House condemns Japan on custody rights

The House turned up the pressure Wednesday on close ally Japan, strongly urging Tokyo to return immediately half-Japanese children that lawmakers say have been kidnapped from their American parents.

The House voted overwhelmingly for a nonbinding resolution that "condemns the abduction and retention" of children held in Japan "in violation of their human rights and United States and international law."

The resolution, which passed 416-1, also calls for Japan to allow Americans to visit their children and for the Japanese government to join a 1980 international convention on child abduction that would allow for the quick return of the children to America.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told reporters that the resolution sends a strong signal to Japan that Congress "is watching and expecting action."

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said, "Americans are fed up with our friend and ally Japan and their pattern of noncooperation."

The Japanese Embassy said in a statement that Japan is sympathetic to the plight of children caught in custody battles between Japanese and American citizens and "is continuing to make sincere efforts to deal with this issue from the standpoint that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost importance."

The United States often calls Japan its lynchpin ally in Asia, and tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in Japan. But Japan's stance on custody rights has been a source of friction. U.S. lawmakers say at least 121 American children currently are being held in Japan.

Japanese law allows only one parent to have custody in cases of divorce, usually the mother. Activists say the court system in Japan is tilted against fathers and foreigners.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday that the issue is a priority, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raising it in meetings with her Japanese counterpart.

Campbell said he also would raise the matter when he travels to Tokyo next week and that Japan should act urgently.

Christopher Savoie, a father who was arrested last year after going to Japan in a failed attempt to reclaim his two children who were taken from Franklin, Tenn., by his Japanese ex-wife, joined lawmakers and other fathers at a news conference before the House vote.