Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Surprise

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki speaks often in Washington. He like to emphasize what he expects in his diplomatic mission. His first expectation and rule, is that he wants "no surprises" between the US and Japan.

On Monday, March 9th, he was surprised; and not in the good way.

A seemingly irrelevant House of Representatives resolution sponsored by a New Jersey Republican (Chris Smith) calling on Brazil to honor its commitment to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, suddenly became Japan's problem. The Democratic leadership of the House decided that this resolution (H. Res. 125) was the perfect vehicle to address a number of related child abduction issues. Wronged parents can be very tenacious constituents.

Thus, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Howard Berman (D-CA) allowed the resolution to be amended to include language that pointed out other cases of unlawful child abduction. Some cases have been with countries that have signed the Hague Convention, but have demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance, such as Brazil, Bulgaria Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Poland, and Venezuela. AND Countries that are NOT "partners with the United States under the Hague Convention" such as JAPAN, India, and Russia.

The Resolution also included two examples of countries that have caused American parents-left-behind incredible grief: Brazil being one case and JAPAN being the other. It was not lost on members of Congress that Japan was being grouped with less "developed" countries like India and Russia.

On March 11th, Mr. Berman agreed to "waive jurisdiction" (a common parliamentary procedure with noncontroversial legislation) on the Resolution and it jumped from the HFAC and landed on the floor of the House under the suspension of the rules (another common parliamentary procedure with noncontroversial legislation). This resolution was considered on the floor with the Tibet resolution condemning China for its oppression of the Tibetan people on the March 10th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China. House Speaker Pelosi had made this issue a priority. The resolution on child abduction also had a particular urgency because the President of Brazil Lula was to meet with President Obama that weekend.

In other words, there was deep bi-partisan support to speed both resolutions through Congress. The Democrats wanted the Tibet Resolution and the Republicans the Child Abduction one. Moreover, Rep Xavier Becerra (D-CA) who is head of the Hispanic Caucus and an increasingly powerful member of Congress, is Patrick Braden's representative. Mr. Braden is one of the most active fathers seeking the return of his abducted daughter. His legal case is also the strongest.

Yes, both China and Japan tried to lobby against the resolutions affecting their countries. Japan sent both Embassy officials and the law firm of Hogan & Hartson (former Amb to Japan Howard Baker's law firm) to the Hill. Japan complained that they were considering signing the Hague Convention. Japan hands know that although this is true, that "consideration" will take years, if not decades. Japan also complained that the laws of other countries do not apply to Japan. However, the U.S. does have an extradition treaty with Japan and many other shared legal vehicles. And it goes without saying that this argument undermines Japan's commitment to international law.

Brazil, the real target of H. Res 125, never raised an objection, never made even a phone call to the Hill. They let the issue pass.

On the floor of the House, several congressman gave prepared statements supporting the Resolution and citing various examples of child abduction. Significantly, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Berman introduced the resolution and led the discussion (debate). Rep. Becerra discussed in detail the situation of Melissa Braden who was abducted to Japan, among of the top three countries where children are abducted. 

It appears Rep. Smith called for a roll call vote (it is possible this was the result of last minute Japanese Embassy lobbying or simply good domestic politics). I am not sure that was wise for Japan if they encouraged it, but it was good for Mr. Smith. (you can find the discussion in the Congressional Record pp H3300-3305.]

Under suspension of the rules, debate is limited and the vote is a voice vote with the result implying unanimous consent. With a roll call vote, everyone has to go on the record as to how he or she voted. Interestingly, 418 of the 435 members of the House were on the floor at the time. So the result was 418 voting for the resolution, making it unanimous--and embarrassing for Japan.

This is not the first time Japan has been surprised by the US Congress by issues of values and law to which Tokyo is not a "partner" with the US. And it will not be the last.

More on Melissa Braden.

[Updated on March 17, 2009]


  1. I believe the United States would love to be a partner of Japan under the Hague Convention as expressed in this statement following the Melissa Braden story as found in the House records you linked to: "I urge all of my colleagues to support this resolution to get action on behalf of all of our American families with countries that are some of our greatest partners and allies." However, Japan is not a party to the Hague Convention. When so many children have been "abducted" to Japan (and Russia and India) and Japan is not a party to the Convention, I'm at a loss at how they could dodge this one. I suppose they could have spoken in euphemisms: "Whereas 101 children have been 'involuntarily transported' to the Land of the Rising Sun"

    I'm unfamiliar with the Braden case beyond the information you posted, but it sounds to me that the issue needs to be solved in Divorce Court rather than the House of Representatives. This could have happened saving the Japanese this embarrassment had the Japanese courts not dismissed the issue.

  2. It was resolved in the US courts.
    But Japan not being a party to the Hague convention feels it has no obligation to honor the US judge's order to award custody to the father. In fact, the Japanese courts have blocked the father from seeing his daughter. Worse the Japanese grandfather has a history of child abuse. Thus, the American father is frantic.
    That is the problem.


  3. One of the most interesting aspects I found in this resolution was that Japan was very much singled out among the non-Hague countries, with the resolution acutally stating "Japan, a United States ally which does not recognize intra-familial child abduction as a crime, and though its family laws do not discriminate by nationality, Japanese courts give no recognition to the parental rights of the non-Japanese parent, fail to enforce United States court orders relating to child custody or visitation, and place no effective obligation on the Japanese parent to allow parental visits for their child." All of this is very true. It is just not known to the public, and is generally glossed-over by the State Department since they don't want to "rock the boat" with one of our closest allies in East Asia. The other surprising part of this resolution is the sheer number of abductions to Japan. According to the resolution, Japan accounts for fully 22 percent of all children abducted to nations non-Hague signing nations (101 children out of a total of 455 children) and there are 126 non-Hague countries, so Japan is far and above the largest transgressor in International Child Abduction. It appears very doubtful to me that Japan will take any steps toward resolving this problem on their own. Outside pressure such as this resolution, which rightfully embarasses Japan, is really the only way to get Japan to act.

  4. This happens WAY too often. I currently have 3 children. 2 girls ages 8 and 4, and a little boy 1.5 in Yokohama that I am unable to see or touch, or love in person. My site is currently blocked in Japan in order to appease my wife and not ruin my chances of getting them back. You can visit for more information on mine, and some other cases. This is a huge event for those of use wanting to regain our access and or custody of our children. I will repost your article and link back to you from my site if its ok. Wonderful reporting. Thank you for posting this story. Ryan Borger

  5. I am the father of a 6 year old recently abducted to Japan, after everything was decided in divorce court.
    It should be remembered that "divorce courts" (Family Courts) in Japan cannot facilitate things that US, Canadian and EU parents take for granted like "visitation" and "joint custody". Even if they could they have no means for enforcement and since these cases are dealing with a non-Japanese parent there is the additional roadblock of equality, or potential lack of it in the eyes of the court.
    Having gone through the frustration of attempting to explain the dynamic nature of a US parenting plan to Japanese attorneys who were expecting a certificate suitable for framing, granting my family sole, unalterable custody of my son, I can attest to the fact that this issue is way beyond divorce courts and will require the assistance and pressure of higher powers to achieve resolution.
    HR 125 is potentially a huge step that has been highly anticipated in one form or another by thousands of parents and extended family for several years. Legislation of this type is desparately needed.

  6. Please understand that the H.Res. 125 is a resolution. It is merely a nonbinding suggestion to Japan and others that signing and abiding to the Hague Convention is the right thing do as a modern, civilized country.

    It is not a law and cannot compel Japan to do anything. If you want something to happen you need to make sure that the press understands that Japan is the only G7 country that has not signed the Hague and its implications for Japan as an American ally.

  7. I was glad to see that House Resolution 125 included some of the physical and emotional problems associated with child abduction such as anxiety, eating disorders, nightmares, mood swings, guilt, resentment, idenity issues, relationship problems, and parenting problems. You would think that a nations most powerful and knowledgeable people could forsee these problems and that they would try to prevent problems like these from happening. But for some reason Japan seems to ignore conventional wisdom unless it comes from within their own country. These problems will continue to repeat themselves until the cycle is broken. I hope Japan will soon wake up and put the needs of these children first. These international children could be the bridge that connects two countries but this will only happen if Japan recognizes the importance of co-parenting and joint custody.

  8. Maybe our children are finally becoming more important than trade. I pray that his will work out for all the children and parents.


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