Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hague Convention Compliance - Brazil in the Spotlight but Where Will It Lead?

One of the major issues falling out of the numerous international child abduction cases washing around the global media is the non-compliance with the Hague Convention treaty which governs the process surrounding children subject to removal to foreign countries from their habitual state of residence.

Sean Goldman retained in Brazil

A key current case is that of Sean Goldman, wrongly removed from the United States to Brazil and now, after the unfortunate demise of his mother, Bruna Bianchi, is continuing to be retained in Brazil by his step-father, Jaoa Lins e Silva - a prominent Hague Convention lawyer himself (and who ought to know better).

 The international media attention that is currently focused on Sean Goldman and his American father, David has been immense and the ripples it is creating have travelled far beyond one isolated case as the Bring Sean Home campaign has touched on dozens of other cases of children being retained in Brazil.

To the credit of the Bring Sean Home camp, they at least have refrained from descending into the xenophobic hysteria that frequently accompanies these cases and instead, have sought to focus on increasing diplomatic, legal and public opinion pressure on the Brazilian authorities.  The focus is on the non-compliance with the Hague Convention treaty by Brazil which is a very fair comment - Brazil has an appalling record not only with regards to the US but elsewhere as well.

Brazilian Non-Compliance towards the United Kingdom: Rebecca Boyle

Last year, Professor Martin Boyle was imprisoned in a Sao Paulo when his daughter, Rebecca was abducted there from the UK.  Upon arriving in Brazil determined to be reunited with his daughter he was thrown in jail for allegedly owing $7000 in child support and when that was then paid the Brazilian authorities then demanded a further $30,000.

Boyle returned to the UK minus his child and hasn't been able to see her since and no amount of Hague Convention quoting has done anything noteworthy.

Why is Brazil Non-Compliant?

What makes a country such as Brazil non-compliant?  

Brazil is not exactly a backwater - the world's ninth largest economy and a close trading partner with the US as well as many cultural links as well as being a staunchly Catholic country - Brazil is not exactly Somalia or Afghanistan in outlook or approach.

The cultural divide can still be huge - there is a fantastically immense gap between the have's and the have not's in Brazil and poverty is rife.  The BBC reported back in 2006 on the "kidnap culture" finding root in Brazil with high profile personalities being affected such as Grafite, a soccer player who's mother was a target.  Businessmen commute by helicopter while millions live on the threshold of starvation.

There is also the arrogance and hubris of those with too much money - Jaoa Lins e Silva is a wealthy man and from a wealthy background and is indubitably one of Brazil's elite few.  As a leading Hague Convention lawyer he is only too aware of the wrongful nature of his actions in retaining Sean Goldman which makes Brazilian non-compliance even more egregious - there is no excuse and the conduct is further stripped bare as simple, naked contempt for international law.

The saying is power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in this instance it is highly applicable but have the abductors gone too far this time?

It is one thing to be a big fish in small pond but even big fish get eaten in the ocean while the United States steps up the pressure on Brazil to return Sean Goldman home to his father in America.

Parents of Other Children Abducted to Brazil Look for Hope of Change

Parents such as Timothy Weinstein, another US parent with two children in Brazil and Canadian, Francois Larivee wih a five year old son abducted from Quebec to Brazil also, can only watch the Sean Goldman case unfold along with dozens of other parents with children in the same non-compliant country with hope.

Ariel Ayubo is a quiet, reserved man from Edgewater, Florida who travelled to Washington DC to support David and Sean Goldman a week ago - his son, Lorenzo was abducted to Brazil last year in defiance of Floridian and US law.  His son in Brazil, Ariel has so far seen no progress on recovering or seeing his child in Brazil and this quiet, patient and loving father made the thousand mile roadtrip to DC to let his voice be heard - once he had spoken, he quietly left to drive overnight back to Florida and of all the people I met that day, he left the greatest impression upon me.

The pain Ayubo is handling with quiet dignity belies the emotional trauma these parents are suffering, and suffering quite needlessly at that.  The cases of dozens and hundreds of other parents with children caught up in this international web demand the same efforts at resolution as Sean Goldman's case, but as Maureen Dabbagh, the head of Parent International and whose own daughter Nadia was abducted 15 years ago has said, "We can only try to bring them home one at a time."

For parents such as Carlos Bermudez, site owner of Hague Abductions whose son Sage has been abducted to Mexico notes, "It is not just the Brazilians!  When you look at the numbers of children abducted to Mexico it almost dwarves the numbers of children taken to every other Hague country."

Perhaps this is what the Sean Goldman case has done - catapulted the entire issue of international child abduction into the eye of the public, and as is usual with such issues, as one set of injustices is uncovered, more follow but that is a post for another day.

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