Rep. Chris Smith

House Floor Speech on U.S.-Brazil Child Custody Dispute

delivered 11 March 2009

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Mr. Speaker:

Imagine that you're a child of only 4-years old and your best friend, your father, is your primary care giver. You live with your parents by a lake in a quiet neighborhood in New Jersey, and your days are filled with boating, swimming, sports, and other fun with your dad.

Then suddenly, one day, your mother takes you on a jet, you move to a foreign country, and for 4Ĺ years you live with the confusion, pain, and anxiety of not understanding why your dad is not there with or for you. The little contact you have with dad are a few phone calls, routinely interrupted when the phone is taken from you and abruptly ended while your father is trying to tell you how much he loves and misses you.

That is what happened to Sean Goldman -- an American citizen, born and living in the United States for the first four years of his life until June, 2004 when his mother took him to her native country of Brazil. Almost as soon as she arrived in Rio de Janeiro, she advised Seanís father, David Goldman, that she was permanently staying in Brazil -- the marriage was over -- and that she was not going to allow Sean to return home to New Jersey. And Sean has not seen his real home since.

Stunned, shell-shocked and utterly heartbroken, David Goldman has refused to quit or fade away -- his love for his son is too strong. He has been working tirelessly every day during the last 4 Ĺ years, using every legal means available to bring Sean home. On paper, the laws are with him. Child abduction and the retention of a kidnapped child are serious crimes. The courts of New Jersey, the place of Seanís habitual residence, granted David full custody -- as Chairman Berman pointed out a moment ago -- as far back as August, 2004. On the international front, David has -- has had every reason to believe that justice would be swift and sure, because unlike some countries, Brazil is a party to an international convention and has a bilateral partnership with the United States which obligates Brazil to return children, even those abducted by a parent, to the place of habitual residence -- in this case, New Jersey.

To David Goldmanís shock and dismay, however, that has not happened. Even after Seanís mother died unexpectedly in August of 2008, the people unlawfully holding Sean in Brazil -- especially a man who is not Seanís father -- have refused to allow Seanís return home to New Jersey or, until last month, even to see his father.

Last month, I traveled to Brazil with David Goldman on what was his eighth trip to try to see his son and advance the legal and diplomatic process of returning Sean home to the United States.

This trip was different, however, and we sincerely hope, a turning point. First and foremost, he got to visit with his son. And we met with key several -- several key Brazilian officials in President Lulaís government, including Ambassador Oto Agripino Maia at the Ministry of External Affairs (and others); and in the judicial system Minister Ellen Gracie Northfleet, the former Chief Justice and current member of the Supreme Court. We were encouraged by their apparent understanding of Brazilís solemn obligation, as a signatory to the Hague Convention, to return Sean to the United States.

David Goldman Addresses the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

In subsequent meetings here in the U.S with the Brazilian Ambassador, Antonio de Auiar Patriota, and the Brazilian Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Osmar Chofi, we were again assured that the Lula government believes that Sean Goldman should be in the United States, and with his father.

Still, deeds, [and] not just encouraging words, are what matter most, and Sean remains unlawfully held in Brazil.

When in Brazil last month, I had the extraordinary privilege of joining David and Sean in the[ir] first meeting in 4Ĺ years. Now almost 9, Sean Goldman was delighted to see his dad. The love between them was strong and it was obvious from the very first moment. In the first [minutes] of their meeting, I did see the pain on Sean as he asked his father why he hadnít visited him in 4Ĺ years. David told him that he had traveled to Rio several times to try to be with him. But in order to mitigate Seanís pain because of the abduction, David blamed only the courts, not the abductors, for the separation -- a sign of class and, I think, a sign of David's sensitivity.

This is a picture (to my left, here) that I took while I was in Brazil -- a picture of a dad with his son after shooting baskets and playing a game of "around the world." Sean, a remarkable young man -- needs to work on his set-shot -- was completely at ease and eager to get reacquainted with his dad. I took this picture about an hour, one hour after their first reunion, after 4Ĺ years . The joy on both of their faces, as I think can see, is compelling. There were hugs and there were kisses, could see that there was a great bond between this dad and his son.

Mr. Speaker, the kidnapping of Sean Goldman and his continued 4Ĺ year unlawful retention in Rio must be resolved immediately and irrevocably. A father, who deeply loves his son, wants desperately to care for him and spend precious time with him and has had his nationally and internationally recognized parental rights, and his son has had his rights as well, violated with shocking impunity. David Goldman should not be blocked from raising his own son, and a child, who recently lost his mom, belongs with his dad.

The government of Brazil, Mr. Speaker, has failed to live up to its legal obligations under international law to return Sean to his biological father. The government of Brazil has an obligation that they must fulfill  -- and without further delay.

The resolution before us today, expresses the House of Representativesí profound concern and calls on Brazil to, in accordance with its international obligations and with (quote) "extreme urgency,Ē bring about the return of Sean Goldman to his dad, David Goldman, in the United States. Justice delayed, Mr. Speaker, is justice denied and Seanís place is with his dad.

Mr. Speaker, on the bigger picture, international child abductions by parents are not rare. The U.S. Department of State reports that it is currently handling approximately 1,900 cases, involving more than 2,800 children abducted from the United States to other countries. And those numbers do not include children whose parents, for whatever reason, do not report the abductions to the U.S. Department of State.

In recognition of the gravity of this problem and the traumatic consequences that children -- child abductions can have both on the child and the parent who is left behind, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was reached in 1980. The purpose of the Hague Convention is to provide expeditious -- an expeditious method to return an abducted child to the childís habitual residence so that custody determinations can be made in that jurisdiction. According to the terms of the Convention, such return is to take place within six weeks -- not over 4Ĺ years -- after proceedings under the Convention are commenced.

The United States, Mr. Speaker, ratified the Hague Convention in 1988. Brazil acceded to the Hague in 1999 and the Hague Convention was entered into force between Brazil and the U.S. in 2003, a year before Sean was abducted. In accordance with the Hague Convention, David Goldman on September 3rd, 2004, filed in a timely fashion an application for the immediate return of his son. Brazil, sadly, has failed to deliver.

I would point out on a positive note that within a week of our return home to the United States, the Brazilian courts did take what we consider to be a major step in the right direction for David and Sean. The decision was to move the case from the local courts, which were erroneously bogged down in making a custody determination, to the federal courts capable and responsible for making decisions in accordance with obligations under the Hague Convention. Pursuant to an amended application filed under the Convention after the death of Seanís mother, and in accordance with the "expeditious return" provisions of the Hague, Brazilís only legitimate and legal option now, as it has been, is to effectuate Seanís return. And it must be done now.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, this weekend Brazilian President Lula will visit the United States and visit one-on-one with President Obama. The White House meeting should include a serious discussion about Brazilís -- and this is a State Department term --  "pattern of non-compliance" with the Hague Convention and Brazilís obligation to immediately fulfill this obligation in the case of Sean Goldman and many other cases like it, including one that Mr. Poe will bring up momentarily.

I'm happy to say that over 50 Member of the House, including my friend and colleague, Mr. Holt, have co-sponsored this resolution. Over 43,000 people from 154 nations have signed a petition urging Brazil to do the right thing and expeditiously return Sean to the United States.

So many people, Madam Speaker, have joined in and helped David in his fight for his son and deserve our appreciation and respect. His extraordinarily talented legal counsel here in the United States, Patricia Apy, and Brazil -- in Brazil, Ricardo Zamariola Junior, have made their case with expertise, precision, compassion, and meticulous adherence to the rule of law.

The staff at our consulates in Brazil -- Consul General Marie Damour, Joanna Weinz and Karen Gufstafson -- have all tirelessly and professionally worked this case for several years as if Sean and David were their own family. Special thanks to Ambassador Cliff Sobel.

A number of journalists, including Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press, who has written powerful columns about David's loss and his entire terrible ordeal, Meredith Vieira, Benita Noel, and Lauren Sugrue of NBCís Dateline have probed, investigated and demanded answers, such -- thus ensuring that the truth about this unlawful abduction is known to the public, including and especially to government officials both here and in Brazil. As a matter of fact, it was a Dateline special on the Goldman case that caused me to call David -- and to get involved.

And finally, special thanks to countless volunteers, including Mark DeAngelis, who has done yeomanís work, including managing a web site -- Bring Sean Home -- and have proved to be an invaluable support system during this most difficult and trying time for father and son.

I urge Members to support this resolution [H.Res. 125]. Again, I want to thank Chairman Berman for his leadership in bringing this resolution to the floor; and to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, our distinguished ranking Member. This resolution, I believe, will make a difference not just for David and Sean but for so many others who are similarly situated.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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