Washington Post

Abduction Cases Draw Ire on Hill

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2000; A04

Members of Congress yesterday called on Germany, Austria and Sweden to live up to commitments to return American children abducted during child custody disputes and detained in those nations.

Thousands of American children are abducted by a parent and taken abroad each year; the other parent is sometimes denied even visitation rights by foreign courts.

Many people may imagine such situations involve nations hostile to the United States. But at a news conference on Capitol Hill, members of Congress rebuked three allies as some of the worst offenders, even though each has signed an international treaty promising to return children to home countries for a decision on custody.

Germany, Austria and Sweden "are not acting like civilized countries," said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). "They are not acting like allies."

Chabot and Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tex.) announced a bipartisan resolution, with about 100 co-sponsors, that criticizes the three nations for "consistently violating" the treaty, which in most circumstances promises the return of the children to their home country. The treaty stipulates that any necessary custody hearings be held in the nation where the child had "habitually resided" before being abducted.

Congress now stands ready to pressure not only noncompliant nations, but also the State and Justice departments, Lampson said. Both departments were criticized for failing to fight hard to recover children who are U.S. citizens.

"We penalize nations that steal products and violate trade agreements," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). "It's about time we go after them for supporting the theft of our children."

A spokesman for the Austrian Embassy said he was aware of criticism involving only one U.S. case. "To conclude a pattern of noncompliance is unjustified," he said. Officials at the German and Swedish embassies said they could not respond until they studied the issue further.

Lady Catherine Meyer, wife of the British ambassador, was at the House yesterday to announce the formation of Parents of Abducted Children Together. Meyer's sons by a previous marriage are being kept in Germany by their father. A German court ruled her sons would suffer living in an English-speaking country.

Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.) said she had met with a constituent whose child had been abducted to Germany, and concluded there should be no problem in helping him.

"I thought, 'Germany is a progressive, civilized country, we'll have this resolved in a month.' That was three years ago," she said. The State Department, she said, must become more aggressive advocates for American parents.

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