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A special congressional meeting took place in Washington DC to address the issue of international child abduction and implementation of the Hague Convention.

The purpose of the hearing was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Hague Convention on civil aspects of international child abduction, and the level of support offered by the US government to parents of abducted children.

The wife of the British ambassador to the U-S and author of the book “They are My Children Too , A Mother’s Struggle for her Sons,” described how she lost her children when their father took them to Germany.

Other parents joined Lady Catherine in asking Congress to find ways to use international law to better deal with the problem.

The wife of the British ambassador in Washington addressed the House International Relations Committee in Washington, DC on Thursday to highlight the plight of parents whose children have been abducted to another country.

Lady Catherine Meyer, wife of Sir Christopher, urged lawyers and state officials to look at ways of properly implementing international law to help the victims of child abduction.

Lady Meyer told a committee meeting in Washington how her two boys were

illegally taken to Germany in 1994 by their father Dr Hans-Peter Volkmann.

She had been awarded custody of the children after separating from her husband

in 1992.

Despite a costly and lengthy legal battle Lady Meyer said she had failed to

secure the return of her children and now has no access rights to the boys.

SOUNDBITE: (English)

“But my nightmare did not stop there, not only were the children not returned under the terms of the Hague Convention but since then I have been denied all access to my children. In the past 5 and a half years I have seen my children for a few hours not days not weeks but just hours and as of today I have no rights whatsoever because under German law even as in Austrian law, it’s the same legal system, and for access rights are not enforceable.”

SUPER CAPTION: Lady Catherine Meyer, Wife of British Ambassador to the US

Other parents testified before the congressional committee emphasising the need for the U-S to take action.

SOUNDBITE: (English)

“Amanda’s abductor could not have succeeded without the Swedish government’s comprehensive financial support other forms of assistance and government’s such as Sweden that virtually encourage child abduction and retention by their citizens could not succeed without the United States government’s silence refusal to make them pay any price for their treaty violations and human rights abuses and failure to protect American citizens.”

SUPER CAPTION: Tom Johnson, Parent whose child was abducted

Parents who spoke at the hearing say there are weaknesses within the existing State Department case-tracking process which impair case and program coordination.

They also say the State Department lacks systematic and aggressive diplomatic efforts to improve international responses to parental child abductions.

SOUNDBITE: (English)

“And ultimately the law was completely ignored and the Swedish government chose to actively assist in this illegal abduction of my son, an American citizen, Gabriel Marinkovich, then the cover up began when the Swedish government flat out lied in documents in letters to the American government that this action had ever taken place they denied that they ever issued secrecy protection for three hundred and thirty-four consecutive days.”

SUPER CAPTION: Paul Marinkovich, Parent whose child was abducted

Lady Catherine Meyer expressed optimism that through her case, there might be changes that would help prevent similar situations for other parents in the future.

SOUNDBITE: (English)

“Since then I have not been able to gain access to them because in Germany, access rights are not enforceable so I don’t think I have much hope for my own case, but at least I have hope that there is going to be some changes in the future or hopefully even sooner than that will protect other children and protect other parents from experiencing this type of trauma there is nothing worse for a parent than losing its child in this way and nothing worse for a child to be separated from one of its parents.”

SUPER CAPTION: Lady Catherine Meyer, Wife of British Ambassador to the US

She also urged congress members to treat child abduction by a parent to a foreign country as a violation of international law instead of a “private legal matter.”

About half of all abductions from the US are to other Hague Convention countries with the

balance of abductions to countries that are not parties of the Hague Convention.

International parental child abduction is a US federal and state criminal offence.

The State Department’s 1998 report to Congress identified Austria, Honduras, Mauritius, Mexico and Sweden as the most serious violators of the convention.

In some cases these countries have disregarded their obligations to take appropriate measures to discover the whereabouts of abducted children.

Left-behind parents have criticized the State Department for not pursuing diplomatic initiatives more vigorously with these and other countries to enforce implementation of the Hague rules.