the U.S. Government's response to abduction cases.
I will note that my testimony focuses primarily on abducted
American children. And that, rightfully, is the focus today.
But it is important to note that the Hague Convention also
covers non-U.S. citizen children who are residing in the United
States at the time of their abduction, irrespective of their
immigration status here.
And also as a party to the Convention, the United States is
obliged to help return the hundreds of children who are
abducted from other countries into the United States each year
from around the world. And I think this is an issue that the
committee and subcommittee should continue to look at. We are
rightfully concerned about U.S. citizens and U.S. constituents,
but we also need I think to take a look at how our country is
doing in respending to requests from other countries.
The Convention, as we have discussed, is a very imperfect
legal instrument, but it has successfully helped to resolve a
number of child abduction cases around the world. And it has
returned children to their left-behind parents. And for every
parent that has gotten their child through the Hague Convention
mechanism, I am sure they are grateful of its existence,
despite its sometimes low success rate.
It does provide a means for countries to communicate with
one another and identifies authorities in each nation
responsible for addressing these cases.
To clarify some of the internationally agreed-upon values
of focusing on the child's best interest--and I don't mean, as
Ms. Apy noted, that other courts should be making that
determination, but it agrees that that is an important
principle and that that principle should be best met by the
jurisdictional court, where the child habitually resided. It
also presses governments to promptly return the child. And it
embodies promises made by the contracting states to assist
other countries in locating children abducted into their
Despite these benefits, there are too many cases, as we
have heard today, where the Hague countries fail to return
children to their state of habitual residence unless the Hague
Convention does often fail in its primary objective.
The unfortunate delays in return and sometimes the complete
failure to return children result from a number of problems
with the Convention itself at times. One of the problems, as we
have heard, is the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism.
And I think some of the discussions about the use of trade and
other mechanisms of bilateral power or influence are in
response to the fact that there is no enforcement process.
But the Hague Conference on International Private Law,
while it has no enforcement mechanism, could still continue to
discuss ways in which enforcement could be further enhanced,
not just in the interest of the United States but for all
nations that are signatories.
In particular, though, this issue of enforcement is
particularly complicated when a child is a dual national. And,
as we have often seen or heard in these cases that were
described today, even when a child is not a dual national, they
often become a dual national as part of the abduction and the
effort to take or keep them in another country.
In addition to the issue of enforcement, there is also
insufficient oversight of the Convention, the mechanism--or I
would say I would encourage the committee to look at the
mechanism by which the Hague Conference reviews its own
operations around the world, not just in the United States,
because the truth of the matter is that while the United States
doesn't have any obligation to oversee or make particular
comments about these matters, it is in our interest to do so.
We have as a country tremendous legal expertise and
resources. And so I think if we can look at ways in which we
can also influence the Hague Conference to either take more
actions or initiate new discussions that might not have been
had or continue to help progress their--or I shouldn't say
their agenda but issues that we think are important, such as
oversight and how that oversight is then turned into actionable
review that can improve the Hague system as a whole, I think
that is a useful role for the United States to play.
Although the Convention is over 30 years old, a myriad of
interpretation issues are also evident in the U.S. case law and
in the cases coming from other countries.
The fact that nations and courts interpret the language of
the Convention differently has dramatic effects on these cases
and often result in children not being returned.
There are different interpretations of habitual residence,
debates about where the child actually was living. There are
questions about whether the abduction was wrongful, as was
noted in one of the witness' testimony, where the abducting
spouse said, you know, ``This isn't wrong. I'm the parent.''
And that is a frequent reply, not only by the parents but
sometimes by foreign judicial systems as well. And, yet, the
Convention has some clear language on these matters, but I
guess I shouldn't clear--make it clear to one reader, but then
it's read in so many different ways in different countries.
This is a problem with the Convention and how we come to
some standards that can be uniformly accepted by both the
Convention and then applied by judges around the world. This
would help tremendously, but I think it is going to be a long
haul. Nonetheless, I think it is something for Congress to
think about and look at and to talk with the State Department
and other U.S. Government officials about.
The critical area of interpretation regarding the Hague
Convention is the provision that requires that children not be
returned to a place where they would be harmed. This is the
grave risk of harm extension. And it says that they cannot be
returned to a place where they would be exposed to physical or
This language is very critical in domestic violence cases.
And there is a fair bit of U.S. case law on this as well but
also conflicting case law.
And so in my more lengthy submission, testimony, I have
made a suggestion that the Department of Justice be more
involved at looking at how some of this language is interpreted
by U.S. courts. So that even if we can't prevent the fact that
some of this language might be interpreted differently in the
United States and in Senegal and in Thailand, we can at least
try to make some uniform analysis of how the language of the
Convention is interpreted in the United States.
I also need to note that domestic violence is frequently
alleged and used as a tool, unfortunately, by either the
abducting parents or some of the government officials that get
involved in the case. There are often concerns of domestic
violence raised in cases where there is absolutely no evidence
of that. The false claim, of course, not only hurts those
children involved but hurts, takes away attention from cases
where domestic violence really is at issue.
In terms of non-Hague cases, without the Hague Convention,
left-behind parents face tremendous hurdles. As you, Chairman
Smith, well know, they might not be able to identify where
their child is located. They may seek to get a U.S. custody or
visitation order, recognized in a foreign jurisdiction, but
have faced great hurdles in doing so. They are often not able
to even effectively file a case in another jurisdiction or if
it's filed, it may not get heard.
Sometimes it is difficult to identify who in the foreign
government has the ability, power, or desire to either locate
or help return the child. And without the Hague Convention as a
tool to encourage foreign governments to return the child,
custody is most likely to be decided to a foreign court order
using the child's presence there.
As Ms. Apy noted, I wanted to also highlight that the
Convention is not, however, supposed to be a custody-
determining document. It is not a regime to decide where the
child should live and what is the best overall outcome. It is a
document to determine what court has the jurisdiction to decide
the case. And, as you noted in your testimony, this seems to be
an issue also of great confusion among a lot of the states that
have signed the Hague Convention. And to me, it seems to be a
matter of needing substantially additional training and
guidance that our Government can be involved in, other
governments might be involved in as well, but that needs to be
centralized and organized through the Hague Convention in the
I did want to talk about the Department of State. In
studying this issue over the years, I have heard negative
experiences faced by left-behind parents and their attorneys.
There have also been, as you know, a number of changes at the
Department of State. And I would like to talk about those.
But I must say, having heard the testimony today, that I am
very saddened to hear that some of those changes have not
impacted these families or that the impact is not as visible as
it should be. And so I think there is no doubt that this
committee, the State Department need to continue to do the hard
work of trying to figure out how to get this system right.
Parents are still not feeling that they are being serviced;
that their needs are being taken as seriously as they ought to
be; and, as we have noted, that they have an advocate on their
I will just highlight some of the structural changes,
however. As the committee may be aware, the Special Advisor for
International Children's Issues has been appointed. And
although this is and it's currently held by Ambassador Susan
Jacobs, it is also a position designed to help elevate this
issue, help coordinate between the Secretary of State's Office,
the Office of Children's Issues, and other aspects of the State
I understand, Mr. Smith, that you have a proposal for an
even higher-level ambassador and potentially a new office. And
I am happy to look at that.
I think that this initial position has, from what I have
been hearing, helped garner attention. And I think this
ambassador has been able to play a particular advocacy role in
the diplomatic community that has been important, but there
might be enhancements, either in changing the position or
changing her powers that might be useful as well.
Case management has also been restructured to some extent
at the State Department. In the past, there were the last few
years about 20 Foreign Service officers who handled the heavy
caseload of about 150 cases a year. That has now changed and
they now have up to about 100 officers. Not all of them are
Foreign Service. Some of them are Civil Service. And they now
handle no more than 75 cases.
We should be seeing improvements in the reports from the
families as a result of this. And so I think it is a concern
that we are not. And I am particularly concerned that this is
some of what I heard when I was working on the committee as
I think when you meet with the State Department, I believe
that they are very earnest. I think that the people who are
working on these cases do understand the importance of what
they are doing and are putting forth their best efforts for
these families, but there is a gap to be bridged.
Because of their perceptions or your perceptions as
policymakers and as people looking at oversight of the agency,
you are going to hear different things on one side. And then
you are going to hear another set of things from the families.
I would encourage the committee to consider possibly having
the State Department testify on this issue and be able to
explain some of their limitations. For example, there are
several notes about the State Department not providing families
information on how they contacted the abducting spouse or
identified where the child was.
I suspect that there are limitations on the State
Department officers around that. There might be other
limitations, as has been discussed under Privacy Act issues.
And it might well be that legislation needs to overturn some of
that. But I think it would be helpful if there is a way in
which--and I'm sure that many have been asking for this for
years, but if you can still look to bridge this gap so that the
families feed like they are getting the information they need,
they understand better the bureaucracy of the State Department,
and they also don't look to the State Department as their
adversaries but as their friends, because I think in the end,
only by working together through the administration at the
State Department, Congress, the families, the nonprofit
organizations, the attorneys involved, as Ms. Apy noted, there
have been tremendous strides. And I think more can continue to
be done if everyone tries to stay on the same team.
I had a few comments about Japan, which I am going to
shorten tremendously since I think it has been very well-
covered, but I will say that I have been told that the Embassy
of Japan in the last year or so has become more engaged with
In fact, the day that I met with them was the day that the
Sean Goldman story broke on the news while I was in a meeting
with the Embassy. And at that time--this is several years ago--
the concept of how to work on the Convention and what to do was
one that they responded to with some vagaries. And they noted
that it was being looked at at the Ministry of Justice, but
that was the same answer that had been given for several years.
Now I understand that they are more aggressively involved
in discussions here in the United States about Hague
Convention, but what I haven't heard yet is that they are more
aggressively involved in discussions about individual cases.
So I would reiterate what you, Ms. Apy, and others have
said, that absolutely as they go forward, there has to be a
decision around the existing cases and there has to be, whether
it is in the Hague Convention, accession, or in some other
document, an agreement.
And, of course, we have as primary interests the American
children, but there are children in many other countries, from
many other countries, who are in Japan. And so this is an
internationally concerning issue.
I will just add that I was asked by Congressman Payne if I
could make some comments about Africa. And given the committee
that we are speaking with, I would like to do that.
Most of the nations in Africa are not signatories to the
Hague Convention. At present, the United States only has four
partners to the Convention there: Zimbabwe, South Africa,
Mauritius, and Burkina Faso. And they face unique challenges
there, both in terms of identifying where children are;
operating with the central authorities in those governments;
and, in particular, operating in governments where there is no
The road to accession of the Hague Convention is also
challenging in some of these African nations, where there are
problems with inefficient and ineffective government structures
that have hampered the consideration of the treaty.
In addition, the Hague Convention does have a project on
Africa to look at this issue and try to make strides in that
region of the world. But there has been an identification at
least that because of the critical role of personal
relationships in Africa--and I have heard that this is also
played in large part in Asia--that having a real regional
approach that is individually based is important.
So having a conference in the Netherlands or in Washington,
DC, is not going to help get countries in Africa to start
looking at the Hague Convention. It will require a lot of
direct outreach on an individual level.
I will note that children abducted to Africa, the profiles
of their cases look somewhat different. The Africa cases tend
to be of African immigrants who have come to the United States,
either temporarily or permanently, where both parents are from
an African nation and the child is abducted by one parent,
taken back to the home country, and is often left with extended
family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or people living in the
United States would be considered friends but are very much
relatives in the construct of an African family.
And there are a small number but a notable presence of
cases where female genital cutting is a concern of the left-
behind parent. As you can imagine, the logistics when a child
disappears in countries where there may not be sufficient
infrastructure, where telecommunications are still developing,
despite the availability of cell phones, where the Internet
might be spare, is a challenge not just for the State
Department following up on cases but very much a challenge for
the left-behind parent. And, of course, challenges in the weak
judicial systems that exist in many of these countries is also
Also--and this is getting to my last point on this--the
left-behind parent as African immigrants here in the United
States faces challenges because of that status as well. They
tend to not necessarily live in large communities of African
immigrants. It is different from, for example, being a Mexican-
American living on this side of the U.S. border and near the
border, where there might be lots of Mexican-Americans and lots
of resources to help support you and learn more about how you
can politicize or get media attention for your issue.
So getting attention from law enforcement, getting
attention from the legal system, and interacting with the
political system of the United States, Congress, but even at a
local level state and local politicians is much more of a
challenge. And so what I have heard and my understanding from
speaking with some people in the agency is that these cases are
not getting that kind of attention, and they're not getting the
kind of advocacy that has, fortunately, been developed around
some of the cases in Asia and Europe and other places among the
Lastly, I will just note that I do have a number of
suggestions of response from Congress. I would just like to
note a few. There has been a GAO report on this issue. It was
done in 2000. I think the issue is ripe for a review by GAO,
although, in truth, you might also--because of the time that
GAO takes, you might want to also look at an independent
report. The State Department has at times been given funding to
issue a grant and to an independent report from an outside
attorney or set of attorneys. There might be a way to do
something like that to really effectively look at this issue of
communication between the parents and the agency and, really,
everything about what the State Department is doing on this.
But, in truth, I think that, as I have noted, there are
areas of cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security,
areas of cooperation with the Department of Justice that are
important to look at, too, and what we heard today about TSA.
And we know the problems with the exit system. But there
are, for example, ways to flag a U.S. passport. Maybe there are
ways that a U.S. child's name can be flagged with the airline,
regardless of what country the passport comes from. That still
might be thwarted when the name of the child is changed, but as
it is right now, if an airline brings a person to the United
States who does not have a visa, the airline has to pay a
penalty to the United States and has to return that person at
the airline's expense. So there is a disincentive for them to
allow people on the planes without appropriate passports and
Maybe there is a similar way to create a list of children
who should not be traveling internationally. It is very tricky,
but I think that having some sort of discussion between the
State Department, the other agencies, and Congress, it is
almost more of a working group approach involving families and
maybe these hearings at the beginning of that, where you can
start to tease out and work on how some of these ideas could be
brought into policy, they could improve the overall operations.
And my last point would just be that I think the thing that
I would love to see Members of Congress do more of and that I
know you're a master of, Chairman Smith, is to make sure that
these issues get mentioned to every foreign dignitary that the
members meet with.
I don't necessarily mean every country, but if there is a
country--if the committee pays attention to these issues and
knows, for example, that one of the vast majority of our cases
is with Mexico, then when the Mexican officials are here, it
can be raised. And it can be raised by one member or in a
larger setting. But I think that would help a lot. And, as we
have seen, your attention to this issue has been a tremendous
help for these families.
So thank you.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Wells follows:]
Mr. Smith. Ms. Wells, thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF MR. JESSE EAVES, POLICY ADVISOR FOR CHILDREN IN
CRISIS, WORLD VISION
Mr. Eaves. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Payne, thank you for
holding this hearing today and for inviting me. I, you know,
want to acknowledge the incredibly generous amount of time you
have given to this topic. So I will be very brief and summarize
my remarks and just ask that my full written statement be made
a part of the record.
My name is Jesse Eaves, and I am the Child Protection
Policy Advisor for World Vision USA. World Vision is a
Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization
serving millions of children and their families around the
world, in nearly 100 countries. This work includes programs
that work to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect,
exploitation, and violence against children; and advocating for
effective systems and laws that can provide a safety net for
Today I have been asked to bring a global perspective on
child protection, especially as it relates to preventing and
responding to illegal movement of children, particularly in
I want to thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for your
leadership in working to protect children not only here in the
U.S. but around the world. You have been behind some of the
most important pieces of child-focused legislation in our
nation's history, and the child protection systems within our
country are stronger for it.
As this hearing has shown, powerfully so, we still have
more to do. And that is also, sadly, the case for the vast
majority of countries around the world. Of particular concern
are those countries in a post-conflict or post-emergency
context where children are often found at their most vulnerable
state. And informal and formal systems that should protect them
have either failed or never existed to begin with.
This hearing provides an important opportunity to address
not only how the United States can deal with issues like
international child abduction but also opens the door to put
systems in place that can prevent and respond to all cases of
abuse, neglect, exploitation, abduction, and violence against
Governments in fragile states are often unwilling or unable
to provide the formal services or support the informal
mechanisms required to protect their most vulnerable
The issue of identification documents is of extreme
importance. In fact, something as simple as birth registration
can determine whether a child remains in the care of those who
love them or slip through the cracks, never to be seen again.
For example, the birth registration rate in Sudan is around
33 percent. In South Sudan, almost 300,000 people have returned
to join nearly 10 million Southern Sudanese to take part in the
creation of a new country that already has an incredibly low
capacity to handle such an influx.
With an estimated 60 percent of returnees being under the
age of 18, a lack of birth registration and identification
documents means that unaccompanied and separated children are
less likely to find a caring home and are extremely vulnerable
We now see homeless child populations increasing in urban
centers, particularly in the southern capital of Juba. With no
identification and no way to find their families, these
children are extremely vulnerable to abuses that include
abduction, recruitment into armed militias, and sexual or labor
Having proper documentation and officials trained in how to
identify suspicious behavior is crucial to protecting
vulnerable children, especially in fragile states. Since the
January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many organizations including
World Vision and others, like our partner organization
Heartland Alliance, have worked to train border guards to
prevent the illegal movement of children.
There have been several documented cases where trained and
alert Haitian officials were able to stop children from being
taken illegally across the border. In one case, a 13-year-old
girl was found with a man who could provide no proof of
relation. The girl was placed in the family-tracing system. And
her mother was able to come and provide proof that she was
indeed related to the girl and had not intended for her to be
taken anywhere, let alone out of the country.
In this and in so many other cases, the importance of
documentation and officials implementing protection policies
have meant the difference between a happy reunification and a
life cut tragically short.
Just to conclude, the U.S. can and should play a central
role in encouraging countries as they work to protect their
most precious resource of their children.
Mr. Chairman, last year you introduced a bill that is a
prime example of how the U.S. can take a systems-strengthening
approach in its engagement with other nations. The Child
Protection Compact Act aimed to foster partnerships between
countries and strengthen the very institutions that are crucial
to the protection of all children.
Legislation like the CPCA can play a crucial role in
providing a safer world for children. And we look forward to
seeing similar legislation in the future. We also look forward
to working with you to ensure that every child can live life in
all its fullness.
So thank you again for your leadership, Mr. Chairman and
Ranking Member Payne. And I'll be happy to address any
[The prepared statement of Mr. Eaves follows:]
Mr. Smith. Mr. Eaves, thank you very much for your
testimony and the great work you and your organization do.
Let me ask just a few questions and maybe on Japan, to be
very specific. I only note parenthetically that we plan on
having a Japan-specific hearing because I do think that it is
not--I can't say that it is likely, but it is very possible
maybe that in anticipation of the G-8, maybe a day before, a
week before, Japan will announce that they are going to sign
the Hague. And, of course, the big question will be, what are
the conditions, the terms and conditions, the reservations?
And, as I think, Ms. Apy, you said so eloquently, you know,
there needs to be an MOU drafted which includes an immediate
protocol for resolution of existing cases involving children
alleged to have abducted to Japan and abducted within Japan as
well as Japanese children alleged to have abducted to the
You and I, when we were in Japan, made that argument
repeatedly. We have done it here. You made it, like I said,
very eloquently. I wonder how our other witnesses might feel
about that, because my deepest fear will be Japan gets all of
the accolades, praises heaped upon them by the other G-8
leaders for its commitment and then when it comes time to
implement, all of the existing families are left behind and
that which is agreed to becomes Swiss cheese, so to speak,
because it is riddled with loopholes.
Ms. Wells, would you want to start or would you want to
start on that, Ms. Apy? It seems to be absolutely basic in my
Ms. Apy. Right. I think that there is a genuine concern
given what I have seen as projected reservations that if there
is not some dialogue immediately generated and some objective
assistance and criteria provided that, first of all, this
process will go on without having a meaningful treaty
relationship, if we accept their accession given the number of
reservations that it appears will be there, it will effectively
be different than the protections afforded by the treaty.
I think that there are legitimate issues that the Japanese
have to address in their own domestic law that are so daunting
that the advantage of carving out an opportunity in an MOU
bilateral agreement so that some of those issues can be worked
through will not only benefit the United States relationship
but in the meeting that we had--and this would be what I would
close with--the meeting that we had included representatives of
other countries to Japan, including the Pacific Rim and Europe,
all of whom were wildly positive on the concept of using an MOU
in this context in order to set forth reasonable criteria and
approach that on a multilateral level.
So, again, I think that by using that type of protocol, it
could actually narrow the number of reservations that the
Japanese would have to take and strengthen the possibility of
Mr. Smith. Ms. Wells?
Ms. Wells. I agree, as I noted earlier, that absolutely
there has to be some agreement to handle existing cases. And,
in truth, when any country joins the Hague Convention, that is
what we would want to see. And we know, in particular, because
of the challenges in Japan and how intractable those cases have
been, it is particularly important.
I think that I should add that in the past I have testified
that I thought the notion of doing MOUs with countries where we
were having trouble making agreements was a good idea. I have
since heard that the State Department has thought that some of
those MOUs have not been as effective as they should have been.
So I would urge the committee to look at that question of what
makes the MOU effective.
And if we can get an MOU--and it might be the right
vehicle--how do we ensure that it is one that will have the
force and will secure the rights of these left-behind parents
and ensure that their children are covered as we wanted to
because if we can't get sufficient assures through the Hague
process, that the Government of Japan may go through--you know,
if it's something that they don't want to agree to until they
really want to agree to it, they can do another agreement that
doesn't really have the force that we want it to have.
So I just think it's a matter of--and, you know I would
certainly defer to Ms. Apy's view because she certainly--I
haven't seen, for example, the potential reservations. And she
is much closer to this issue.
That might be the right way to go. I just think that we
should look at how MOUs are working for the State Department
and what would it take to make this particular MOU effective.
Mr. Eaves. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have no comment.
Mr. Smith. Let me ask all of you, or first, Ms. Wells. You
mentioned dual nationals, children who happen to be dual
nationals, might be a more complicated factor. Maybe you can
elaborate on why that is the case.
You also mentioned that the Hague Conference--that there
needs to be, perhaps, additional oversight in improvements. Do
you have any specific ideas, Ms. Apy? I mean, three decades
into the treaty, hopefully there is a lessons learned area
where upgrades could be made.
I would just point out parenthetically that I would agree
that the State Department people at OCI and the consular
officials in country after country are earnest. It is not a
competence issue. They are very smart. To be FSOs, obviously,
they need to be very intelligent. And they are well-trained. I
would argue that the problem is primarily the fact that they
don't have the requisite toolbox to do the work.
One of the reasons why our legislation, H.R. 1940, has been
introduced is to take a lessons-learned from all of the other
human rights issues where we had been very effective--
trafficking, and certainly on religious freedom--and take those
tools, those penalties, if necessary, and apply them to
countries. So it's a country-to-country fight, not an
individual versus an indifferent or an enabling country or
worse, actually, you know, very much on the side of the
abductors and to make it an issue where you can get
And I have found that 31 years in human rights work, you
don't get compliance without penalties. It doesn't happen. So
you might want to speak to that end of it as well.
Ms. Apy. I would. Let me talk about a precise example. In
the David Goldman case, the case was brought before the Supreme
Court of Brazil because there was a lawsuit filed by a
political party, which sought a preliminary injunction
preventing any child from any country being returned under the
Convention. That was completely stopping all of the processes.
The United States Department of State took the position
initially that the Hague Conference should respond because of
the issues of enforcement and some of the issues that were
raised in my colleagues' testimony that they are a more
appropriate global body to review the issues of enforcement.
I had my doubts. And, in fact, what ended up--because the
Hague Conference has never taken the position that they will
act as an arbiter of reciprocity, they were opposed to looking
at enforcement in the context of global reciprocity issues, and
not as distinguished from enforcement in individual cases, and
additional language, where we have treaties already that have
already been drafted.
And so we waited. There was a 42-hour window in which the
Hague Conference had to provide briefing in support of not just
the David Goldman case but all similarly situated children from
all countries. With less than 12 hours before the filing, they
declined to file a brief.
Now, happily, having anticipated this as a possibility, we
prepared a brief with the able assistance of the Consul General
of the United States in Brazil. And that brief was filed by the
United States of America.
However, it is a good example of the reticence because of
the policymaking and educational components of the Hague
Conference. I respectfully believe that reciprocity is not
going to be evaluated substantively by the Hague Conference. I
think they do not see that as their role. And I don't think
they are going to take it on.
I think if we in the United States develop an objective
template in order to assess and inform on the issues of
reciprocity, that will be endorsed and joined by other nations.
Very frankly, no one wants to act in a way that is not
cooperative or can't we all just get along, but the truth of it
is that somebody has to take the step to lay out and call out
the issues of reciprocity.
Our report on this subject is the only one issued by any
country in the world right now.
Mr. Smith. Yes?
Ms. Wells. I certainly wouldn't argue with that. I think
that she makes excellent recommendations. And my comments about
oversight were mainly in response to some of the research and
reading I have done on this issue.
There are various suggestions on how to solve it, but I
think the practicality of how the conference actually works and
this issue of our country possibly being the one that needs to
take a lead and possibly having other countries then agree once
they see our country taking that leadership role, that might be
the most effective way to do it.
I mean, there are also ideas of having an office that would
do oversight within the Hague or that you could potentially
have something like an ombudsman. I think all of those are
areas that just need to be examined further. And I just wanted
to certainly raise them to the subcommittee's attention.
On the issue of dual nationals, you know, as I noted, most
of these cases become one of dual nationality. Often other
countries, as the United States, will recognize and give
national citizenship to a child of a parent born in that
country. So if it doesn't happen before the abduction, it
I think part of the issue that has come up in some of the
testimony and that I certainly had heard about before is the
issue of the Embassies giving new passports. And that is a real
challenge for the State Department. In truth, it is a challenge
for us as a country because we do need diplomatic relations
with other countries of the world.
And we can't have a situation where the United States can
absolutely tell some country, ``You are not allowed to issue
passports. You are not allowed to issue visas.'' They will do
the same to us. And then we won't be able to do the things we
do outside of our own borders.
But I do think that that is something again for the
committee to look at and discuss with State Department and
other agencies. How can we talk to these Embassies better about
their own processes? And how can we either explain or urge to
them that, you know, if we can prevent these cases from
becoming cross-border cases in the first place, we can work
with their governments to come up with a fair resolution.
So, you know, especially if it's a Hague country, you don't
necessarily have to issue a false passport. You know, if the
courts, if our courts, review it appropriately and that child's
habitual residence is in the foreign country, that court will
be given the jurisdiction to decide the case.
So on the toolbox issue, I did want to just note one thing
where I think one of the witnesses noted that the State
Department should be coming to Congress saying, ``Here is what
I would only highlight, I guess, as a former staffer that I
know sometimes that can be very complicated for the agency. As
you know, the way our bureaucracy works, especially at a time
of budget cuts and challenges, part of what we are all talking
about here is making sure that this issue gets elevated. But
there are a lot of things that the State Department has to come
to Congress for.
I think that one of the benefits of the way our system
works is that as members and as staff, your staff can raise
ideas in meetings and they can get filtered and bounced around.
And sometimes whether they like to or not, they might be the
right thing to do.
I do think that the nature of the communications between
Congress and the State Department might make it hard for some
of the people in the agency who know what they need to be able
to come forth and say, ``This is it exactly'' because it is a
lengthy process they would have to go through to get that
Mr. Smith. Let me just conclude and ask unanimous consent
to include a brochure from BACHome, Bring Abducted Children
Home. Paul Toland, who has testified at one of our previous
hearings, makes a number of points, he and the group, ``Japan
must immediately return the stolen children. Japan must provide
unfettered access to our precious children. Number three, Japan
must enact retroactive laws.''
They have a very good series of recommendations with
regards to Japan's Hague implementation legislation, it must
meet the spirit of the Hague and really come down very hard on
the fact that allegations of domestic violence must be
accompanied by rules of evidence, that hearsay has no place in
denying a child even access to his left-behind parent.
``Japan must unambiguously define the best interests of the
child.'' And, then, very importantly--they're all important--
``Japan must immediately locate our missing children.'' And
they list names, as was mentioned earlier.
There are a number of American children who have been
abducted and wrongfully retained who are unaccounted for and
whose present location is unknown since the earthquake,
tsunami, and the ongoing nuclear disaster, adding incredible
pain and agony to existing pain and agony. They don't know what
has happened to their children.
Mr. Payne. Thank you.
Ms. Apy or Ms. Wells, either one of you, I wonder if you
can tell us what impact, if any, has United Nations Convention
on the Rights of the Child or its optional protocol, on the
sale of children had on preventing international child
abductions? And do you think the Convention is a valuable
mechanism for addressing this issue?
Ms. Wells. I am going to defer to Ms. Apy on this.
Ms. Apy. So I understood the question, you were referring
to the United Nations Convention.
Mr. Payne. On the Rights of the Child or its optional
protocol on the sale of children, which----
Ms. Apy. Well, the optional protocol certainly has had an
extraordinary impact on international law and customary
Of course, I feel the need to respond. And that is quite a
sticky question, Congressman Payne, because the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, of course, has not been
ratified by the United States of America.
And so I can assure you when I stand in another country, as
I have often, and begin to litigate a case, if the child is
considered a dual national, you may be assured that a judge
glares at me over their glasses and says, ``Now, could you
please explain to me why the United States Congress takes the
position that it does with regard to the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child?''
I will also tell you, having written on this subject and
spoken on it, that I personally take the position--and this
position is a policy of the American Bar Association as well--
that the United States should, in fact, be a signator to the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. And this
would be yet another example of why because I would not want
the argument made, as is often made, that there are protections
associated with the UN Convention that are somehow broader than
protections provided under United States law. And, as a result,
a child should not be returned to the United States.
The area of customary international law in child rights
issue is complex. I will assure you that in the most recent
meeting at the Hague Conference, which dealt with child
trafficking, that very issue was raised, particularly as it
related to the alternate protocol, particularly as it related
to child trafficking in the context of adoption. And that again
is a sophisticated interplay of international legal issues that
weigh heavily on countries in Africa and Central and South
So, again, I think it is a huge issue, to some extent
beyond the scope of our discussion today but a discussion that
needs to take place.
Mr. Payne. Can you tell me what other countries have not
ratified the Convention? There aren't many.
Ms. Apy. This is the second question the judge----
Mr. Payne. Even Burma?
Ms. Apy [continuing]. Asks me, by the way. It is equally
uncomfortable. It had been Somalia, and that's it.
Mr. Payne. Okay. Well, we have to be careful about the
company we keep, right?
Ms. Apy. Indeed, sir.
Mr. Payne. Do you know about the land mines treaty offhand?
I know we haven't ratified that. Do you know how many countries
have not ratified that one?
Ms. Apy. I don't have that information. Perhaps my
Mr. Payne. How about combat for children soldiers, the
under 18 military? We haven't ratified that either.
Ms. Apy. Yes, sir, we haven't.
Mr. Payne. And there I think is only one other country,
too. And I just bring that out because we are the land of the
free, the home of the brave.
We are the leaders of the world. There is no question about
it. It is the greatest place in the world. However, we leave
ourselves open to criticism when we go into national courts.
And we haven't even ratified a fundamental thing, protocol like
the rights of the child.
Now, I am sure there is some legalistic reason why. Well,
first of all, many people just don't like treaties. I was glad
that Mother's Day came up years ago because if we had to bring
it through Congress, maybe it might not pass because it was
international. So we do really have to work more on own image
as we argue these very sensitive issues.
Our time is running. Votes are coming. Let me just ask, Mr.
Eaves, have parental abductions of children been documented in
African countries? And to what extent do you think this is an
issue for U.S. policy?
Mr. Eaves. It's a good question, Ranking Member Payne.
I am not clear as to the exact statistics. We definitely do
see cross-border movement. For instance, in countries where you
have had a refugee population in a particular country, so if
you have Sudanese living in Uganda or, say, Sierra Leoneans
living in Cote d'Ivoire, there have been cases where you see a
parent take a child across the border, leaving another parent
I am not certain of the role that the U.S. plays there, but
we know that it does happen. And it is equally tragic there, as
it is here.
Mr. Payne. Also, we do know that in some countries in sub-
Saharan Africa, you do have some traditions in some Sahel
countries, where you have this hereditary servitude and
adoption into slavery, where their practice--this happened in
Sudan, as I mentioned before, the Dinkas and the Nuba people
that were put into indentured servitude by the Khartoum Bashir
Government of the North.
Have you gotten into a discussion in regard to customs of
countries where, for example, in Haiti, a person who is very
poverty-stricken may turn their child over to a wealthy Haitian
to simply work as a servant, which is not abduction? However,
it is not nice either. Have you dealt with any of those issues?
I think they call it restavec in Haiti.
Mr. Eaves. Yes. Yes, we have, in both Sudan and in the
Haitian example you mentioned, yes. The restavec system has
been an incredibly pervasive and harmful practice that we see
in Haiti. And the main way that we addressed that is working
with the families that find themselves in such desperate
situations. You know, so often in cases of extreme poverty, a
child can become either a source of income or a drain on
And sometimes the parents think they are doing their child
a favor by delivering them over to a wealthy family, assuming
that their child will receive education in exchange for doing
some kind of domestic work.
Sometimes that is exactly what happens, but far and away,
the majority of examples show that these children are taken.
They are kept against their will. They are forced to work long
hours, often doing dangerous work. And sometimes they are even
sexually exploited as well.
So we work with those poor families to ensure that they
have the ability to earn an income that can allow them to
educate their own children and protect their own children
because I think, as we have heard time and again today, the
best place for a child is in their parents' loving arms.
Mr. Payne. Just finally, running out of time, I know there
was a lot of controversy with the Madonna's adoption case you
recall several years ago. And you had people on both sides of
that issue. Of course, recently actually, about a week or so
ago, we had a hearing on China.
And one of the international organizations said that he
would urge the ending of adoption of Chinese children because
he felt that some of them might be abducted or taken away from
families and, therefore, improperly put up for adoption.
And so I know this question of adoption becomes very
sensitive. I hear some people say, ``Well, if they can get a
better life somewhere else, well, why not let them go out?''
Others say, ``Well, if you take them out of their own
culture, are you really doing it better for them or not?''
So I just wondered, to what extent are there concerns
related to international adoptions in your opinion or from any
research, for example, pertaining to fraud and
misidentification of children, often selling children to
Mr. Eaves. Congressman Payne, we definitely believe that
adoption could be a very beautiful and wonderful thing to
One thing, when we're talking about international
adoptions, we always want to make sure that, indeed, that that
is the only option left available to the child. Oftentimes we
have found that if there is one or more parent still living,
working with that family to see if they can still care for that
child; if that is not an option, looking to see if there is
another family member that can care for the child, then looking
toward foster care or domestic adoption. And if that won't be
in the best interest of the child, then you look at
international adoption, which, like I said, can be just a
wonderful thing for all parties involved.
What we have seen is that especially unwittingly on behalf
of Americans that may adopt, a case of adoption could be a case
of unknowing abduction. And there can be fraud in the process.
And so that is why it is so important that those safeguards are
in place in countries all over the world.
It is important for those processes to work effectively and
efficiently but always looking to ensure that the best
interests of the child are placed first and foremost and that,
wherever they end up, they will be in a loving, caring
environment that will allow them to live out their life in all
of its fullness.
Mr. Payne. Thank you very much.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much, Mr. Payne. I want to thank
our distinguished witnesses. I actually have a number of
additional questions, but there is a vote out and we have 2
minutes to report to the floor. And there will be a series of
I will announce again that we will have a whole series of
hearings on this, hopefully a markup in the not-too-distant
future on H.R. 1940. I can guarantee you I will not cease to
support those who support the legislation until it is law, no
matter how long it takes and no matter how much pushback we
I would also note that we will have a Japan-specific
hearing, especially surrounding issues of Hague accession and
whether or not in the small print there is duplicity and
especially to address the left-behind parents who would be left
out, once again, should they not be included in an MOU or some
other mechanism to provide inclusion and resolution of their
Would you like to add anything very quickly before we
Ms. Apy. No thank you, sir.
Mr. Smith. Thank you again for your extraordinary service
I would also just ask unanimous consent that additional
statements that individuals have requested be submitted for the
record be made a part of the record. And if left-behind parents
who are here would like to submit their testimony or statement,
we will include that as well, but it needs to be done rather
quickly. And it needs to be eight pages or less.
And, finally, we will be reaching out to you again for
another hearing because this issue has to rise in its
visibility and not ebb or diminish. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 6:19 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Material Submitted for the Hearing RecordNotice deg.
Material submitted for the record by the Honorable Christopher H.
Smith, a Representative in Congress from the State of New Jersey, and
chairman, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights
Global Future deg.
Mr. Burns deg.