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Hi Blog. This has been big news all of yesterday. (I’m pretty strict about only doing one major blog post per day — otherwise I’d have floods and famines of news instead of dribs and drabs — so sorry for the delay on reporting this. And thanks to the dozens of people who sent articles. Here goes:)
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 close to 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. One left-behind father commented to a mailing list thusly:
It does not surprise me one bit. I met with the U.S. Embassy in Okinawa shortly after my daughter was abducted and I found her there [in Okinawa]. They told me flat out that is what they would do if I tried to bring her [to the Consulate], in spite of the U.S. Warrants for her mother’s arrest and the U.S. Court papers showing that I had full unconditional custody of my daughter.
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!
CNN has been the leader on reporting this case, and anchor Campbell Brown did an excellent report at 10:40 AM JST (I watched it intercontinentally over skype with a friend), with CNN’s legal counsel commenting agape at how Japan’s courts ignore overseas rulings and allow one family to capture the kids after divorce. They also had an interview with Paul Toland, a commander in the US Navy, who similarly lost his child 6 years ago — and when his ex-wife died two years ago, the Japanese courts awarded custody to his Japanese mother-in-law! Very, very sobering.
See that report here:
Download that report in mp4 format here:
Anderson Cooper also took it up, guest-starring Christopher’s current wife Amy Savoie and international lawyer Jeremy Morley:
NBC’s TODAY Show took this up this morning US time, with special guests Jeremy Morley, FROM THE SHADOWS director Matt Antell, and Amy again (can’t embed, so click):
CNNj’s Kyung Lah, however, did some pretty lackluster reporting, where they ended the show with relativities and how Noriko too is legally permitted the kids in Japan. Aw shucks. Don’t it just sting when people do these things to each other, don’tcha know? Why can’t we just all get along?
Local TV in Nashville, Tennessee did a much better job, reporting surprising negligence on the part of the local judge who granted Noriko the right to leave the country in the first place with the kids, despite advance evidence in writing that Noriko was threatening to abduct them (the judge declined to comment for the report). Text and TV here:
Finally, some more media courtesy of the assiduous coverage of Mark at the Children’s Rights Network Japan (CRN), your one-stop shopping for all information relating to international child abduction cases involving Japanese. Recent news stories up at CRN about the issue here. And just go here for the latest in real time:
The latest: CNN reports the GOJ claiming Savoie is a naturalized Japanese citizen! See article at very bottom as this story keeps mushrooming…
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
AMERICAN FATHER JAILED FOR TRYING TO RECOVER CHILDREN IN JAPAN
A Story that CRN Japan reported on just last week has taken a sorry turn!
TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 29, 2009) — Had this parental abduction drama played out in the United States, Christopher Savoie might be considered a hero — snatching his two little children back from an ex-wife who defied the law and ran off with them.
A Tennessee court awarded Christopher Savoie custody of his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca.
But this story unfolds 7,000 miles away in the Japanese city of Fukuoka, where the U.S. legal system holds no sway.
And here, Savoie sits in jail, charged with the abduction of minors. And his Japanese ex-wife — a fugitive in the United States for taking his children from Tennessee — is considered the victim.
“Japan is an important partner and friend of the U.S., but on this issue, our points of view differ,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Tuesday. “Our two nations approach divorce and child-rearing differently. Parental child abduction is not considered a crime in Japan.”
The story begins in Franklin, Tennessee, with the divorce of Savoie from his first wife, Noriko, a Japanese native.
The ex-wife had agreed to live in Franklin to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.
But in August — on the first day of classes for 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — the school called to say they hadn’t arrived.
Worried, Savoie called his ex-wife’s father in Japan, who told him not to worry.
“I said, ‘What do you mean — don’t worry? They weren’t at school.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, they are here,’ ” Savoie recounted the conversation to CNN affiliate WTVF earlier this month. “I said, ‘They are what, they are what, they are in Japan?’ ”
After the abduction, a court in Williamson County, Tennessee, granted Savoie full custody of the children. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for his ex-wife, the television station reported.
But there was a major hitch: Japan is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.
The international agreement standardizes laws, but only among participating countries.
So while Japanese civil law stresses that courts resolve custody issues based on the best interest of the children without regard to the parent’s nationality, foreign parents have had little success in regaining custody.
Japanese family law follows a tradition of sole custody divorces. When a couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and lifelong break from the children.
The International Association for Parent-Child Reunion, formed in Japan this year, claims to know of more than 100 cases of children abducted by noncustodial Japanese parents.
And the U.S. State Department says it is not aware of a single case in which a child taken from the United States to Japan has been ordered returned by Japanese courts — even when the left-behind parent has a U.S. custody decree.
Saddled with such statistics and the possibility of never seeing his kids again, Savoie took matters into his own hands.
He flew to Fukuoka. And as his ex-wife walked the two children to school Monday morning, Savoie drove alongside them.
He grabbed them, forced them into his car, and drove off, said police in Fukuoka.
He headed for the U.S. consulate in Fukuoka to try to obtain passports for Isaac and Rebecca.
But Japanese police, alerted by Savoie’s ex-wife, were waiting.
Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor said she heard a scuffle outside the doors of the consulate. She ran up and saw a little girl and a man, whom police were trying to talk to.
Eventually, police took Savoie away, charging him with the abduction of minors — a crime that upon conviction carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
The consulate met with Savoie on Monday and Tuesday, Taylor said. It has provided him with a list of local lawyers and said it will continue to assist.
Meanwhile, the international diplomacy continues. During the first official talks between the United States and Japan’s new government, the issue of parental abductions was raised.
But it is anybody’s guess what happens next to Savoie, who sits in a jail cell.
Father, kids in custody case Japanese citizens, officials say
TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 30, 2009) — The case of a Tennessee man jailed in Japan for trying to snatch back his children from his estranged wife is not as clear-cut as it’s been made out to be, authorities here said Wednesday.
The father, Christopher Savoie, apparently became a naturalized Japanese citizen four years ago, listing a permanent address in Tokyo, they said.
And while he and Noriko Savoie, a Japanese native, divorced in Tennessee, the two never annulled their marriage in Japan, Japanese officials said.
Also, the two children at the center of the case hold Japanese passports, they said.
“His chances of getting his children back home to the States, I think, are pretty slim right now,” Jeremy Morley, Savoie’s lawyer in the United States, told CNN’s “AC 360” on Tuesday night. Watch how dad landed in Japanese jail »
“We’re getting this in the hands of Interpol. We’re putting the pressure,” he added. “We want diplomatic pressure. We want the United States government to act strongly.”
Savoie was arrested Monday when he snatched his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as Noriko Savoie was walking them to school in Fukuoka, about 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Tokyo.
He headed for the U.S. consulate in that city to try to obtain passports for them, authorities said. But Japanese police, alerted by Noriko Savoie, arrested him.
Japanese authorities said Wednesday that Savoie was eating well and was staying in a jail cell by himself.
He will be held for 10 days while prosecutors sort out the details of the case. Watch a discussion of U.S.-Japan custody cases »
“I know he had to go to the hospital for blood pressure issues,” said Amy Savoie, whom Savoie married after divorcing Noriko Savoie in Tennessee in January. “The gentleman from the consulate was able to contact me this morning, and he confirmed that Christopher had gone to the hospital. The first night he needed medication for his high blood pressure.”
After their Tennessee divorce, Noriko Savoie agreed to live in Franklin, Tennessee, to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.
In March, Savoie requested a restraining order to prevent his wife from taking the children to Japan, fearing she would not return.
“I was on a speaker phone telephone call once when she proclaimed to him, ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of,” said Amy Savoie. “So, yes, he had the idea.”
Noriko Savoie could not be reached by CNN for comment.
On the day that the two children were to begin school in August, Savoie learned Noriko Savoie had fled with them to Japan.
After that, Savoie filed for and was granted full custody of the children by a Tennessee court. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for Noriko Savoie.
But Japan is not a party to a 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.
Foreign parents have had little luck in regaining custody, the U.S. State Department said.
“She has committed a felony, the mother,” Morley said. “It’s a very serious felony. She would go to jail for serious time if she were here.
“But Japan has a different legal system and a different set of customs and ideas about custody. And their idea is that somebody who is Japanese and the mother should be entitled to have the kids and have the kids alone. The fact that they were living here is kind of irrelevant, and the fact that there’s a court order here is irrelevant.”
So, Savoie flew to Fukuoka to try to get back his children — and landed himself in jail.
“These kids are the ones that are suffering,” Morley said. “These kids are without their father, and their father needs to be a part of their life. It’s not fair that he’s been taken away from them.”
57 comments on “CNN and NBC TODAY Show: American attempts to recover his abducted kids, is turned away from Fukuoka Consulate, arrested for “kidnapping””
Debito, I don’t think #43 above was me. I had one in there about the Federal Register (per #37)…
— Sorry Hoofin, don’t know what happened with your post. I pressed “approve” and somehow it disappeared. Please repost? Thanks.
Debito, it looks like George picked up a similar link in #47.
I ran just “Savoie” at the Federal Register’s government site, and nothing from 2005 to 2009. That means he–or any ohter Savoie–never turned the U.S. passport in, like I assume Japan would require. This was with a two-year grace period, right?
When you did it, you followed the Japanese rule. But there must be several more people around Japan who have not.
In the original post, I mentioned that the notice is placed there officially for tax reasons. The U.S. tax code has it here:
“§ 6039G. Information on individuals losing United States citizenship”
But I think one of the Senators or Congressmen meant to establish a bit of a shame badge factor to the thing.
Yesterday I read the following minor update on the case:
There have been several conflicting accounts, so I really am not sure about certain details. But this article specifically refers to Chris as an American ex-husband (米国人の元夫) in contrast to his Japanese [ex-]wife. It then refers to their relationship as being international marriage (国際結婚). Then the police department makes the following specific statement about investigating national crimes of both Japanese and foreigners (日本人でも外国人でも) based on Japanese law.
However, other articles indicate that Chris 1) naturalized so is Japanese and 2) that he is still married in Japan. Are these points still not clear? There are complicating factors, but in the end it seems to be a married Japanese father trying to pickup his child. Legally he is no different than the Japanese mother.
Mumei, both Chris and Noriko are dual nationals. I wonder what Noriko said to the police when she notified them that Chris was attempting to take the kids to the consulate. I’m betting that she refered to herself as (solely) Japanese and to her husband as being American. Were they both Japanese, both foreign, or both dual, I don’t think the police would have responded as quickly and one-sidedly.
also i dont understand why the hague convention is so stressed here.
she broke an american court order which is why she is a fugitive from justice.
this point has been conveniently whitewashed
Mark in Yayoi,
That is my understanding as well. However, he is not under arrest for being a dual national. He is under arrest for the abduction of a minor (未成年者略取の疑い). Surely the matter of his, as well as Noriko’s, dual citizenship will be addressed at some point. But at present, in Japan where he is under arrest, he is apparently a married Japanese father with a child. (Similarly Noriko is a married Japanese mother with the same child.) If picking up your own child as a legally married parent is a crime, then many other parents may need to begin worrying. Sure the police can hold him or anyone for up to 23 days, but I do not think that they have any legal basis to charge him for a crime.
I’m not a lawyer, but that is my interpretation of the situation.