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  • DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 8, 2009

    Posted by arudou debito on October 8th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
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    DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 8, 2009
    SPECIAL ON THE SAVOIE CHILD ABDUCTION CASE

    Hi All. What follows is how things unfolded last week on the Savoie Case (details below) on Debito.org in real time, before all details came out and made things, well, complicated.

    I will admit up front that I have a personal interest in this issue. I myself am divorced and a “left-behind” dad denied any contact with my children for more than five years, and my citizenship makes no difference (nor does it for the non-custodial parent after any Japanese divorce).

    What surprised me was how profoundly this case affected me: The anger I’ve kept inside for well over half a decade bubbled up when trying to deal with people (particularly blog commenters) who were tossing this issue around blithely like a beach ball, or trying to make this case into a “he-did, she-did” battle — and with little substantiation whatsoever.

    When in my view, it’s not WHAT the Savoies did, it’s WHY. And that WHY is because Japan’s post-divorce custody and visitation system is so flawed that it pushes people to desperation on either side of the gender fence. But I’ll get into that in my Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column below.

    It’s just surprising how few wanted to hear that simple logic, and preferred the juicy rumor and innuendo. And the debate cleaved into camps based upon gender and marital status lines…

    What an exhausting week.

    Table of Contents:
    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
    THE STORY BREAKS
    1) CNN and NBC TODAY Show: American Christopher Savoie attempts to recover his abducted kids,
    is turned away from Fukuoka Consulate, arrested for “kidnapping”
    2) CBS EARLY SHOW on the Case
    3) US Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) calls for action against Japan’s child abductions, introduces legislation to US Congress
    4) Brett Weed on US State Dept Human Rights Bureau’s willful ignorance of Japan’s child abduction

    THINGS GET MESSY
    5) Tokyo Shinbun and Mainichi weigh in on Savoie
    6) More media on the Savoie (CNN, CBS, Stars&Stripes, AP, BBC, Japan Times, local TV). What a mess.
    7) Court Transcripts of Christopher vs. Noriko Savoie
    8 ) My final thoughts on Savoie in Japan Times column (plus more media: WSJ, NYT, CNN)

    TRYING TO DISENTANGLE
    9) Terrie’s Take offers the best piece yet on the Savoie Case
    10) CNN on the upcoming documentary FROM THE SHADOWS re Japan’s Child Abductions issue
    11) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Oct 6 column on Savoie and Japan’s “Disappeared Dads” (full text)

    12) DEBITO.ORG BLOG POLL: 39% think Christopher did the right thing. But…

    … and finally … something lighter
    13) SOUR STRAWBERRIES Cinema Debut Oct 10th-30th every day, Cine Nouveau Osaka Kujo
    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan
    debito@debito.org, www.debito.org
    Freely Forwardable, or subscribe your friends via any page on Debito.org

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    THE STORY BREAKS

    1) CNN and NBC TODAY Show: American Christopher Savoie attempts to recover his abducted kids,
    is turned away from Fukuoka Consulate, arrested for “kidnapping”

    An American named Christopher Savoie faced a case of child abduction when his Japanese ex-wife Noriko did something that is increasingly coming to light (and has been featured prominently on Debito.org in the past): abducted their children to Japan.

    Japan has now become truly infamous as a haven for international child abductions, due not only to its non-signatory status vis-a-vis the Hague Treaty on International Child Abductions, but also because its problematic koseki Family Registry system enables one parent sole custody of the kids (and no visitation rights I know: I’m divorced, and despite Japanese citizenship, I’ve seen one of my daughters all of *once* over the past five years): abduction and lack of contact in Japan happens regardless of nationality, but it’s particularly disadvantageous for NJ because they don’t even have a koseki to put their children on (not to mention the difficulty of conducting an intercontinental custody battle).

    This issue has been brought up numerous times internationally over the years, to a lot of handwringing (and some biased domestic media coverage) on the part of Japan. Consequently, no abducted child to Japan, according to a number of embassies and and the upcoming documentary FROM THE SHADOWS, has EVER been returned. Even though, in Mr Savoie’s case, he was awarded custody of his children by a Tennessee court, and there is an arrest warrant out for his wife in the US.

    So Mr Savoie did something I consider very brave. He came to Japan and tried to retrieve his children. He put them in his car and did a runner for the Fukuoka US Consulate. However, according to online and word-of-mouth sources familiar with this case, the American Consulate would not open the gate for him. I’ve known for quite some time that the USG is quite unhelpful towards its citizens, but this is getting ridiculous. Especially since the children are also US citizens.

    Mr Savoie was then arrested by Japanese police and charged with kidnapping a charge that may incarcerate him for up to five years, and his outcome at this writing remains uncertain.

    But it’s about time somebody took a stand like this, if you ask me, since no other channels are working (witness what happened in the very similar Murray Wood Case), and nothing short of this is probably going to draw the attention this situation needs. Bravo Mr Savoie!

    Links to videos from CNN, NBC’s TODAY Show, and a local TV network doing fine investigative journalism, plus copious archives and real-time updates at the Children’s Rights Network Japan all blogged here. The latest: CNN reports the GOJ claiming Savoie is a naturalized Japanese citizen!

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4582

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    2) CBS EARLY SHOW on the Case

    CBS News’s EARLY SHOW on the Savoie Child Abduction Case, reenacting the US Consulate Fukuoka’s refusal to open the gates, guests Amy Savoie and left-behind father Patrick Braden.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4603

    CNN’s Kyung Lah seemed to be taking a personal interest in the issue. I don’t mind that at all, as long as the information she’s releasing to the world remains accurate and verified. From her blog:

    September 30, 2009
    Family man’s plight not news in Japan
    Posted: 806 GMT
    http://inthefield.blogs.cnn.com/2009/09/30/family-mans-plight-not-news-in-japan/

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    3) US Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) calls for action against Japan’s child abductions, introduces legislation to US Congress

    US Rep Chris Smith: “International child abduction violates the rights of the left behind parent and the rights of the child to know both parents,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Congressional Representative to the United Nations. “Sadly, international child abductions are on the increase. In the last three years, reported international child abductions have increased 60 percent.”

    “My legislation, HR 3240 empowers the United States to more aggressively pursue the resolution of abduction cases,” Smith said. “Our current system is not providing justice for left behind parents or for children whisked away from their mom or dad. Congress must act so that more children are not further traumatized by parental abduction.”

    Key provisions of the Smith legislation include:

    =================================
    Requires the President to respond with a range of mutually reinforcing penalties, including sanctions against a country, when that country has shown a pattern of non-cooperation in resolving child abduction cases

    Creates the position of Ambassador at Large for International Child Abduction within the State Department to advise the Secretary of State and raise the profile of the more than 2,800 children who have been abducted.

    Empowers the Ambassador at Large to pursue additional legal frameworks abroad, including bilateral agreements with countries that have not yet acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

    Authorizes greater resources for a new office within the State Department to better assist left behind parents and expand the State Department’s ability to collect detailed information on abductions.

    =================================

    “Child abduction is child abuse,” Smith said. “The kidnapped child is at risk for serious emotional and psychological problems. As adults, they may struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships and parenting.
    =================================

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4600

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    4) Brett Weed on US State Dept Human Rights Bureau’s willful ignorance of Japan’s child abduction

    Brett Weed opens in his letter to the US State Dept regarding omission of Japan’s issues re international child abductions, sent January 14, 2008:

    “I believe we are in agreement with regards to the Department of State preparing the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices. Nevertheless the Department of State annual County Report is not complete according to legislation passed by Congress contained within Section 116(d) & 502(b) of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948. Section 502(b) states: [Such report shall also include, for each country with respect to which the report indicates that extrajudicial killings, torture, or other serious violations of human rights have occurred in the country, the extent to which the United States has taken or will take action to encourage an end to such practices in the country.]

    “Other omissions of the report are not in accordance with Section 502(b). I noted a few key words you omitted from your October 31st, 2007 Email reply such as: “abduction”. In fact, from the perspective of an internationally abducted child, left-behind parent and specifically by definition contained within Section 502(b), any participating country which allows the abduction of children is in gross violation of internationally recognized human rights. [the term ''gross violations of internationally recognized human rights'' includes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person]. It also states: [Except under circumstances specified in this section, no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of inter-nationally recognized human rights.]

    “Please explain what the applicable circumstances are, contained within Section 502(b), that allow security assistance to be provided to Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Taiwan and other countries which participate in child abduction in gross violation of internationally recognized human rights”

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4634

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    THINGS GET MESSY

    5) Tokyo Shinbun and Mainichi weigh in on Savoie

    Domestic press is beginning to weigh in on this case. (It’s getting too big to ignore.) I have the feeling the wagons are circling, and the “Japanese as perpetual victim in any case” reporting is starting to emerge. Like we’ve seen before. Tokyo Shinbun and Mainichi reports follow.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4609

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    6) More media on the Savoie (CNN, CBS, Stars&Stripes, AP, BBC, Japan Times, local TV). What a mess.

    Here is some more media on the Savoie Child Abduction Case. Although the case is certainly a lot messier than it was 48 hours ago (divorces are like that; neither adult is blameless), the media is starting to report more on husband Christopher’s apparent Japanese citizenship and wife Noriko’s loneliness and financial dependence on him in the US (even though she reportedly received a sizeable sum of close to $800,000 USD from the divorce).

    Also coming to light is that the US State Department’s policy on issues such as these: “U.S. consular officers are prohibited by law from providing legal advice, taking custody of a child, forcing a child to be returned to the United States, providing assistance or refuge to parents attempting to violate local law”. They have, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted in Stars & Stripes, not asked Japan to release Savoie.

    In sum, the case and the reportage on it is a mess. As more information comes to light about the Savoie Case, I will admit for the record, in all intellectual honesty, that there are a number of circumstances that, as commenters point out, detract from supporting husband Christopher as a “poster child” for the push to get Japan to sign the Hague Convention. But unfortunately divorces are messy things. I’ll probably write an apologia (not an apology, look up the word) tomorrow on the case.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4618

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    7) Court Transcripts of Christopher vs. Noriko Savoie

    What follows are excerpts from the court testimony of Christopher Savoie vs Noriko Savoie, indicating the bad-faith negotiations that took place. The messy circumstances notwithstanding, we have clear promises from Noriko that she will not abduct the children, and that her trip to Japan would be for no more than six weeks.

    So the retraining order against Noriko gets lifted, and Noriko absconds with the kids. That is the background to the case. Her current extraterritoriality notwithstanding, she broke the law, and now there’s an arrest warrant out on her. That’s what occasioned Christopher taking the drastic actions that he did.

    Now, speaking as a left-behind parent myself might be coloring my attitude towards this issue. But divorces are nearly always messy and fault can be found with both sides in mediations. And the fact remains that Noriko did what so many Japanese will do in these situations abduct the children and claim Japan as a safe haven. Then the children are NEVER returned, and usually contact is completely broken off with the left-behind parent for the remainder of the childhood.

    This is an untenable situation. And it must stop. For the sake of the children. This in my mind is undisputable. The children must be returned to Dr Savoie in order to discourage this sort of thing happening again. Anything else is just more encouragement for Japanese to abduct their children.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4614

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    8 ) My final thoughts on Savoie in Japan Times column (plus more media: WSJ, NYT, CNN)

    I said I would write my Apologia for the Savoie Child Abduction Case today. Well, I did. But not for public consumption yet, sorry. The Japan Times commissioned me to do it for my next JUST BE CAUSE column (out Tuesday Oct 6), so please wait a couple of days.

    Article excerpts:

    Surprised if true, from CNN Oct 4, see below:
    =================================
    Christopher Savoie and his first wife, Noriko Savoie, were married for 14 years before their divorce in January. The couple, both citizens of the United States and Japan, had lived in Japan but moved to the United States before the divorce.
    =================================

    WSJ, full article below or at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125469778121862591.html
    =================================
    U.S. officials say one parent too often absconds with a child or children to Japan, leaving the other parent no legal route to regain custody or visitation rights. U.S. authorities count 82 current cases, involving about 123 children, in which American parents have been denied access to children taken to Japan by the other parent.
    =================================
    Rest at http://www.debito.org/?p=4624

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    TRYING TO DISENTANGLE

    9) Terrie’s Take offers the best piece yet on the Savoie Case

    Excerpt:

    HOWEVER, again, we can only speculate about what really happened, and until the facts are made public, we can probably assume that Savoie was acting logically throughout in that he was trying to get his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids into a jurisdiction (the U.S.) where the law protects BOTH parents rights and upholds the concept of joint custody. Whether his behavior is cruel or is manipulative is beside the point. Savoie would have known that if his divorce was contested in Japan, he would have been 100% guaranteed to have lost his kids, and would have been at the whim of his wife whether or not he would be able to see them ever again as children

    Since there appears to be little will by the judiciary to change their ways or values, any change in the status quo needs to be a political one using outside political pressure (“Gaiatsu”). This is a long-term project unfortunately, but it does give us a possible motive why an otherwise intelligent individual such as Savoie may have been driven to try kidnap his kids when such an undertaking would have such a high possibility for failure.

    Finally, our take is that what he did is not right, but under the current legal system, it is understandable. We think similar incidents will happen again until things change.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4646

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    10) CNN on the upcoming documentary FROM THE SHADOWS re Japan’s Child Abductions issue

    CNN did a feature on upcoming movie ‘From the shadows’ 2:05
    A new documentary follows children abducted by their parents. CNN’s Kareen Wynter reports.

    http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/showbiz/2009/09/30/wynter.abductions.doc.cnn?iref=videosearch

    Want to see more of this important movie? (I’ve been a supporter of it for years, and was interviewed for it.)

    Go to http://www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com/

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4641

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    11) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Oct 6 column on Savoie and Japan’s “Disappeared Dads” (full text)

    Text only follows. Version with links to sources at
    http://www.debito.org/?p=4664

    ===================================
    The Japan Times, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009
    JUST BE CAUSE
    Savoie case shines spotlight on Japan’s ‘disappeared dads’
    By DEBITO ARUDOU

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20091006ad.html

    Making international (and to a lesser extent, national) news recently has been the Savoie child abduction case. Briefly: After a couple divorced in America, ex-wife Noriko Savoie absconded with their children to Japan. Then ex-husband Christopher, who had been awarded custody in the U.S., came to Japan to take the kids back. On Sept. 28 he tried to get the children into the American Consulate in Fukuoka, but was barred entry and arrested by the Japanese police for kidnapping.

    The case is messy (few divorces aren’t), and I haven’t space here to deal with the minutia (e.g. Christopher’s quick remarriage, Noriko’s $800,000 divorce award and ban on international travel, both parents’ dual U.S.-Japan citizenship , etc.). Please read up online.

    So let’s go beyond that and focus on how this case highlights why Japan must make fundamental promises and reforms.

    In Japan, divorce means that one side (usually the father) can lose all contact with the kids. Thanks to the koseki family registry system, Japan has no joint custody (because you can’t put a child on two people’s koseki). Meanwhile, visitation rights, even if mandated by family court, are unenforceable. This happens in Japan regardless of nationality. (I speak from personal experience: I too am divorced, and have zero contact with my children. I’ve seen one of my daughters only once over the past five years.)

    Standard operating procedure is the three Ds: Divorced Daddy Disappears. Add an international dimension to the marriage and it’s stunningly difficult for a non-Japanese parent of either gender to gain child custody (as foreigners, by definition, don’t have a koseki). Add a transnational dimension and the kids are gone: Many left-behind parents overseas receive no communication whatsoever until the children become adults.

    There is no recourse. Although Japan has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it has not signed the Hague Convention on Child Abductions (the only holdout among the G7 developed countries). If brought to trial in Japan, our judges do not honor overseas court orders granting custody to the non-Japanese parent. In fact, according to the documentary “From the Shadows,” an estimated 300 such children are abducted to or within Japan each year, and none has ever been returned by Japanese authorities to a foreign parent.

    Until now this issue received scant media attention. However, with the Savoie case, Japan has earned a worldwide reputation as a safe haven for abductions. This is, given the inhuman North Korean kidnappings of Japanese, an ironic position to be in.

    Before we get relativistic, be advised there is no comity here. Although few (I know of none) foreigners have ever won repatriation rights or even custody in Japanese courts, the converse is not true in, for example, American courts. The U.S. recognizes the Hague-mandated concept of “habitual residence,” even if that doesn’t mean America. The most famous abduction-then-repatriation case involved Elian Gonzalez from Cuba.

    According to court transcripts, Noriko Savoie did have a fair hearing abroad. The judge heard her out, believed her sworn testimony that she would not abduct the kids, and lifted the restraining order against her. She and the kids could travel to Japan briefly to explore their Japanese heritage.

    Then Noriko broke her oath. And Christopher boarded a plane.

    The point: Regardless of any extenuating circumstances in this messy affair, the lack of a post-divorce legal framework to prevent abductions, secure joint custody and guarantee visitation rights forced Christopher to take the law into his own hands.

    Needless to say it’s the children that get hurt the most in this tug of war. If Japan’s policymakers would secure the right of the child to know both their parents and heritages, this nonsense would cease.

    But as with all social problems left to fester, things are only getting worse. U.S. Congressman Chris Smith announced Sept. 29 that reported child abductions have increased “60 percent in the last three years.” No doubt contributing to this rise is the grapevine effect among expat Japanese a quick Web search shows that all a potential abductor needs do is board a plane to Japan and they’re scot-free.

    Injustice breeds drastic actions. How long before a vigilante parent takes the law so far that somebody gets injured or killed?

    Japan wants to avoid a demographic nightmare as its population drops. International marriage is one solution. But this threat of abduction is now a prime deterrent to marrying any Japanese. One domestic spat with a threat to kidnap the kids and conjugal trust is permanently destroyed.

    But just signing the Hague convention won’t fix things. Japan has, after all, inked umpteen international treaties (like the above-mentioned UNCRC), and ignores them by not enacting enforceable domestic laws. I don’t anticipate any exception here: Japan giving more parental rights to non-Japanese through treaties than they would their own citizens? Inconceivable.

    What’s necessary is more radical: Abolish the koseki system so that legal ties can extend to both parents regardless of nationality after divorce. In addition, our authorities must create more professional domestic-dispute enforcement and mediation mechanisms (consider the farcical chotei pre-divorce process).

    Inevitable problems arise in that complicated institution called marriage. Anyone, including Japanese, must have recourse, remedy and redress. Without it people will take matters into their own hands.

    There are plenty of times when adults just won’t act like adults. But their children should not have to suffer for it.

    Reforms are necessary not just to prevent future cases like the Savoies’; Japan also needs more secure family laws for its own long-suffering, disappeared Japanese parents.

    =================================
    Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month.
    Links to sources at
    http://www.debito.org/?p=4664

    BONUS STATISTICS, Courtesy of RedJoe the Lawyer:

    ======================================
    In [Japan] divorces finalized in 2007, fathers got custody 15% of the time, while women got custody 81% of the time. So the system is clearly biased, but men win in a significant (if not fair) number of cases. Interestingly, men used to get custody more often than women. The sexes reached parity in the late 60s and women reached their current ~80% success rate around 2000. Stats are here: http://www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/List.do?lid=000001032162

    US Census figures from 2004 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p70-114.pdf):
    58.3% of kids live with both married parents
    29.5% live with their mother but not their father
    4.7% live with their father but not their mother

    Granted, a lot of single-mother families in the US are not formed by a divorce, but rather by the father being incarcerated. Still, that doesn’t account for a 25 percentage point difference across the whole population.
    ======================================
    ENDS

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    12) DEBITO.ORG BLOG POLL: 39% think Christopher did the right thing. But…

    BLOG QUESTION: What do you think about the Savoie Child Abduction Case?

    I think mother Noriko was right to abduct their children to Japan. (20%, 61 Votes)
    I think father Chris was right to come to Japan and get them back. (39%, 121 Votes)
    I can’t say decisively either way. (20%, 62 Votes)
    Something else / None of the above. (21%, 68 Votes)

    Total Voters: 313 (as of 9PM JST October 8, 2009)

    Poll is still open, feel free to vote on any Debito.org blog page.

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    … and finally … something lighter:

    13) SOUR STRAWBERRIES Cinema Debut Oct 10th-30th every day, Cine Nouveau Osaka Kujo

    We are happy to announce that the critically acclaimed documentary “SOUR STRAWBERRIES Japan’s hidden guest workers” will have its premier in a cinema in Japan at Osaka’s Cin Nouveau in Kujo.

    The first screening will be on Saturday, 10th October 2009 at 10:30 am. Director Tilman Knig will be present and happy to answer questions from 11:30 onwards.

    The discussion will be held in Japanese. Questions in English and German will be answered as well.

    “SOUR STRAWBERRIES Japan’s hidden Guest Workers”, a movie by Tilman Knig and Daniel Kremers, G/J 2008, 56 min, color, 16:9. Original in German, Japanese, Chinese, English with English and Japanese Subtitles.

    Everyday from October 10th to October 30th 2009.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4656

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Thanks for reading!

    Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan
    debito@debito.org, www.debito.org
    DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 8, 2009
    SPECIAL ON THE SAVOIE CHILD ABDUCTION CASE ENDS

    2 Responses to “DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 8, 2009”

    1. Kim Moore Says:

      No one parent should be denied access to their own child. This makes
      me sick the way alot of Governments just sit on their bump and don’t
      do anything to make things better for the left behind parent. It is
      because it is not their child or is it about money that is still is
      this way with no progress in almost 30 years.

    2. John Evans Says:

      I have “insider” knowledge on this. It’s why I left Japan. Easier not to see your own child when you live half way round the world, than when you live a few blocks away….

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