Jamie Freeze Baird
Yet another inalienable right flying out the window...
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By Jamie Freeze Baird
October 13, 2009

Christopher Savoie, an American citizen, is currently being held in a Japanese jail cell without trial, interrogated without an attorney present, denied medical treatment for high blood pressure, exposed to sleep deprivation, and denied private meetings with attorneys and phone calls to his wife. His crime? He travelled to Japan to reclaim his children after his ex-wife violated a U.S. court order that said she had to keep the kids in the United States. His ex-wife, a Japanese native, took the children to Japan in clear violation of the U.S. court order. Yet, Japanese authorities charged Mr. Savoie with kidnapping.

Mr. Savoie was married to Noriko Savoie for 14 years before an acrimonious divorce in January 2009. Both were citizens of Japan and the U.S., but they had lived in Japan before moving to the United States before the divorce. Mrs. Savoie gained custody (in an American court) of the kids, but she agreed to remain in the U.S. so Mr. Savoie could exercise his visitation rights. However, this summer, she travelled with the children to Japan. As a result, a U.S. court granted Mr. Savoie sole custody. Then, Mrs. Savoie took the kids back to Japan for a "short visit," but she never returned.

The plot thickens. Japanese law recognizes Mrs. Savoie as the primary guardian — despite the U.S. court order. To further complicate matters, Japanese family law promotes sole-custody divorces. This means that if a couple divorces, one parent makes a complete, life-long break from the children. This differs from the American model that promotes joint custody divorces whenever possible. Another issue that clouds the situation is that Mr. and Mrs. Savoie are still legally married in Japan because they never divorced there. Japanese authorities contend that the children are Japanese, pointing to their Japanese passports as proof. Furthermore, Japanese authorities are adamant that Mr. Savoie violated Japanese law by grabbing his kids as they were walking to school, forcing them into the car, then driving to the American embassy (American soil) in order to take them back to the U.S.

Sadly enough, this is not an isolated case. Craig Morrey, an American citizen, married a Japanese woman of Brazilian descent, and they had a son. The son, Spencer, was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that requires round-the-clock medical attention. Mrs. Morrey, unable to handle the pressure of a special needs child, left Mr. Morrey, and the couple divorced in Japan. However, Mrs. Morrey fled while pregnant with Mr. Morrey's second child, Amelia. Mr. Morrey, who is the sole caregiver for his son, has only seen his daughter four times in over a year. Mr. Morrey has been in Japan for the last year trying to get the court to recognize that he has a valid joint custody order from Brazil (he has not yet applied for custody under American law). If he leaves Japan with his children to come back to the U.S., he may be in the same boat as Mr. Savoie and face prosecution for international child abduction. Furthermore, just moving to the United States by himself could damage his standing in the Japanese court which deciding the custody status of his daughter.

One may wonder why there is such controversy over the issue. After all, the United States has a great relationship with Japan. However, the problem stems from the fact that Japan was not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction which produced an international agreement to standardize laws among participating countries. This means that Japan is under no obligation to recognize the parental rights of either Mr. Savoie or Mr. Morrey. While Japanese law mandates that courts resolve custody issues based on the best interest of the child without regard to either parent's nationality (the U.S. also follows this model), foreign parents have little to no success in regaining custody of their children.

Currently, there are more than 100 cases of children who have been abducted by non-custodial Japanese parents. The U.S. State Department has said that they are unaware of any case where a child taken from the United States to Japan has been ordered to return by the Japanese courts — despite the fact that the other parent has a U.S. custody order.

So the question facing American diplomats and policy makers is how to protect parental rights without damaging diplomatic ties with Japan. And it is a tough one to answer. As a person who places high value on the protection of life, liberty, and property, I believe that the American government owes it to its citizens to protect their parental rights. Our leaders should do everything within their power to allow Mr. Savoie and Mr. Morrey (and others like them) to exercise their God-given parental rights. Just because Japanese law does not fit the American model does not mean that U.S. (or other) citizens should be excluded from their inalienable right. A higher law grants the right of parenthood to both parents, and no court should, without just cause, be able to strip parents of that right. Given the fact that we are on good diplomatic and economic terms with Japan, I can understand the hesitancy of officials to intervene in this matter. However, the courts in Japan are keeping these international cases in limbo, depriving parents of their right to parenthood, and even depriving some parents like Mr. Savoie of their liberty. Japanese authorities refuse to come to a compromise on this issue, so it is high time the U.S. make a definitive statement of what we demand.

We should demand that Japan recognize the rights of all parents — not just Japanese parents. We should demand that Japan truly seek the best interest of the child — not just the best interest of Japanese parents. We should demand that Japan uphold prior custody agreements — not just Japanese custody agreements. If they are unwilling to meet these small demands, then we should reserve the right to protect the rights of our citizens through whatever means necessary. It is unjust for any country to deny the inalienable rights of any person regardless of citizenship. (As a side note, this means that America must preserve the inalienable rights of foreigners within our borders).

If we fail to uphold the inalienable God-given rights of all people, then we fail to do the just thing. If we fail to do the just thing, then we have committed an injustice. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If we allow this issue to go unchecked, then we will open the floodgates for arbitrary international law that does not recognize the power of a higher law. We must not allow international law or international relations to keep us from preserving and protecting life, liberty, and property. There are some things that are more precious than diplomatic or economic ties.

© Jamie Freeze Baird

 

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Jamie Freeze Baird

Jamie Baird received battlefield experience in the war of ideology while attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While earning her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History, she served as Vice President of the College Republicans and was the lone conservative opinion columnist for The Carolinian, UNCG's student newspaper. After surviving college without becoming a liberal, she graduated in 2009. Jamie received her Master of Arts in Government, with certification in Law and Public Policy from Regent University in 2011, where she was also active in the College Republicans. You can contact Jamie at jamiebaird12@gmail.com with questions, comments, rants, and snide remarks.

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