Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Lebanon: A Safe Haven for International Child Abduction

Jeremy D. Morley,
It is generally impossible to secure the return of internationally abducted children from Lebanon through normal means, particularly when retained by a Lebanese parent. Lebanon is not a party to the Hague Abduction Convention. There are no bilateral treaties with Lebanon on international child abduction. There is no extradition treaty between Lebanon and the United States. Lebanon has no law concerning the recognition and enforcement of foreign custody orders. Lebanon’s numerous religious courts have jurisdiction over child custody matters but require the civil courts to enforce orders and enforcement is slow and difficult. The various religious law systems apply arbitrary principles of age, gender and religion. Lebanon does not recognize international parental kidnapping as a crime. And under Lebanese law, Lebanese nationals may prevent their wives and children (even if they are foreign citizens) from leaving Lebanon.

Consequently, many parents have taken desperate measures.  Numerous such cases which exemplify the problems have been well reported within just the last few years. The reports allege that:

·         Sally Faulkner lived in Brisbane, Australia with her two children. Her husband, a Lebanese national, resided in Lebanon. In 2015, he took the children on vacation to Lebanon and then refused to return them. The mother’s attempts to secure their return were unsuccessful, and she was unable to make contact with her children. She obtained a custody order in Australia, but it was ignored in Lebanon. In desperation, and using funds that she obtained from a publicity campaign in Australia, she hired a “child recovery team.” They went to Lebanon accompanied by an ABC Television crew. They snatched the children from a street in Beirut but were then were arrested on charges of kidnapping and were jailed in Beirut. They were eventually released from jail but only in exchange for the payment of a large sum of money to the father and the mother’s signature on a document whereby she renounced all claims of custody over the children and consented to a divorce. She left Lebanon in October 2016 and has not seen or spoke to her children since that time. She still faces criminal charges on Lebanon.

·         Jolly Bimbachi’s two children went from their home in Ontario, Canada for a short visit to Lebanon with their Lebanese father in May, 2015. He kept the children in Lebanon. The mother tried and failed to secure a return order from the Lebanese courts. In desperation, in late 2017 she flew with a friend to Lebanon, found the children and tried to take them out of Lebanon to Turkey via Syria. They were captured by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate, who retained them in Syria for a month. A Syrian judge ordered their return to Lebanon and they were smuggled back into Lebanon. The children were returned to their father in Lebanon. Last month, the mother returned to Canada alone.

·         Michelle Matar lived in California with her three children. In December 2016 a court in Orange County, California allowed their Lebanese father to take them to visit Lebanon. He did so but then refused to return them. According to the FBI, he told the mother that she would never see her children again unless she flew to Lebanon to re-marry him and did not go to the authorities. The California court then ordered the father to return with the children, but he refused to do so. The mother brought suit in Lebanon and proceedings there are ongoing. A warrant for the arrest of the father for international child kidnapping was issued based upon an FBI complaint. The children remain in Lebanon.

·         Layale Khalifeh lived in Calgary, Alberta with her seven-year old son. Her Lebanese ex-husband lived nearby. In 2014 he persuaded her to allow him to take their son to Lebanon for a family wedding. She retained counsel in Canada and Lebanon, obtained an order in Canada giving her sole custody of the child, obtained an arrest warrant in Canada against the father, and sued in Lebanon for custody, but all such efforts were unsuccessful. She eventually flew to Lebanon and sought access to her child in a Lebanese court. However, in order to be permitted to see her son she was compelled to agree to quash the Canadian custody order and to agree that while the father had guardianship and she would have purely residential custody rights in Lebanon she was not permitted to take the child outside Lebanon. In desperation, she violated the Lebanese order and removed her son from Lebanon and took him back to Canada.

There are very many more such cases. I believe that the reported cases are the tip of the iceberg. In my opinion, Lebanon is a safe haven for international child abduction.