David vs. Brazilian Goliath Battle Continues
By U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith
5 July 2009
avid Goldman of Tinton Falls is a mild-mannered man whose love, courage, kindness and amazing tenacity touches the heart of everyone he’s met as well as those who have heard of his five-year struggle to rescue his son from a kidnapper in Brazil.
Despite some recent encouraging signs in the Brazilian federal courts, the sad fact of the matter is that in Rio de Janerio today, a man who is not 9-year-old Sean Goldman’s father continues to illegally retain Goldman’s son. The Goldman child abduction case begs an immediate, simple and durable remedy: Bring Sean home to his father — and to his real home in New Jersey. End the kidnapping without excuse or further delay.
Last month, Goldman traveled to Brazil for the 12th time. He went back to the Brazilian Supreme Court, which he and I visited together in February, trying to secure the justice that a bevy of Brazilian lower courts seemed either incapable or incompetent to render.
On the heels of a strongly favorable opinion by a lower federal court judge that ordered Sean to be reunited with his dad, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Goldman’s favor, dismissing a challenge to Brazil’s longstanding obligations to international law which addresses such parental abductions. Legal appeals loom that may short-circuit justice once again.
A Brazilian federal judge ruled that Sean belonged in the custody of his father Monday through Saturday. Unfortunately, the ruling comes with the stipulation that Sean remain in Brazil while other appeals play out, a difficult prospect since Goldman’s — and Sean’s — home is in New Jersey.
Recently, in an in an affront to basic human rights, we learned that the abductors videotaped Sean behind a two-way mirror being interrogated as to where he preferred to live. This type of coached statement is an outrage, and has not been admissible, since the interrogation of a 9-year-old can be easy to manipulate. This is eerily and dangerously similar to hostage video we’ve all seen on television, where captors scheme to coerce and extract statements from someone illegally held.
Make no mistake about it. Sean is being held unlawfully from his father, and information extracted by Sean’s abductors underscores what emotional and mental pressures he suffers every day that he is away from his father.
Five years ago, Sean, then 4, was abducted by his mother to Brazil. Since then, Goldman has sought relief in the Brazilian courts and, with the aid of an extraordinarily talented legal team, has left no stone unturned in trying to get his son back. Our Embassy in Brazil, especially the Consular General and her team, have fought valiantly for Goldman and and his son. Yet despite all this and repeated trips to Brazil, Goldman was not even allowed to have visitation for more than 4 1/2 years of Sean’s life. I was there when Goldman finally got to see his own son. It was moving beyond words, and the bond of love between the two was strong and obvious.
Adding further insult to injury in this kidnapping case, since the death of Sean’s mother in 2008, Sean has been illegally held by her second husband, João Paulo Lins e Silva, a wealthy and well-connected lawyer, whom she had only married in 2007. Lins e Silva refuses to return Sean to his father and, heedless of the damage he does to Sean, endlessly delays and obstructs the judicial process. He keeps Sean from his father, alleging Sean is more settled in Brazil. In addition to his father, Sean has family and friends in New Jersey, where he was born. His empty bedroom in Tinton Falls awaits him. For five years, Goldman has left it untouched for his homecoming.
The Congress and the executive branch need to do more. The House and Senate have sent strong messages through resolutions that we will no longer ignore child kidnapping. Now, the Foreign Affairs Committee should hold hearings on the irreparable harm to thousands of children and left-behind parents caused by an ever-worsening global trend of child kidnapping. The State Department said there were more than 1,083 new cases involving 1,615 kidnapped kids in 2008 alone.
Congress should also consider my bill, H.R. 2702, which would suspend special trade privileges Brazil currently enjoys on export goods worth $2.7 billion to the United States. Our country has extended these duty-free benefits to help Brazil economically. But if Brazil does not live up to its obligations — and at least 65 American kids remain abducted in Brazil — then there should be something more than diplomatic chatter to underscore our resolve.
From my work as author of numerous human rights laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, I have learned that offending countries are far more likely to take human rights abuse seriously if a predictable, hefty penalty awaits indifference or noncompliance. Moral suasion occasionally succeeds but far too often is ignored.
David Goldman has made visible that which had largely been invisible. His persistence has mobilized his family, neighbors, the media, Congress and the American people to confront child abductions seriously. I hope the Brazilian government will resolve this international problem, live up to its own duties under international law, and restore its own reputation as a nation of law and order.
All the world watches.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, is in his 29th year in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. http://chrissmith.house.gov/Biography/