Open Letter about the UN Elections of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
Updated: May 30, 2020
To the Kind Attention of TT.EE. Ambassadors,
Our organizations represent thousands of Children who are abducted within and to Japan every year by a Japanese parent. The actions of these abducting parents enjoy the full support and protection of the Japanese authorities, and this extends to both domestic and international abductions, even though Japan is party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“the Hague Convention”) and the UN Convention on Rights of Children (“the CRC”). On behalf of these children, we implore you to raise your voice at the upcoming election of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“the Committee”).
The eighteenth session of the Conference of the States party to the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (“The Convention”) will take place in New York on the 30th of June 2020. During that meeting, an election will be held to replace nine Members of the Committee, whose terms are due to expire on the 28th of February 2021. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign affairs has nominated one Mikiko Otani, who is one of the nine, to be re-elected as a Member of the Committee. However, we strongly urge you to carefully consider the appropriateness of accepting Japan’s nomination, in light of the following.
To begin with, and as already mentioned, Japan has displayed a flagrant and widespread disregard for rights of children. Each year, an estimated 150,000 children are unlawfully abducted within, or to Japan by one of their parents. Japanese authorities continue to commit a catalog of breaches of the most fundamental principle of child rights – the “best interests of the child”, as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child including the CRC/C/GC/14 of 2013, as well as flagrant breaches of the Hague Convention.
Several examples of this callous attitude stand out. In November 2019, a judge in Japan ruled that the UN CRC, ratified by Japan in 1994, was not binding on Japan, even though the Japanese Ambassador to the UN had the day before announced a pledge to fulfill obligations stipulated in the Convention, as it had been invited to do by the Committee. During a Japanese Parliamentary session on 24th of March 2020, Japanese senator Yukiko Kada made mention of an audio recording of a seminar organized by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs which had been held in Paris in May 2018. This recording proved that participants at the seminar had been educated on how to prevent their children from being returned to France, should they decide to unilaterally take them to Japan without the consent of either the child or the other parent. Most damningly, the Director of the Ministry of Foreign affairs Norihiro Yamanaka gave his open endorsement of the seminar, its organizers, and its content.
Japan’s flagrant disregard of fundamental rights of the child are of sufficient gravity to have gained the attention of numerous Heads of Government and the international press. On the 26th of June 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron stated in a meeting in Tokyo with several French fathers that such a situation was “unacceptable”, with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also expressing a similar view. Both leaders raised the issue with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but to no avail. In March 2018, twenty-six Ambassadors from the European Union issued a joint letter to the Japanese Minister of Justice calling for the changes to Japan’s legal system. Again, this produced no result. The Washington Post reported in August 2019 that nine fathers and one mother, on behalf of fourteen children from countries ranging from the United States, Canada, France, Italy, and Japan had filed a formal complaint to the UN’s Human Rights Council, arguing that Japan had committed gross violations of the Hague Convention, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Another reason to reconsider the appropriateness of Mikiko Otani’s nomination to the Committee is her own personal record on this issue, which leaves much to be desired. There is voluminous and undeniable evidence that Ms. Otani has contributed to the non-respect of the best interests of children, by actively promoting parent-child separation. Take for example a case involving a French father, Emmanuel De Fournas whose daughter was abducted to Japan five years ago, and who has not had any contact with her ever since. Mr. De Fournas started divorce proceedings in France and the Court of Toulouse-France delivered its decision declaring the divorce due to his wife gross misconduct. ON the 8th of February 2017, Ms. Otani (representing the wife) sent a letter to him, informing him that the divorce and custody decision obtained from a French court was not legally recognized in Japan, and that the issue should be settled in a Japanese court. This was a clear violation article 1, par b. of Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which Japan had ratified in 2014. As usual, in order to obtain Emmanuel de Fournas’s commitment to participating in a mediation in a Japanese court, Ms. Otani brandished the threat of cutting him off completely from his daughter. Two months later, Ms. Otani sent another email in which she communicated her client’s request that the father accept a divorce under Japanese law instead of French law, and that her client would have sole parental authority and custody of their daughter under both Japanese and French law. This was a condition for him having any contact with his daughter. Ms. Otani clearly endorsed and supported her client’s actions, which were in violation of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, the Hague Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The evidences concerning Mr. De Fournas’s case are not disclosed within this letter but they are available upon request.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child comprises eighteen independent experts of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. Japan’s well-documented record of violating human rights treaties and refusal to engage international bodies and foreign governments on this issue, as well as the personal record of its nominee, should give all State Parties serious reason to doubt the appropriateness of accepting said nominee to the Committee. In the upcoming election, we thus strongly urge you to consider the suitability of each candidate to represent and protect the fundamental interests of children at the highest level of international politics and hope that the information we have provided you will help your governments to make the right choice.
 Children’s Ombudsman, Sakura no Kai, Yui no Kai, Nitalbo Korea  https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/full-text/?cid=24  https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/crc/pages/crcindex.aspx  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/Elections2020.aspx  https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRC/Elections2020/CV_OTANI.docx  “Every Year, around 150,00 children are abducted, many of them European are actually abducted by one of the parents”. Ignazio Corrao , European MP. https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/eu-mp-ignazio-corrao-on-child-abduction-in-japan  https://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/crc/docs/GC/CRC_C_GC_14_ENG.pdf https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/NEWIPCAAssets/pdfs/AnnualReports/2018%20Annual%20Report%20on%20International%20Child%20Abduction%20FINAL1.pdf  “In the Tokyo District Court ruling, presiding judge Tatsuro Maezawa said the UN treaty was “merely an agreement to respect” those rights but had no binding power.”, Reuters, November 22nd 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-children/japan-rules-against-divorced-parents-seeking-access-to-children-idUSKBN1XW0LI  “Japan announced a pledge to fulfill obligations stipulated in the Convention, as invited by the Committee on the Rights of the Child” November 21st 2019. https://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/ishikane112119.html  Seminar in Paris audio recording http://www.bachome.org/news/caught-japan-seminar-on-how-to-abduct Senator Kada Diet session from minute 10:41 to minute 17:15 https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/senator-kada-speaking-at-the-japanese-diet  French President Emmanuel Macron on child abduction in Japan: https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/french-president-macron-on-child-abduction-in-japan Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Child abduction in Japan: https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/italian-prime-minister-conte-on-child-abduction-in-japan  https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/european-ambassadors-demarche-to-the-japanese-minister-of-justice  https://www.japanchildrenrights.org/post/washington-post-article-about-child-abduction-in-japan  Hague Treaty “to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States.” https://assets.hcch.net/docs/e86d9f72-dc8d-46f3-b3bf-e102911c8532.pdf