Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws (USA Today)

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

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Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

Source:  “Lawmaker:  US needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws”, USA Today, 11 April 2018 

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Abduction issue takes center stage in London in ‘The Great Wave’

Abduction issue takes center stage in London in ‘The Great Wave’

BY WILLIAM HOLLINGWORTH

KYODO

A new play based on the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea has been captivating and educating audiences at the National Theatre in London.

“The Great Wave,” which tells the fictional story of one family’s fight to find out what happened to their missing daughter, has received rave reviews in newspapers and sheds light on a story little-known in Britain.

“I wanted to tell the story of a family caught up in a political situation,” says playwright Francis Turnly, who is half-Japanese and half-Northern Irish. “I think it’s the first play about the abductions in English.”

The play, based on true accounts of alleged North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens, is set in 1979 when 17-year-old Hanako Tanaka goes missing from a beach on a stormy night. Her mother, Etsuko, and sister, Reiko, live in hope that she will one day return.

However, Hanako has been abducted to North Korea, where she teaches would-be agents Japanese culture and language.

While the play portrays the brutal side of the regime, it also shows the bonds of friendship and humanity that develop between Hanako and North Korean citizens. Later, she marries a North Korean and has a daughter, Hana.

After years of fighting for the truth from the Japanese government, officials admit the abductions took place and in very poignant scenes, Etsuko and Reiko send a video message to Hanako in the hope she will be returned.

Hanako is last seen watching the recording and says she wants to return. But she is not among the abductees who return to Japan, and her family is told she died in a landslide.

The play has a bittersweet ending when Hanako’s daughter, Hana, emerges from an aircraft and ends up living with the family in Japan.

“It’s been on my mind to write about the abductions for quite a while because my mother is Japanese and she told me about it some years ago, but getting a play on this size was quite difficult to do,” says the 43-year-old Turnly.

He was able to write the play after winning a bursary in 2015 and becoming writer-in-residence at London’s Tricycle Theatre.

“I drew from several of the abductees’ and relatives’ accounts and from articles, but I didn’t want to base the play on one particular individual’s story,” he says. “I wanted my own characters. Because it is such a sensitive matter in Japan, I didn’t want to be seen wading in and taking people’s private stories.

“I also didn’t want to show the North Koreans as the cliched villains … the more we stay with the North Koreans in the play, the more we realize they are human beings, just like Hanako.”

Turnly is pleased the compelling story of the abductions is reaching a wider audience.

“I think the play will raise awareness about the abductions in the U.K.,” he says. “Speaking to audience members, they said they were really affected and never knew that this took place. They said they would have found it far-fetched if it hadn’t been based on true events.”

Asked whether the play might be staged in Japan, he adds, “Because it’s such a sensitive matter, we have to be quite diplomatic in our approach. But it’s out of my hands, I think.”

Turnly decided to name the play after Hokusai’s famous woodblock print as the title reflects the emotional roller coaster the characters endure throughout the performance.

“The Great Wave” is part of Turnly’s “Japanese Schoolgirls” trilogy, which also includes a play about the cosplay industry titled “Harajuku Girls” and “Neko,” a supernatural story about a mixed-race girl who turns into a cat.

Critics have praised the performance, which is directed by Indhu Rubasingham and co-produced by the National Theatre and Tricycle Theatre.

“I found the story captivating and was hooked,” said audience member Rebecca Tebbett. “We didn’t know if this was a true story. We haven’t heard about the abductions before. I’m going to go home now and research this issue.”

Her friend, Eduard Buhac, added: “I didn’t expect it to be such an odyssey. The actors really pulled it off. It’s great that there are plays like this, and with an all-Asian cast. It was very powerful. The stage design and music were all very immersive and captivating.”

“The Great Wave” runs until April 14 at the National Theatre in London. For more details, visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-great-wave.

Source:  “Abduction issue takes centre stage in London in ‘The Great Wave'”, The Japan Times, 4 April 2018 (theatre review)

National Theatre:  production webpage

Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case. Maybe.

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Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case. Maybe.

BY COLIN P.A. JONES

On March 15, Japan’s Supreme Court issued an important decision in a case arising under the Hague Convention on child abduction. Except it wasn’t about the convention, but about habeas corpus. Most press accounts have characterized the ruling as ordering that a child brought to Japan by his mother be returned to the United States, but it’s a bit more complicated.

A pitfall of comparative law is the ease with which familiar-sounding terminology can mislead. “Habeas corpus” is a prime example.

Latin for “produce the body,” habeas corpus is a centuries-old judicial procedure that in the Anglo-American system formed the bedrock of human rights law before the concept of human rights existed. A person subjected to arbitrary, unlawful detention could petition a court to issue a writ of habeas corpus. If the writ was issued, the detainer had to bring the detainee to court and explain the grounds for detention. If the detention was found to be unlawful, the detainee was immediately set free.

In England, habeas corpus led to a number of famous court decisions, such as the 1670 judgment establishing that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict, or the one in a 1772 that said nobody on English soil could be a slave. In the United States, habeas corpus was one of the few provisions about human rights contained in the U.S. Constitution before the Bill of Rights was added. In 2008 it was used to challenge the prolonged detentions without trial of terrorist suspects by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

Whittling down habeas corpus

Japan also has habeas corpus. Its Habeas Corpus Act was passed in 1948, specifically to give life to the ideals of the freshly minted Japanese Constitution by providing rapid and easy judicial relief for unlawful deprivations of liberty. Depressingly, the legislative history of the act reveals complaints about the old system — police using pretexts to detain suspects for long periods of time, coerced confessions, judges not protecting people’s liberty and so forth — that are similar to those made about the Japanese criminal justice system today.

The Supreme Court immediately used its power to create procedural rules to neuter habeas corpus. One rule it made required courts to reject petitions if there were “any other adequate means whereby relief may be obtained,” unless “it is evident that relief cannot be obtained within reasonable time.” With this, “rapid and easy” relief were excised from the law.

At the time, Japan’s entire code of criminal procedure was also revised to make it consistent with the numerous new constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and procedural justice. So perhaps the court’s thinking was that the procedural protections of the code would make habeas corpus unnecessary in most cases.

Yet seven decades later, the former head of school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, and his wife have been detained incommunicado for eight months without being put on trial. Ostensibly charged with fraudulently receiving public subsidies, their judicial renditioning is believed by some to be a way to prevent him from disclosing any embarrassing information about dealings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. By now, Japanese judges would have approved his prolonged detention multiple times. The Kagoikes’ treatment is not unusual, but habeas corpus is noticeably absent from discussions about him or any of the numerous famous so-called enzaicases — those where suspects were convicted and imprisoned for crimes based on questionable evidence or coerced confessions.

So, it is technically correct to say Japan has habeas corpus. It is also correct to describe the text of the law as providing prompt judicial remedies for unlawful detentions. In fact, habeas corpus offers a wonderful example of how you can state two factually accurate things about the Japanese legal system and still completely mislead your audience.

Old remedy gets second life

The Supreme Court also changed the law through a rule requiring detentions to be “conspicuously unlawful” in order to be eligible for habeas corpus relief. This was significant: “Minor” abuses by police or procedural violations by prosecutors or other judges would not be subjected to scrutiny through a habeas corpus hearing, because the petitions would be rejected for lack of conspicuousness.

It also meant that in the rare case that a petition was granted, the hearing held as a result would be meaningless. Why? Because by granting the petition, the court had already decided the detention was conspicuously unlawful — no bothersome arguing of facts and law in a courtroom for us, please!

The Supreme Court rules created numerous escape hatches for judges to allow even serious deprivations of freedom to continue. Under the rules, a court can grant a remedy other than immediate freedom — for a conspicuously unlawfuldetention! Another rule says that a petition cannot be brought over the objection of a detainee’s freely expressed objections.

Habeas corpus never became the tool for protecting the Japanese people from the state as originally intended. Instead, for several decades it took on an odd second life as an occasional player in custody battles, becoming the means by which estranged parents sought to recover detained children. Courts used habeas corpus proceedings to decide which parent was “better” and should thus raise the children while their divorce was sorted out.

In a 1993 ruling, however, the Supreme Court decided that even in this narrow context habeas corpus was being overused, and henceforth most disputes of this type should be resolved through the less adversarial proceedings of Japan’s family courts, whose specialized personnel had more suitable expertise. This may have had some logic, but if left parents of abducted children with no real remedies, since family court orders involving children — whether about visitation or transferring them from one parent to another — generally have limited enforceability. Habeas corpus had the advantage that failing to bring the detainee (i.e., the child) to court as ordered subjected the detaining person (parent) to the possibility of criminal penalties.

Since 1993, habeas corpus has served as a remedy that might be available after all others at family court have been exhausted. It certainly has not been a “rapid and easy” remedy, since the “conspicuously unlawful” threshold in the Supreme Court was satisfied only after a recalcitrant parent had steadfastly and repeatedly refused to comply with previous court orders. And an order to bring the child to the court meant that whatever hearing the court was supposed to hold was meaningless, since the fact that it was being held meant the result was a foregone conclusion.

‘Conspicuously unlawful’ case

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling concerned a dispute between a Japanese mother and father living in the U.S. Their marriage failing, the mother unilaterally brought the child back to Japan in January 2016. In July of that year, the father sought a return order from the Tokyo Family Court, which was granted in September.

The mother refused to comply, so civil enforcement under Japan’s Hague Convention implementation act was attempted in May 2017. This involved court enforcement officers going to the mother’s residence and seeking to take custody of the child.

The mother continued her resistance, and the enforcement officer had to forcibly enter through the second-floor window and … tried to convince her and the child to cooperate. The mother obstinately clung to the child under a blanket. The enforcement officer gave up and the effort was deemed unsuccessful. This is as far as civil enforcement will get you in a child custody case in Japan.

Finally we get to habeas corpus: A petition to bring the child to court was filed with the Kanazawa Branch of the Nagoya High Court. The court appeared to have done all the things Japanese courts did before the nation joined the Hague Convention — finding conveniently that the child was happy in Japan despite having been born in and spent the first decade of his life in the U.S., and that he didn’t like his dad. Since the child was freely expressing his objections to the petition and given his age and the circumstances, his “detention” by Mom wasn’t deemed to be conspicuously unlawful. Petition denied.

To its credit, not only did the Supreme Court find the lower court in error, it even acknowledged the possibility that children unilaterally deprived of contact with one parent might express views unduly influenced by the other, abducting parent. It questioned whether the child was freely expressing his will, and further noted that in international cases such as these, children face the added burdens of dealing with different cultures and languages and, if they are dual nationals, possibly ultimately a choice in nationality. The court also made a clear ruling that absent special circumstances, failure to comply with a return order under the Hague Convention should be considered “conspicuously unlawful” for the purposes of granting habeas corpus relief.

All good stuff, but the end result was to remand the case back to the lower court so that it could procure the child’s presence in the courtroom and consider the matter further. Given that 18 months has passed since the child’s return was ordered, you have to wonder if that court appearance will actually happen.

Moreover, given that as far back as 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction for international kidnapping of a foreign father trying to remove his child from Japan, it seems odd that it has taken the court so long to conclude that abductions going the other way might be “conspicuously unlawful.”

Habeas corpus could have been used to remedy child abductions to Japan long before the nation signed the Hague Convention. The real problem has always been the judiciary’s lack of willingness to take action. Perhaps this decision is a harbinger of long-overdue change.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

Source:  “Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case.  Maybe”, Colin P A Jones, The Japan Times, 1 April 2018