Helsinki Commission TestimonyMaura Harty,
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
Remarks before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Helsinki Commission
September 14, 2005
Chairman Brownback, Chairman Smith, distinguished Commissioners, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you the efforts of the Department of State on behalf of American families and Romanian children in need to urge the Government of Romania to live up to its international treaty commitments and allow intercountry adoptions.
The Department of State is committed to fostering an international environment for intercountry adoptions that protects the interests of orphaned and abandoned children, their birth parents, and American families. The Department’s role is divided into several broad substantive areas. First, U.S. implementing legislation for the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in the Respect of Intercountry Adoption designates the Department of State as the central authority for the United States, and assigns regulatory and accrediting responsibilities to the Department of State.
Second, as a foreign policy matter, we encourage other nations to become parties to the Hague Convention. The U.S. Government considers this instrument to be most effective in establishing a set of internationally agreed requirements and procedures to govern intercountry adoptions. A key element of the Convention is that it identifies the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family has not been found in the child’s country of origin.
The Department of State also has the responsibility for reviewing immigrant visa applications filed on behalf of children who have been adopted or will be adopted by American citizens. In fiscal year 2004, around the world we issued 22,884 immigrant visas to these children, enabling them to join their new families in the United States.
Romania’s child welfare and adoption systems are of continuing concern to the Department of State. In 2001, the Government of Romania imposed a moratorium on intercountry adoptions. This action was taken in response to concerns in the U.S. Government and others about the Romanian adoption system as it existed prior to 2001. Specifically, a joint U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Report on Intercountry Adoption in Romania, published in January 2001 stated, "[T]he nature of the child welfare services in Romania…was susceptible to corrupt practices and … many of the financial resources generated for child protection programs through the intercountry adoption process were being misappropriated." The report also stated that Romania had "virtually uncontrolled adoption activities that allowed prospective adoptive parents to fly to Romania and adopt directly from the birth parents or orphanage officials…" and there was "very little focus on the use of child centered adoption procedures."
Clearly, Romania’s previous adoption laws failed to provide child welfare protections, and reform of the system was imperative. To that end, the United States, UNICEF and other countries and organizations provided suggestions and guidance to the Government of Romania as it worked to craft a revised adoption law that would meet international standards.
The Department of State worked aggressively with the Government of Romania to address these serious issues and develop a transparent adoption system. Our objectives have been to restore transparency, improve the Romanian child welfare system so that it meets international standards and lift the intercountry adoption moratorium as early as possible. The Department’s efforts took on greater urgency and importance in June 2004 when the Government of Romania passed an adoption law that effectively bans intercountry adoptions from Romania by restricting such adoptions to the child’s biological grandparents. This legislation went into effect on January 1, 2005.
Because the current legislation failed to include a mechanism for processing cases that were registered by Romanian officials under the moratorium, its passage effectively froze action on these cases. At the same time that the moratorium was put in place, Romania nevertheless allowed prospective parents to continue to register their applications to adopt with the Romanian government. Regrettably, this legislation is so restrictive that it has ended up harming the very children and families it ostensibly was designed to protect. Children continue to face long term institutional care – the least desirable outcome.
Romania is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, and has therefore agreed to certain international standards and principles, one of which is that intercountry adoption is a legitimate option for children who cannot find permanent placement in their country of origin. However, the Romanian Government’s current adoption law, by effectively closing off this option, runs directly counter to this principle and Romania’s treaty commitments. It is also inconsistent with UNICEF guidelines and with the legal framework of virtually all European Union member states.
Furthermore, the Romanian government’s handling of international adoption issues over the past four years has, according to the Romanian adoption authority’s own estimates, created an impasse for many hundreds of children in need of families.
I think it is important to describe to you in real terms the impact of this moratorium. Earlier in my testimony I mentioned the Department of State’s responsibility for adjudicating immigrant visas. In fiscal year 2004, when we issued almost 23,000 immigrant visas to adopted children worldwide, our Embassy in Bucharest issued only fifty-seven immigrant visas to Romanian children adopted by Americans. Since January 1, 2005 our Embassy has issued precisely one of these immigrant visas. Since the moratorium began, the only immigrant visas we have been able to process have been on behalf of children who were registered for intercountry adoption before the moratorium.
Given the number of Romanian children in need and the relatively smaller number of Romanian families looking to adopt domestically, the Department of State is concerned that this law prevents thousands of Romanian children from finding permanent families to raise them.
As previously mentioned, while the moratorium was in effect between 2001 and the June 2004 passage of the current adoption law, a court order required that the Government of Romania continued to register applications to adopt Romanian children from families outside Romania, including from the United States. There are approximately 200 registered cases that involve U.S. families. Looking for a reasonable resolution to these cases has been the primary focus of the Department of State’s most recent efforts.
The Department of State has repeatedly sought commitments from both the current and former Romanian governments that they would process pending cases to conclusion. The U.S. Government has held conversations with Romanian officials at all levels, including a March 2005 meeting between President Bush and President Basescu. Secretary of State Rice discussed this matter with the Romanian Foreign Minister in May 2005. Past U.S. Ambassadors to Romania and other U.S. Embassy officials in Bucharest have repeatedly discussed the issue with Romanian officials there. At every opportunity, the U.S. Government has impressed upon the Government of Romania the importance we attach to processing the pending cases to conclusion in a legal, transparent and expeditious manner.
Despite periodic commitments to establish a mechanism to resolve the pending cases, the Romanian Government has taken only tentative, intermittent steps. In fact, Romanian officials have offered many promises, but there has been little or no follow-through.
For example, in late 2004, then-Prime Ministers Nastase of Romania and Raffarin of France publicly suggested the creation of an international commission to review the pending cases. This did not happen under the former Romanian government, and its successor similarly has not pursued it.
In March 2005, Romanian President Basescu, during a visit to Washington, met with a number of American families whose adoptions are still pending and he committed to pursuing a solution to the pending U.S. cases immediately. But so far we have seen no action by the Romanian Government.
I traveled to Romania in early May 2005 and met with President Basescu, Foreign Minister Ungureanu and other officials of the Government of Romania. My message was quite clear: we need to resolve the pending intercountry adoption cases as soon as possible. I received assurances from the Romanian officials that they are committed to resolving the intercountry adoption issues. My response to these assurances was, "Hope is not a policy."
The Romanian Government has asserted that its adoption law and its failure to proceed with pending cases are being driven by concerns over Romanian accession to the European Union. It is the understanding of the Department of State, however, that there is no European Union law or regulation restricting intercountry adoptions to biological grandparents or requiring that restrictive laws be passed as a prerequisite for accession. All current EU member states with the exception of Ireland have ratified the Hague Convention.
The Department has sought clarification from the European Union on its stance with regard to Romania and its adoption legislation. I am hopeful that the European Union will be able to shed light on what are and are not the actual adoption-related requirements, if any such requirements exist, for EU candidate countries.
Chairman Brownback, Chairman Smith, it is with great disappointment that I appear before you today. After rounds of discussions and years of consultations, the fact remains that there has been no real progress. This is a humanitarian issue, a child welfare issue. Hundreds of Romanian children are being denied the opportunity to live with families that are prepared to give them a permanent, loving home and American families are being asked to suspend their lives in hopes of some future resolution. Again, I say: Hope is not a policy. The Department of State will continue to press Romania to fulfill its commitments to the U.S. Government and American families to resolve the pending cases with concrete, transparent criteria so that Romanian orphans and abandoned children can have the future they deserve.
I thank the Chairmen and the members of the Commission for your attention to this important subject. At this time I am pleased to answer any questions you might have.