WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department called Thursday for Japan to take action on child abductions but rejected lawmakers’ calls to pose the threat of sanctions to force action on one of the allies’ few open disputes.
Hundreds of non-Japanese parents, mostly men from the United States and elsewhere, have lost access to their children as their estranged partners whisked them away to Japan, where joint custody is never granted.
Japan has taken steps to join the 1980 Hague treaty on child abductions, but U.S. officials and lawmakers have voiced concern that ratification will only apply to future cases.
Testifying before Congress, Susan Jacobs, the State Department’s special adviser on children’s issues, called for greater progress from Japan and other countries but called sanctions a “two-edged sword.”
“I think threatening countries is often an unsuccessful way to get them to cooperate with us because most of the relationships that we have are very complex and involve many issues,” she said.
“The return of these children is incredibly important to us and we pledge to work to do the best we can to get these children returned. But I don’t think that we’re going to sanction Japan, or threaten them with sanctions, because I think that would be detrimental to our bilateral relationship,” she said.
Rep. Chris Smith, who heads the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee handling human rights, has proposed a bill that would call off cultural or scientific exchanges or deny export licenses to countries that do not promptly resolve abduction cases.
Smith said that the bill would “give the president tools” and that the mere threat of sanctions could spur action.
“Remember, these are American kids. American human rights are being violated,” said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.
While Japan has the most cases of abducted U.S. children, lawmakers have also voiced concern over other countries, including India and Egypt.
The Hague treaty requires countries to return children to their country of habitual residence.