Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 1, 2017

The Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Suzanne Lawrence, will travel to Tokyo and Seoul from December 4-14.

Special Advisor Lawrence will lead the U.S. delegation in a conference focused on the Hague Abduction Convention in Tokyo, which will provide an opportunity to engage with representatives from countries throughout the Asia Pacific region on the critical issue of international parental child abduction. The Special Advisor will also meet with government officials in both Tokyo and Seoul to discuss intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction issues.

The United States is dedicated to supporting intercountry adoption as a viable option for children in need of permanency, and to preventing and resolving international parental child abduction cases.

For more information about the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, visit: www.adoption.state.gov and www.travel.state.gov/childabduction

Source:  “Special Advisor on Children’s Issues to travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea”, US Department of State press release, 1 December 2017


Our Leadership

Suzanne Lawrence
Special Advisor for Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs

Ambassador Suzanne Lawrence

Suzanne Lawrence is the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues. Prior to arriving in Washington, she served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. Ms. Lawrence has also served as a Senior Advisor for the Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Ms. Lawrence is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor. Previously, she has served as the Director of the Senior Level Division in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources, and as Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Overseas, Ms. Lawrence was the U.S. Country Consular Coordinator for Australia and Deputy Principal Officer and Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney, Australia. Ms. Lawrence also has served overseas in Jerusalem, Dublin and Caracas.

Domestically, Ms. Lawrence has worked as a desk officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, as the East Asia and Pacific Division Chief in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services/American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, and as the spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Suzanne holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her graduate studies include a Master’s degree in international management from the American Graduate School of International Management (“Thunderbird”) and a Master’s degree in strategic studies from the National War College at the National Defense University.

Suzanne is married and has a daughter.

Source:  US Department of State (accessed on 11 December 2017)

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Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

News Item

A new source of hope for left behind parents
Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

Washington, Jul 28, 2017
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (P.L 113-150), introduced an innovative new bill that will automatically remove tariff benefits for countries that are found to be out of compliance in returning children home—the “Bindu Philips and Devon Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act of 2017.”
“Bindu Philips fought valiantly in India for over eight years for the return of her abducted twin sons, only to be given the incessant delays in India’s courts and little support from the Obama Administration,” said Smith, Chair of the House panel on global human rights. “Just recently, she was finally granted a short visit with her children in India, but the children’s father marred the time with harassment and monitoring, refusing to let the children and mother leave a hotel for 7 days.
“Devon Davenport has had a return order for his daughter, Nadia, from Brazil since 2009. He has won every single one of the 24 appeals against the order—but Brazil still will not enforce its own return order.
“Shockingly, 11 of the 13 countries found to be non-compliant in the annual Goldman Report by the U.S. State Department in the return of abducted American children are still receiving billions of dollars in tariff exemptions under the Generalized System of Preferences. We must cease rewarding countries that aid abductors. When is enough finally enough?”
In 2016, 629 American children were taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other, often in direct violation of valid United States court orders, United States criminal law and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Obama Administration’s refusal to apply sanctions against countries that fail to return abducted children has led to a rate of return of only 16%.
“For years, the U.S. government response to abductions has been an engraved invitation to abductors,” said Smith. “Abductors have an 84% chance of no penalty for ripping their child from home and family in the United States. It is my hope and expectation that this year, the State Department will begin to act more decisively on behalf of American families so that more children come home.”
The new bill amends the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world through duty free entry for some products, so that any country named as non-compliant in the prompted resolutions of abductions would lose trade benefits granted by the United States. The new legislation ensures that the loss of trade preference would be automatic and not dependent on the Executive Branch applying sanctions.
Abducted children in a foreign country are often blocked from any contact with the American parent, losing half of their family and heritage.  Such children are also at grave risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Many such children experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, aggressive behavior, resentment and fear. Every day the abduction continues only compounds these harms.
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Source:  “Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act”, News Item, Congressman Chris Smith’s website, published on 28 July 2017

 

Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left-behind’ parents that doesn’t mean much

Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left-behind’ parents that doesn’t mean much

The Washington Post 

James Cook is a Minnesota man in a custody battle with the Japanese mother of his children. (James Cook,/Courtesy of James Cook)
James Cook wants his four children home in Minnesota. His estranged wife, Hitomi Arimitsu, says they want to stay with her in Japan. And so they have been going around in circles through the courts for almost three years.

If child custody battles are messy, expensive affairs when the parents live in the same country, they’re exponentially more so when the parents live in different countries and are fighting over where the children should live and which place should have jurisdiction.

Japan signed The Hague Abduction Convention, the treaty that governs international child abductions, in 2014 but is struggling to put its provisions into effect.

That is where the Cook family is caught.

“For three years of their lives, these kids have not had their dad. Kids need their dad, they need both their parents,” Cook said via Skype from his home in Minnesota. “I can’t describe to you the hell that this has been.”

Cook, who studied Japanese in college, and Arimitsu, a Japanese woman who attended a university in Minnesota, had lived in the United States for almost the whole time they had been together. But three years ago this week, with their marriage on the rocks, Cook agreed that Arimitsu could take their four children to Japan for the summer — with a notarized agreement that she would bring them back.

When that ended, they agreed that Arimitsu and the children would stay on a little longer, while Cook, who had lost his job, looked for work.

By the end of the year, Cook realized his family wasn’t coming back.

In the past two years, the pair has been going through acrimonious court battles in Osaka and in Minnesota, and each has won some and lost some rounds.

As is common in such cases, they have wildly different versions of events and focus on the rounds they’ve won.

Cook says an order in Minnesota last month, which found Arimitsu in contempt of court and upheld two orders from December that she return the four children to their father, should stand. In that case, the judge awarded Cook temporary sole legal and physical custody of the children.

But Arimitsu, through her lawyer Tomoko Kamikawa, said that because the Osaka High Court in February rejected Cook’s request to have the children returned, there is no valid return order under The Hague Convention. Cook has appealed this ruling to Japan’s Supreme Court.

The children do not want to return to the United States, Kamikawa said.

The crux of the problem, Cook and other “left-behind parents,” say, is that Japan — unlike other signatories — has no way of following through on its Hague commitments.

“Enforcement is one of the key problems,” said John Gomez, an American who heads the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Tokyo and is helping Cook. “Every country has to create implementation legislation to enforce their orders, but Japan basically cannot enforce their orders.”

The legislation that Japan passed to implement The Hague provision forbids the use of force, and stipulates that the children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them. The “taking parent” must be present. The enforcement officers are basically bailiffs who are more used to repossessing washing machines than extracting children from emotionally charged situations.

This essentially means that enforcement involves an official at the gate calling for the children to come out, while the taking parent is inside with them.

“All of this was completely predictable,” said Colin Jones, a law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto and an expert on child custody law in Japan. “Without dealing with enforcement methods, it was just a matter of time until a case like the Cook case happened.”

The U.S. government has expressed misgivings about Japan’s implementation of The Hague convention provisions. “The [State] Department is concerned about Japan’s ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders,” it said in its 2017 annual report on international child abductions.

But the Japanese government says that it is making good progress.

“It’s been only three years since Japan entered into The Hague Convention,” said Hajime Ueda, director of The Hague Convention Division in the Foreign Ministry. “It takes time because every case is unique. From that point of view, we have been doing quite a good job.”

Eight children involved in five cases have been returned to the United States since Japan signed The Hague Convention, Ueda said.

The convention was a politically charged issue in Japan, with a substantial amount of opposition to signing it, so even becoming a signatory in 2014 was a major achievement. Experts note that it took other signatories some time to change domestic legislation to allow enforcement of The Hague Convention provisions; Germany, for instance, took about five years.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with about 70 child abduction cases, 42 of them filed since Japan signed the convention, and 10 of those seeking the return of children to the United States.

The other cases just involve access — another thorny issue in Japan, where there is no concept of joint custody.

The prevailing wisdom in Japan says it is upsetting or disruptive for children to continue to see both parents after a marriage breaks down, so one parent — almost always the mother — gets full custody and the other parent usually has two hours’ access to the children each month.

“Visitation is the most problematic thing with Japan. A lot of cases about return orders are actually about access, about the noncustodial parent being able to maintain a relationship with their child,” said Jones of Doshisha University.

According to Gomez’s research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

Children age out of the system at 16, so time is on the taking parent’s side, according to people involved in custody disputes.

And nothing will change for international custody cases until the domestic system that favors sole custody changes, experts say.

This is difficult because Japan has a family registry system, which operates as the foundation for all documentation. A person can be on only one family registry so after a divorce, children are usually removed from their father’s family registry and placed on their mother’s.

“The parent who becomes noncustodial loses all of their parental rights and effectively becomes a stranger to the child,” said Bruce Gherbetti, another “left-behind” parent who is advocating for change through the Kizuna group.

For now, that leaves Cook, who has found work with a medical device company, sitting in Minnesota, having no contact with his children.

“I’m sad we are in this mess and I’m concerned about my children,” he said. “This is the heartbreak of being a ‘left behind.’ ”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Hitomi Arimitsu. The story has been updated.

 

Source:  “Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left behind parents’ that doesn’t mean much”, The Washington Post, 16 July 2017

 

Senate confirms Hagerty as new U.S. ambassador to Japan

The Japan Times

 / 

Senate confirms Hagerty as new U.S. ambassador to Japan

AP, KYODO, JIJI

The Senate has confirmed Tennessee businessman William Hagerty as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan.

Senators voted 86-12 Thursday to approve Hagerty’s nomination.

Hagerty, 57, is expected to take up the post in August, according to a source familiar with Japan-U.S. relations.

He will serve in Tokyo at a time when the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly severe amid China’s military buildup and territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas, as well as North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles that could strike as far as the United States.

In light of Trump’s calls for “fair” trade, Hagerty, who served as a key member of the Trump transition team, is expected to call for greater market access for U.S. products in Japan as part of an effort to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with the country.

“We sincerely welcome the confirmation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, pointing out that Trump has great trust in Hagerty.

“We hope to strengthen bilateral ties to ensure that the Japan-U.S. alliance, which is a cornerstone for Japan’s foreign and security policies, is unwavering,” the top government spokesman said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also welcomed the Senate vote, saying, “We’re looking forward to having him join Japan as our next U.S. ambassador.”

“He spent a good deal of time over there. I know he’s steeped in the issues,” Nauert told a news briefing.

In a Senate confirmation hearing on May 18, Hagerty reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to its alliance with Tokyo, calling it “the cornerstone of regional peace and security” and “a platform for global cooperation.”

The ambassador-in-waiting underlined the United States’ “unwavering” commitment to the defense of the Senkaku Islands, a group of islets administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, in accordance with the Japan-U.S. security treaty.

Hagerty stressed the need for close coordination with Japan and trilaterally with South Korea in pressing North Korea “to abandon its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs.”

On the economic front, Hagerty pledged to help increase U.S. exports to Japan in areas such as agriculture, defense and manufacturing including automobiles.

He added that U.S. exports of energy such as liquid natural gas to Japan could significantly cut into the trade deficit.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its OK to Hagerty last month after he satisfied Democrats that he had no role in the screening of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Flynn is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Congressional committees also are examining Moscow’s election meddling.

Hagerty was director of presidential appointments for Trump’s transition team. But he told Democrats he focused on Cabinet picks and not White House staff aides.

Hagerty is a founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co., a private equity investment firm in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hagerty built ties with Japan through a three-year posting to Tokyo from the late 1980s to early 1990s while working for the Boston Consulting Group, and in his work as commissioner of economic development for Tennessee from 2011 to 2015.

Meanwhile, Joseph Young, who has served as director for Japanese affairs at the State Department, is also slated to arrive in Japan next month to assume the post of deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Source:  “Senate confirms Hagerty as new US ambassador to Japan”, The Japan Times, 14 July 2017

The State Department should do more to address international abductions (Washington Post editorial)

The State Department should do more to address international abductions

The Washington Post

August 12, 2015

EVER SINCE his ex-wife wrongly took his son, now 11, to Japan five years ago, Jeffery Morehouse has been fighting for the boy’s return. Mr. Morehouse had been recognized as the sole custodial parent in Washington state, and a Japanese court affirmed that the ruling applies in Japan. Nonetheless, there has been no reunion, no visits, no contact of any sort.

Mr. Morehouse sadly is not alone. Nearly 1,000 children are abducted each year from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country; fewer than half of them ever come home. Recognizing the need to help the American parents left behind and bereft, Congress last year gave the State Department more tools to deal with abduction cases by passing the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. The measure aims to put teeth in U.S. diplomacy by identifying a series of actions — increasing in severity from official protests to suspension of assistance — the State Department may take in bringing abducted children home or getting their cases fairly adjudicated.

A key requirement of the law is that the State Department compile and release an annual report to quantify unresolved cases and identify problem countries. But release of the first report revealed shortcomings in the State Department’s willingness to hold foreign governments to account. Recent hearings held by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who sponsored the Goldman act, spotlighted what he called major gaps, even misleading information, in the report.

Countries were listed as having zero pending abduction cases even when there were cases that had been discussed in previous hearings and the State Department was involved with affected parents. Most notable, as Mr. Smith pointed out, was that in the key section of the report Japan was recorded as having no unresolved cases when there are more than 50 outstanding. The State Department gave Japan a pass for signing on last year to the Hague Convention that governs cross-border child custody disputes, not cataloguing the prior cases. That, of course, is of no help to parents such as Mr. Morehouse.

State Department officials acknowledged the report had gaps; it “did not meet all expectations,” said Susan Jacobs, the department’s special adviser for children’s issues. After Mr. Smith conducted two hearings on the matter, the department revised its report, acknowledging the unresolved cases in Japan. But Mr. Smith said the law demands more than scorekeeping. “With more accurate data reported, it is incumbent upon the Administration to make the other critical adjustments,” he said in a statement, “such as naming Japan along with the 22 other ‘non-compliant’ countries that are now subject to a strong response by the State Department.”

These reports are not academic exercises. They provide guidance to family court judges and parents assessing the risk of abduction in a child’s travel, and they inform congressional decisions about foreign assistance. If the State Department fails to call things as they are, it sends a message that nothing really needs to change after all.

Read more about this topic:

The Post’s View: Give parents more tools in international abduction cases

Five myths about missing children

Source:  “The State Department should do more to address international abductions”, The Washington Post (editorial), 12 August 2015