A leading human rights lawmaker today said that left behind parents whose American children have been taken and retained in Japan "are at risk of being left behind again" if the Obama Administration does not dramatically change its strategy and directly work toward an agreement with Japan to resolve current cases of international abduction.
At a Capitol Hill hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee with immediate jurisdiction on global human rights, questioned Secretary Hillary Clinton on the Obama strategy and later said the Administration is making a strategic mistake in focusing first on pushing Japan to sign an international treaty which is not retroactive and will not itself help children who have already been abducted and remain separated from their American parent.
"All of us of course want Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction," Smith said. "But, as you know, that treaty will not solve the current cases. What is the Administration's plan to resolve the current cases?" Smith asked.
Smith, who supports the signing of the treaty, pointed out that the treaty and a separate memorandum of understanding resolving current cases must be equally supported and achieved. He argues that the U.S. government has a duty not only to future Americans who would benefit from the Hague Convention, but "we have a duty to the current American children and American parents who suffer daily, deprived of each others' love and support," he said.
Smith, having just returned from a human rights mission to Japan, said that country has become a destination country--a haven--for international child abduction.
"There are at least 171 children who are being arbitrarily denied a relationship with their American parent and 131 brokenhearted parents worried sick about their children," Smith said.
In response, the Secretary said she believes that if Japan signs the treaty the U.S. will have a stronger argument on the pending cases. Something she argued would "open up more possibilities."
"The Secretary's response was disappointing and naïve," said Smith who last year authored legislation to strengthen the U.S. response to the taking of American children. Among other provisions, Smith's bill, which he will reintroduce, prods the State Department to be more forceful with treaty countries as well as those, like Japan, that have not yet signed on.
"The U.S. must make it clear, government to government, that Japan has an obligation to work now to solve these current abduction cases, many of which occurred in direct contravention of American court orders barring the child's removal from the U.S.," Smith said. "These American parents and their children have suffered too long, and to leave them behind again is unacceptable."