House Resolution 125
Sean Goldman International Child Abduction Resolution
Floor Statement by Rep. Christopher H. Smith

In the United States House of Representatives
March 11, 2009

 

MISTER SPEAKER, imagine that you are a child of only 4-years old and your best friend is your father, your primary care giver. You live with your parents by a lake in a quiet neighborhood in New Jersey, and your days are filled with boating, swimming, sports and other fun with your dad.

Then suddenly, one day, your mother takes you on a jet, you move to a foreign country, and for 4 ½ years you live with the confusion, pain and anxiety of not understanding why your father is not there with or for you. The little contact you have with dad are a few phone calls, routinely interrupted when the phone is taken from you and abruptly ended while your father is trying to tell you how much he loves you and misses you.

This is what happened to Sean Goldman; an American citizen, born and living in New Jersey for the first four years of his life until June, 2004 when his mother took him to her native country of Brazil. Almost as soon as she arrived in Rio de Janeiro, she advised Sean’s father, David Goldman, that she was permanently staying in Brazil and she was not going to allow Sean to return home to New Jersey. And Sean has not been to his real home since.

Stunned, shell-shocked and utterly heartbroken, David Goldman has refused to quit or fade away—his love for his son is too strong. He has been working tirelessly every day during the last 4 ½ years, using every legal means available, to bring Sean home. On paper, the laws are with him. Child abduction and retention of a kidnapped child are serious crimes. The courts of New Jersey, the place of Sean’s habitual residence, granted David full custody of Sean as far back as August, 2004. On the international front, David had every reason to believe that justice would be swift and sure because unlike some countries, Brazil is a party to an international convention and has a bilateral partnership with the United States which obligates Brazil to return children, even those abducted by a parent, to the place of habitual residence—in this case, New Jersey.

To David Goldman’s shock and dismay, however, that has not happened. Even after Sean’s mother died unexpectedly in August 2008, the people unlawfully holding Sean in Brazil—especially a man who is not Sean’s father—have refused to allow Sean’s return home to New Jersey or—until last month—even to see his father.

Last month, I traveled to Brazil with David Goldman on what was his eighth trip to try to see his son and advance the legal and diplomatic process of returning Sean to the United States.

This trip was different, however, and we hope, a turning point. First, we got to visit his son. We met with several key Brazilian officials in President Lula’s government including Ambassador Oto Agripino Maia at the Ministry of External Affairs and in the judicial system Minister Ellen Gracie Northfleet, the former Chief Justice and current member of the Supreme Tribunal Federal. We were encouraged by their apparent understanding of Brazil’s solemn obligation, as a signatory to the Hague Convention, to return Sean to the United States.

In subsequent meetings here in the United States with the Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S., Antonio de Auiar Patriota and the Brazilian Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Osmar Chofi, we were again assured that the Lula government believes that Sean Goldman should be in the US with his father.

Still, deeds, not just encouraging words are what matter most, and Sean remains unlawfully held in Brazil.

When in Brazil last month, I had the extraordinary privilege of joining David and Sean in their first meeting in four and a half years. Now almost nine, Sean Goldman was delighted to see his dad. The love between them was strong and obvious. In the first minutes of their meeting, I saw the pain as Sean asked his father why he hadn’t visited him in the last 4½ years. David, told him that he had traveled to Rio de Janiero many times to try to be with him. But in order to mitigate Sean’s pain already caused by the abduction, David blamed only the courts—not the abductors—for the separation; David showing class and sensitivity for his son.

This is a picture I took while we were in Brazil—a picture of a dad and his son after shooting baskets and playing a game of “around the world.” Sean, a remarkable young man, was completely at ease and eager to get reacquainted with his dad. I took this picture about an hour after their first reunion. The joy on both of their faces is compelling.

Mr. Speaker, the kidnapping of Sean Goldman and his continued 4½ year unlawful retention in Rio de Janiero must be resolved immediately and irrevocably. A father—who deeply loves his son, wants desperately to care for him and spend precious time with him—has had his nationally and internationally recognized parental rights, and his son has had his rights, violated with shocking impunity. David Goldman should not be blocked from raising his own child. A child, who recently lost his mother, belongs with his dad.

The government of Brazil has failed to live up to its legal obligations under international law to return Sean to his biological father. The government of Brazil has an obligation that they must fulfill without any further delay.

The resolution before us today, expresses the House of Representatives’ profound concern and calls on Brazil to, in accordance with its international obligations and “with extreme urgency,” bring about the return of Sean Goldman to his father, David Goldman, in the United States. Justice delayed is justice denied and Sean’s place is with his dad.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, international child abductions, by parents, are not rare. The U.S. Department of State reports that it is currently handling approximately 1,900 cases, involving more than 2,800 children abducted from the United States to other countries. And those numbers do not include children whose parents, for whatever reason, do not report the abductions to the State Department.

In recognition of the gravity of this problem and the traumatic consequences that child abduction can have both on the child and the parent who is left behind, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was reached (in 1980). The purpose of the Hague Convention is to provide an expeditious method to return an abducted child to the child’s habitual residence so that custody determinations can be made in that jurisdiction. According to the terms of the Convention, such return is to take place within six weeks after proceedings under the Convention are commenced.

The United States ratified the Hague Convention in 1988. Brazil acceded to the Hague Convention in 1999 and the Hague Convention was entered into force between Brazil and the United States in 2003, a year before Sean was abducted. In accordance with the Hague Convention, David Goldman on September 3, 2004, filed an application for the immediate return of his son. Brazil, has failed to deliver.

Within a week of our return home to the United States, the Brazilian courts did take a major step in the right direction for David and Sean Goldman. The decision was made to move the case from the local courts—which were erroneously bogged down in making a custody determination—to the federal court capable and responsible for making decisions in accordance with obligations under the Hague Convention. Pursuant to an amended application filed under the Convention after the death of Sean’s mother, and in accordance with the “expeditious return” provisions of the Hague Convention, Brazil’s only legitimate and legal option is to effectuate Sean’s return. Now.
This weekend Brazilian President Lula will visit the United States and visit one-on-one with President Obama.

The White House meeting should include a serious discussion about Brazil’s pattern of non-compliance with the Hague Convention and Brazil’s obligation to immediately fulfill this obligation in the case of Sean Goldman and more than 50 other cases like it including another case Mr. Poe will speak to in a minute.

Over 50 Member of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored this resolution. Over 43,000 people from 154 nations have signed a petition urging Brazil to do the right thing and expeditiously return Sean to the United States.

So many people, Mr. Speaker, have joined in and helped David in his fight for his son and deserve our appreciation and respect. His extraordinarily talented legal counsel here in the United States, Patricia Apy, and in Brazil, Ricardo Zamariola Junior, have made their case with expertise, precision, compassion and meticulous adherence to the rule of law.

The staff at our consulates in Brazil—Consul General Marie C. Damour, Joanna Weinz and Karen Gufstafson—have all tirelessly and professionally worked this case for several years as if Sean and David were their own family. Special thanks to Ambassador Cliff Sobel.

A number of journalists, including Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press, who has written powerful columns about this case, Meredith Vieira, Benita Noel and Lauren Sugrue of NBC’s Dateline have probed, investigated and demanded answers, thus ensuring that the truth about this unlawful abduction is known to the public, including and especially to government officials both here and in Brazil. As a matter of fact, it was a Dateline special on the Goldman case that caused me to call David—and get involved.

And finally, a special thanks to countless volunteers, including Mark DeAngelis, who have done yeoman’s work, including managing a web site—Bring Sean Home—and have proved to be an invaluable support system during this most difficult and trying time for father and son.

Mr. Speaker, this family needs to be reunited. I urge my colleagues to support H.Res. 125 calling on the government of Brazil to act with extreme urgency so that David Goldman can finally, bring Sean home.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION TO BE WORKED WITH LATER

Those who are unfamiliar with this tragic phenomenon may be unaware of the traumatic consequences that child abduction can have both on the child and the parent who is left behind. A report by the U.S. Justice Department entitled, “A Law Enforcement Guide on International Parental Kidnapping,” states that “research has begun to demonstrate what therapists and left-behind parents have known for some time – that children are deeply and permanently affected by family abduction… The emotional scarring caused by this event requires that law enforcement officers recognize family abduction not as a harmless offense where two parents are arguing over who ‘loves the child more’ but instead as an insidious form of child abuse.”

The State Department has reported that internationally-abducted children are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems, pointing to research showing such children suffer from anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness. Even as adults, individuals who were abducted as children may struggle with identity issues, with their own personal relationships, and with parenting. Left-behind parents can suffer “substantial psychological, emotional and financial problems.”

Legislation that I authored in 1999 amended the initial mandate to expand the information required in the report, including:

  • specific actions taken in unresolved cases by U.S. chiefs of mission in the country to which a child has been abducted;
  • a list of countries in which left-behind parents have been unable to secure prompt enforcement of a return order; and
  • a description of efforts by the State Department to encourage other Convention signatories to facilitate the work of nongovernmental organizations within their countries to assist parents seeking their child’s return.

Almost thirty years after the Hague Convention was written, data contained in the latest State Department compliance report, issued in April 2008, indicates that far more must be done to address international child abductions. In fiscal year 2007, the State Department assisted left-behind parents in the United States with cases involving 821 children abducted to Convention countries. During that same time period only 217 children were returned from countries that are U.S. Convention partners. One must take into account the facts that children returned may have been abducted in a different year, these numbers do not include cases not reported to the State Department, and they may also include children returned through mechanisms other than the Hague Convention. But roughly speaking, with the data we have available, only one out of four children abducted from the United States to Hague Convention countries are being returned.

This extremely low percentage indicates an urgent need for significant improvements on several fronts. Our own government has an obligation to more aggressively advocate on behalf of left-behind parents. The United States also needs to more critically assess the motivation and ability of other countries to comply with Hague Convention obligations before entering into bilateral agreements. Other countries with whom we already have agreements and that are not complying with one or more aspects of the Convention must be challenged with these failures at the highest diplomatic levels. And not least of all, Congress must act to determine what the problems are with compliance to the Hague Convention and undertake the means necessary to correct them.

e Speaker, needless to say, there are also abductions to countries that have not signed the Hague Convention. In fiscal year 2008, the State Department was aware of 455 children taken to such countries. The most surprising of these is Japan, the only G-8 country that is not a party to the Convention. As noted in the resolution, it also does not recognize intra-familial child abduction as a crime, gives no recognition to the rights of non-Japanese parents, refuses to enforce any U.S. court orders, and places no obligation on the Japanese parent to allow the other parent to visit their child. With respect to Japan and other countries that refuse to sign on to the Hague Convention, or that do not have the motivation or capacity to fulfill the Convention’s obligations, our government needs to pursue bilateral agreements to provide effective, reciprocal mechanisms so that the relationship of abducted children to their left-behind parent can be restored.

And it seeks to help the hundreds of other families victimized by international abductions by highlighting this tragedy so that they too can finally get some help and justice under international law.


 

U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, NJ) is currently in his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith, 57, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee. He is also chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and has served on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves as “Special Representative” on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Previously, he served as Chairman of the Veterans Committee and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Africa.

Smith has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses (working groups) including the Pro-life Caucus (30 years), Autism (14 years), Alzheimer’s (12 years), Lyme Disease (eight years), Spina Bifida (eight years), Human Trafficking (eight years), Refugees (eight years), Combating Anti-Semitism and serving on caucuses on Bosnia, Uganda and Vietnam.

According to the independent watchdog organization Govtrack, as Smith ranks third among all 435 Members of the House over the last two decades in the number of laws authored, and eighth among all Members of the U.S. Senate and House.

He is the author of America’s three landmark anti-human trafficking laws including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a comprehensive law designed to prevent modern-day slavery, protect victims, and enhance civil and criminal penalties against traffickers, as well as more than a dozen veterans health, education and homeless benefits laws, and laws to boost embassy security, promote democracy, religious freedom, and health care.

Smith is the author of the $265 million Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 which established a nationwide program for ethical research and treatment using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. That landmark law was reauthorized in September 2010 for another five years. http://chrissmith.house.gov/Biography/

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