Address to the Special Commission Reviewing the Operations of the Hague Convention



    • Submitted by:

      Violaine Delahais, Collectif pour le retour des enfants enleves au Liban, SOS Intl. Child Abduction, France
      Maurice Elfeke, SOS Child Abduction, France, PARENT International, PACT, USA
      Philippe Paquay, SOS Ouderlijke Ontvoeringen (SOS Rapts Parentaux), Belgium
      Lawrence R Whyte, Parent International, USA
      Sigrid Wicklein, SHG Kindesentziehung e.V., Germany
      Christopher Yavelow, Stolen Children Network, USA/Netherlands

      Date: Saturday 24 March 2001

      Address To The Special Commission

      Reviewing The Operations Of The Hague Convention

      The Hague, 22-28 March 2001

      Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

      Firstly, on behalf of the left-behind parents you have seen in front of the Peace Palace, as well as the hundreds of left-behind parents that our diverse organizations represent, I would like to thank you for providing us with this opportunity to introduce ourselves to you and to give you a brief summary of our views about the Hague convention, and particularly about this meeting.

      We are in the Peace Palace and please understand that we do come in peace, yet with heavy hearts. Many of you will be parents, and luckily for you, can scarcely imagine what it feels like to have your child suddenly stolen from you and from his or her normal environment. Abducted children are often taken to countries in which they have no friends, do not speak the language and are much less well looked after. This last phrase may sound harsh, but it is a fact: abducting parents do not normally make good parents - on the contrary.

      We all agree that the Hague convention is the best preventative tool against parental abduction, and can provide the best assistance to parents of those children-- at least where the countries involved have ratified the Hague convention.

      However, we understand, and we know that you also understand that the treaty, particularly regarding its practical applications, is far from perfect. We appreciate the fact that your agenda here for the next few days seeks to resolve many of the very difficult issues preventing the treaty from working the way we all want it to.

      Above all the treaty is there for the children-- to help ensure that they remain where they legally should be, and that they are returned to the place where they legally should be if they are removed. This, as speedily, and in as minimally intrusive a manner as possible.

      There should be no room in your discussions for questions of gender, religious preference, or any other criterion except the fact that all children possess a God-given right to have both their parents actively participating in their lives. The Hague convention must not be used to protect or assist parents of one gender or another, but only to accomplish what is best for the child. That is, to ensure that the primary goal, that children are speedily returned to the country where the legal custody agreement was decreed, is attained as quickly and easily as possible.

      Judicial administrators of the Hague Convention need to be mindful of the fact that there is often a considerable discrepancy between the will of the child and the child's best interest resulting from Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). This refers to an abducting parent alienating the child from and distorting the child's perception of the left-behind parent. PAS causes lasting psychological damage to the child through the destruction of half of his or her identity.

      As a general observation, we believe that you here today, and those who deal with the Hague treaty regularly ignore a very valuable asset: the left behind parent. Many such parents and their organisations have a wealth of experience, knowledge, and energy. They also have the skill, time, and willingness to assist at any time, for any case to which they can apply their hard earned expertise. None of us wanted to become experts in this field, but life turned out this way, and among us we have experience in cases in almost every country on the face of the globe.

      We know that at this meeting you have, for the first time, invited several representatives of NGOs to participate, and we appreciate that fact. However, we feel we should inform you that the NGOs you have chosen, represent an extremely limited segment of left-behind parents. Surely, they themselves will agree with that.

      We hope that in the future you will look more closely at the varieties of experiences that are available, and include representatives who speak for a larger, more diverse group of Hague-related parents. Certainly, you can agree that it would be appropriate if more than one of your delegates were left-behind parents themselves.

      We would like to provide you, in the near future, with some specific amendment proposals that we believe would greatly strengthen the working of the Hague convention and enhance its effectiveness in accomplishing its purpose, which is to protect our children.

      A brief summary of necessary improvements:

    • The establishment of a system of roving groups of qualified judicial experts in each country to handle Hague cases at the local level
    • The need for each country to provide a support structure for every parent victim giving them immediate and comprehensive aid in all areas: legal, financial, psychological, administrative.
    • An explicit definition of habitual residence, including the role that concept plays in Hague convention decisions.
    • The requirement that a child must be in the custody of the court during the return hearing so that if the decision is to return the child, they may be returned immediately.
    • The assumption of the cost for the return of the abducted child to be born by the abducting parent country, who can recover this expenditure from the abducting parents.
    • The mandatory and expeditious enforcement of article 21 for a minimum number of hours occurring regularly in a humane, dignified manner and place.
    • The establishment of a specific and adequate legal aide to victim parents.
    • The setting of a standard and uniform timing for court appearances, including both appeals and returns, knowing that delays in implementing the treaty greatly increase the likelihood that PAS will take place.
    • The regular monitoring and sanction of non-compliant countries. We suggest an annual report.
    • The acquisition of funding from sponsoring governments for educating the judiciary and standardizing the decision-making process in national courts as it relates to Hague cases.
    • A concerted and renewed effort to persuade member governments to encourage countries that are not signatories to the convention to become signatories and to ratify the treaty.
    • Finally, we ask you to consider the following idea, which we believe would greatly facilitate and ameliorate the working of the treaty:
      That the Hague Administration, represented by a yearly revolving group of officials from, for example, 10 countries, set into being an agreement to have monthly, or quarterly meetings, with a group of perhaps five left behind parents. These parents should be drawn from organizations best positioned to contribute. The meetings will be to discuss the following matters:

      A) Progress on the working of the treaty, with particular attention to the amendments agreed to at this conference.

      B) Review of current case files being heard under the Hague convention

      C) Discussion of new cases that have arisen since the last meeting.

      We believe that such meetings would help speed resolution of many cases, while enabling a regular and productive dialogue between the commission and the people it serves: abducted children, represented by their left-behind parents.
      In closing, let us recall the original goals of this treaty, which were:-

      a) That the Contracting States are firmly convinced that the interests of Children are of paramount importance in matters relating to their custody, and
      b) That the Contracting States desire to protect children internationally from the detrimental effects of their wrongful removal or retention and that they wish to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence as well as to secure protection for rights of access.

      We greatly appreciate your time and patience, and we wish you much success at this extremely worthwhile conference.

      Thank you.


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