New Westminster man’s daughters abducted to radioactive Fukushima, Japan

http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Westminster+daughters+abducted+radioactive+Fukushima/5013371/story.html

By Brent Richter, New West Record June 27, 2011

It’s been 22 months since Bruce Gherbetti has seen his three children and it would be hard to pick a worse place for them to be: Fukushima, Japan.

The New Westminster man says his is a classic case of international child abduction but with the last known whereabouts of his daughters Rion, Lauren and Julia being about 45 kilometres from the disabled and still deadly nuclear reactor damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami, Gherbetti doesn’t just miss his children, he lives in constant anxiety over their safety.

Making the situation worse is the fact that in the world of international child abduction, Japan is referred to as a “black hole,” meaning once children go in, they never come out. According to the United States Department of State, of the approximately 400 cases of abduction to Japan since 2000, “no child has been returned to his/her country of habitual residence as a result of any action taken by the government of Japan.”

Gherbetti met his wife, Taiko Suzuki, in 2001 when she was visiting Canada on a student visa to study English. The two began dating but neither had plans to continue their relationship after Suzuki returned to Japan.

Then, Suzuki contacted Gherbetti in late 2002 to tell him that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Rion (Suzuki), who was born in Iwaki, Japan in May of 2003.

“Ultimately I decided at that time that I wanted to be with Taiko and raise our child and be a family and make a go of the traditional husband and father role,” Gherbetti said.

Suzuki and Rion moved back to B.C. and Gherbetti and Suzuki married in February 2004. Over the next two years the couple had daughters Lauren, born January 2005, and Julia, born April 2007, both at Royal Columbian Hospital.

During the economic turmoil of the spring of 2009, Gherbetti was laid off from his sales manager position at Sears in Vancouver and the marriage became strained. Gherbetti said Suzuki was depressed and struggling with the separation from her culture and family. Gherbetti said he offered to move the family to Japan but Suzuki dismissed the idea, saying he wouldn’t earn enough to support the family.

In September 2009, Gherbetti was blindsided by an accusation that landed him in jail.

“She went to the New West Police and leveled a charge that I had assaulted her and threatened to kill her. Completely fabricated,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way our system is set up, if you are accused of domestic violence, you are thrown in jail.”

Gherbetti, still in shock, spent six weeks at North Fraser Pretrial Centre, where he was alone and exposed to violence while awaiting his trial.

“(I was) with murderers, rapists, drug dealers; you name it. The very worst of the worst. I’ll admit, I was frightened and cold. I saw man get stabbed in the face,” he said.

Two days before his trial, he was called to court and learned Crown counsel was willing to offer him a deal – no more time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea.

“I was dragged to the New West court two days prior to my trial date, with no notice, very little to eat, not enough to wear, freezing my butt off in the sheriff’s cell, two blocks from my apartment and they were saying, ‘Just plead guilty and we’ll let you go home.’”

Despite maintaining his innocence to himself and his court appointed-lawyer, Gherbetti took the deal.

“I was under duress. Of course, I would have said anything to get out of that prison to go home,” he said.

After literally running home, the reality of what had happened set in for Gherbetti. He found the house “cleaned and scoured” of everything belonging to Suzuki and the children.

“Not a photo, not a drawing, nothing. Not a remnant left of my children,” he said,

He said his voicemail had 17 messages from Crown counsel attempting to get in touch with Suzuki, indicating she had already left the country.

He did find though, tucked under a chair, a drawing Rion had done and hid for him while he was in jail.

“It’s a drawing she made that says, ‘Free the rainbows’ and it’s a bunch of rainbows in the middle of a prison cell,” he said breaking into tears. “She knew what was going on. She knew what was going to happen to her.”

Gherbetti has only spoken with Suzuki once since they returned to Japan. The next time he called, the number had been disconnected.

“She indicated she wasn’t going to let me speak to the children nor ever see them again. It was her intention to ‘erase Canada from their memories,’ quote,” he said.

Hindsight being 20/20, Gherbetti said he should have known what was coming.

“What she wanted was to go back there with the children, without me, which is ultimately what she manufactured,” he said. “She didn’t want to be married to me anymore, which is alright. These things happen, but to abduct the children in the manner that she did, and to lie to the police… I’ve been crushed by this whole experience.”

Since then Gherbetti has become depressed and been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was helpful, but he’s run out of cash to continue paying for counselling. While looking for work, he has also taken to the Internet where there is a support network for mothers and fathers of abducted children. With them, he has found some badly needed support but more is always welcome, he said.

Then came the “triple tragedy” on March 11. Gherbetti was at home watching TV when news broke that a massive earthquake and tsunami had struck the coast of Japan.

“I saw it live. The next 18 hours were really the worst,” he said, struggling to hold back tears.

Gherbetti played the only card left in his hand to learn about his daughters’ fate.

“I had a phone number for my wife’s brother, which I saved and had not used because I did not want it to get disconnected. I had my brother phone her brother and he was able to tell us that they survived the tsunami and the earthquake. In his words, they were ‘fine’. That’s all he would say,” Gherbetti said.

Suzuki’s family home in Iwaki is just 500 metres from where the tsunami’s devastation stopped. An elevated highway slowed the waves from reaching Rion, Lauren and Julia.

But within days of the earthquake, it was learned that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was heavily damaged and leaking radiation several times higher than what is safe for humans. And as the weeks and months have rolled on, the news about the radiation leak has become worse, not better. In April, the International Atomic Energy Agency had rated the disaster at Fukushima as a seven, the same as Chernobyl. By June, it was revealed that all three reactors at the plant were in meltdown and there was no plan in place to deal with the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive water being pumped in to cool the reactors. The Canadian government’s official position on Fukushima is that all Canadians should stay at least 80 kilometres away from the nuclear plant.

Gherbetti contacted Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which was able contact Suzuki’s brother to offer evacuation for the girls and Suzuki’s family, but so far, the family has not responded.

“What my contact there tells me is, ‘We can offer assistance but that’s it. That’s all we can do.’ If they choose not to accept, there’s nothing they can do for me,” he said. “The last thing foreign affairs did for me is send Taiko a registered letter requesting information about the children’s well-being and photographs.”

Today, Gherbetti cannot even be sure if Suzuki’s family is still in Iwaki but he suspects they are. That uncertainty, he said, makes matters worse.

Gherbetti has since taken to social media to raise the issues of international child abduction and the growing radiation crisis, and to post messages calling for an evacuation of all children and young mothers from Fukushima prefecture.

Gherbetti, like most other “left behind” parents, now does what he can, which isn’t much. The one hope he has of seeing his children, short of hiring a recovery agent to “re-kidnap” and transport them back to Canada, is the faint hope of gaining access to them under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, article 21, which states parents of children taken across boarders without permission, must have access to their children.

The trouble is, Japan is the only industrialized country that has refused to sign the convention.

But that chance, albeit slim, remains. The government of Japan announced in June that it would begin a legislative process this fall to sign the convention.

William Storey, a family lawyer and international child abduction expert who Gherbetti retained in 2010, said Japan is one of the toughest countries to deal with.

“I’ve had several cases over the years of children being taken to Japan and it can be an extremely difficult situation,” he said.

Storey said Japan’s announcement regarding the Hague Convention sounds good, but it is far too soon to say if will help any mothers or fathers outside Japan to see their children again.

“In theory, it should change the playing field a lot. Whether it will in practice or not, is another matter,” Storey said. “It’s one thing to sign the treaty and it’s something else to put the legislation in place and to put the judicial authorities and the bureaucracy in place to have the treaty enforced in a practical way.”

Despite Japan’s announcement, Gherbetti remains skeptical. Should Japan sign the convention, Gherbetti will need to go through a family court process in Japan just to see his daughters and given his previous experience and witnessing the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima disaster, he has little faith. Because the abduction pre-dates any signing of the convention, Gherbetti will not be able to use the convention to bring the girls back to Canada.

Gherbetti has requested help from the Prime Minister’s Office as well as former and current foreign affairs ministers Laurence Cannon and John Baird but only received form letters in response.

Nevertheless, Gherbetti said he’ll pursue any chance he gets to be reunited with Rion, Lauren and Julia.

“I’m fighting this fight on my own and I’m prepared to just continue because I’ll never stop fighting for them,” he said.

Share

David GoldmanMaria Shriver, interviewed David recently here is one question and answer:

What is your vision for the foundation? What do you hope it accomplishes in the long run?

We want to educate the public on the issue of international child abduction and work with elected officials to push for reforms which we hope will lead to meaningful change in the way our government works to ensure the safe and prompt return of abducted children. Right now parents whose children are abducted fight against overwhelming odds to even see their children in many cases, let alone bring them back to their home countries, and this needs to change. We expect to be a leading voice on this issue and to provide support to parents who need help. BSHF raises public awareness of individual cases and provides a support network to guide parents through this difficult time in their lives.

In the last three years alone there have been almost 5,000 American children abducted to foreign countries and the numbers continue to increase at an alarming rate. The BSHF is working hard to make a difference by preventing future abductions and pushing for legislation that will reunite families by bringing more abducted children home to their parents.

Go to http://mariashriver.com/blog/2011/06/fathers-love-interview-david-goldman to read the entire interview.

Share

The U.S. Fails Children Abducted From America
To get a child back

By Bernard Aronson

The Washington Post
Friday, February 19, 2010

For the millions who followed the story of David Goldman’s 5 1/2 -year struggle to retrieve his abducted son, Sean, from Brazil, their Christmas Eve return to the United States was a holiday “miracle.” In fact, extraordinary pressures were required to make Sean Goldman the first — and to date, only — unlawfully abducted American child returned to the United States by Brazil. Measures included unanimous resolutions in the House and Senate, a senatorial hold on the re-authorization of trade privileges for developing nations, hearings by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, two trips to Brazil by a New Jersey congressman, and multiple personal interventions by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The administration and Congress deserve credit for these efforts. But if that is what it takes to secure the lawful return of one abducted American child, the United States has a serious enforcement problem.

About 2,800 American children have been abducted to other nations. More cases are reported every year as bi-national marriages become more common in an era of globalization. Few left-behind families can hope to muster the kind of broad-based campaign that eventually persuaded the president of the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal to order Sean Goldman’s return to the United States. Nor should they be expected to.

This issue was supposed to have been resolved by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions, which came into force in 1983 and now has 80 signatories, including Brazil and the United States. Under its terms, a child abducted across international borders by a parent or relative must be returned within six weeks to his or her country of habitual residence, where custody issues can be adjudicated lawfully. It is the international equivalent of the interstate compacts that prevent an unhappy father or mother residing in Maryland from taking his or her children to Nevada and contesting for custody there.

But signatories repeatedly refuse to return abducted American children as required by the treaty, and they suffer no consequences. Other nations, including close allies such as Japan, which harbors 99 abducted American children, have refused even to sign the treaty, let alone cooperate in its implementation.

This is not a new problem. In October 1998, Jesse Helms, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, decried “the failure by the United States to initiate vigorously diplomatic and law enforcement tools seeking the return of these children.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden said at the same hearing: “The act of taking a child in violation of a custodial order . . . across international borders is a heinous crime.”

Today, what left-behind parents need are not more declarations of concern but concerted action by Congress and the executive branch to bring their children home. Hopefully, the secretary of state, who raised David Goldman’s case in her first meeting with Brazil’s foreign minister and whose professional career began as an advocate for children, will override any bureaucratic resistance within the State Department and support much-needed reforms.

First, left-behind families need a high-level advocate in the State Department — appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and reporting directly to the secretary — who will ensure that the issue of abducted children is central to U.S. diplomatic deliberations. Today, this issue barely registers, if it appears at all, in most bilateral discussions. An ambassadorial-rank official should be required to report regularly to Congress about every newly abducted child and the status of pending cases in all members’ districts and states.

Second, Congress should empower the secretary of state to impose a range of diplomatic, economic and trade sanctions on countries that flagrantly and repeatedly refuse to return children abducted from the United States. The sanctions must have teeth and the department must be willing to employ them. If the threat of sanctions were credible, in fact, it is unlikely that they would have to be employed.

Third, in its annual budget requests for foreign assistance, including military aid, the State Department should be required to report to Congress whether each proposed recipient is cooperating in returning abducted American children.

Finally, Congress should expand programs by the international divisions of the American Bar Association to educate judges and lawyers in other nations about the Hague Convention requirements.

The Goldmans and other left-behind families will never regain the years that have been stolen from them. But Congress and the administration have the power to apply real pressure to nations harboring abducted American children today and make it far less likely that other American families will have to endure such a nightmare in the future.

The writer served as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1993. He was an unpaid adviser to David Goldman.

Share

Good article today in Toronto’s National Post reporting the intricacies of pursuing child abduction cases in Brazil.

The revolving doors of Brazil’s justice system have not stopped turning.

The article discusses the cases of Francois Larivee of Montreal, Canada who also has been trying to get his son returned from Brazil for four years and David Goldman.

Brazil’s record on judgments on The Hague cases has been spotty. In addition to the Goldman case, a return to Israel was refused, a return to Norway was partly granted–for summer periods only — and the outcome of another request from the U. S. remains indeterminate.

The article, titled Custody Wars is online at
http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=1118097

Share

News Update December 9th

David traveled to Washington D.C. on December 5th for meetings with representatives from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), The Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. State Department, and a senior official in the Consulate General Office of the Brazilian government. The meetings went well and David was encouraged that more help is on the way. We’re hopeful that the people who can make a difference in this case will take the necessary actions which will lead to Sean coming home soon.

We encourage you to try to make it to one of the rallies being organized this Friday, December 12, in front of any of the Brazilian Consulate General offices around the country, especially New York where we expect a good crowd and will be giving out 200 “Bring Sean Home” t-shirts to supporters.

Update on Legal Case in Brazil: A Terrible Decision

Late last week Judge Luis Felipe Salomão, from the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) issued a stay to the Hague case pending at the 1st level federal court in Rio de Janeiro while he decides who has jurisdiction in the case, the State Court or the Federal Court.  David needs the case to remain at the federal level to have any chance of a proper decision. It has been established precedent that Hague cases are handled at the federal level in Brazil, but Lins e Silva is trying to move the case to the Rio State court, to waste more time and exert his influence.

The filing in front of Judge Salomão was only to determine if the State or Federal court will decide this case. Instead of making a determination on the issue in front of him, Judge Salomão decided to weigh in on the merits of the case and stated that Sean would be exposed to “irreperable damage” if he had contact with David just before the holidays. Based on this, the Judge established that the case should be stayed until he makes his determination on which court should decide the case. Judge Salamão appointed the Federal Judge responsible for urgent matters, but forbid the Federal Court from proceeding with the psychological evaluations, and forbid the Federal Court from allowing visitation now, on the grounds that “such matters are not urgent.” He made this decision 12 hours before Sean was to be evaluated.

Judge Salomão, until last June, 2008, was a Judge from the 2nd Level State Court of Rio de Janeiro. What is most important for David now is having the conflict of jurisdiction issue decided by Judge Salomão before December 19th, the last day of work in STJ before their summer recess. The court will be closed for the holidays and will open again on February 1st. As of now, the records of the conflict of jurisdiction are with the Public Prosecution Service. If the Public Prosecutor sends the records back to Court this week, Judge Salomão needs to decide the conflict of jurisdiction issue immediately. We are not optimistic, however, given the absurdity of this most recent decision.

For more information on how cases are handled in the Brazilian legal system, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Brazil.

Share

Article in November Edition of Piauí Magazine

Dorrit Harazim published a comprehensive account of the Sean Goldman case in the November edition of the Brazilian magazine Piauí. We also have it up on the Media page in English and Portuguese.

English translation: A Father in a Foreign Land
Portuguese: A Busca do filho

Revista Piauí: http://www.revistapiaui.com.br/edicao_26/artigo_812/A_busca_do_filho.aspx

A variety of Bring Sean Home banners have been made and are available online. To make them very simple to insert, both the BringSeanHome.org link and banner into your web page or Blog the necessary code is included. You do not need to save a copy of the banner to your PC and then upload it to your server. The code will display the banner automatically without using any of your bandwidth. When a viewer clicks on the banner, a new browser window at BringSeanHome.org is opened automatically. Go to: http://bringseanhome.org/banners.html

Here are two examples:
Campaign to return kidnapped minor Sean Goldman to the United States - BringSeanHome.org
Campaign to return kidnapped minor Sean Goldman to the United States - BringSeanHome.org

Share

Looking for something?

Looking for Help

Please contact us immediately!

QR Scan

Scan the Code to access BSHF on your Smartphone.
Need a Code Reader?