MEDIA RELEASE: TUESDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2020
“I’ll Never Give up!” - 12 Months after the abduction and illegal retention of his children in Colombia, Australian father of two vows to fight on to bring his children home!
On Thursday 20 February, Australian father of two, Robert Clarke will light a candle as a symbol of hope that soon his precious children Benjamin (Benny) (4) and Lucia (16 months) will be returned to Australia where they belong.
In marking the 12-month anniversary (20 February 2019) of their abduction and illegal retention in Ipiales by their Colombian mother, Maria Yepez Oviedo during the family’s annual holiday to visit her family; Robert Clarke vowed to fight on to bring his children home to the country of their birth, Australia.
The children’s mother who has lived in Australia since 2013 is a permanent resident of Australia. Prior to their Colombian holiday, the couple had planned to marry and purchase a home in Melbourne. However, without Robert’s knowledge Maria had planned to retain the children in Colombia having taken Benny and Lucia’s birth certificates and withholding their passports to prevent them from returning home to Australia.
It is believed that the children’s abduction and retention by their mother in Colombia came about because their maternal grandmother, Mrs. Oviedo Heurtas is a convicted criminal serving a 4-year home detention sentence in Ipiales (where they are now living) and is unable to travel to Australia to visit her daughter and grandchildren.
Putting his faith in the international Hague Convention and the Australian Government, on 12 March 2019, Robert immediately filed legal action to have the children returned to the country of their birth under The Hague Convention.
Australia and Colombia are both Contracting States to The Hague Convention which is designed to protect children from harm caused by cross-border abductions (and wrongful retentions) with procedures designed to bring about the prompt return of these children to the State of their habitual residence.
Under The Hague Convention Benny and Lucia should have been immediately returned to Australia within 6 weeks. However, the Colombian authorities (including the Colombian Central Authority) and the Colombian Judge delayed proceedings.
This delay obstructed compliance with The Hague Convention; the effects and consequences of which are both human and international in nature and in direct contravention of the principles of The Hague Convention.
More than nine months following the children’s abduction and unlawful retention and more than eight months after Mr Clarke filed for their immediate return, on 5 December 2019, Colombian Judge Hernan Rodriguez Reina ruled the Clarke children had been illegally retained by their mother (according to The Hague Convention) but failed to order their immediate return to the country of their birth and habitual residence; asserting the children were now settled and should stay in Colombia claiming it would be harmful to the children if they returned to Australia.
In one of the first Hague Convention cases of Australian children being abducted and unlawfully retained in Colombia; the Colombian Government has failed to honour their responsibilities under The Hague Convention causing harm to young Benny and little Lucia and placing their personal safety at risk.
Robert Clarke and his Australian family have just one opportunity to appeal the Judge’s decision.
In early January 2020, Robert’s legal representatives were told the appeal would be heard in February 2020. However, 12 months after their abduction and with February almost past, Robert has still not been advised of the date for the appeal hearing with Colombian officials once again delaying proceedings in favour of the children’s Colombian mother.
It’s been a painful year for Robert. Only fragments of what was once a happy family remain in his Melbourne home. Once filled with the sounds of Benny and Lucia’s laughter, the house is now quiet.
Much loved toys are still, neatly assembled in rooms where photographs of a happy family hang on walls while Benny’s little dog, Nacho wonders from room to empty room looking for his much-loved little playmate.
On the mantelpiece stand two Cadbury Easter Bunnies that Robert bought for his children last year, placed carefully beside unopened Christmas packages from relatives, awaiting Benny and Lucia’s return.
Determined to do whatever he can to bring his children home, on Australia Day 2020, Robert launched a campaign inviting people to sign his petition to the President of the Republic of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, asking him to honour Colombia’s commitment to The Hague Convention and “Help bring his precious little Australians home!”
The petition has more than 16,000 signatures and continues to grow daily with men and women expressing outrage at Colombia’s failure to adhere to the principles of The Hague Convention while others ask, “What is the Australian Government doing to help bring the children home?”
Ipiales, on the border of Colombia and Ecuador where the children are now living is a very dangerous place where criminal activity is rife and kidnapping, extortion and violence appear to be accepted as an everyday occurrence.
“As the only Western children living in Ipiales, the longer Benny and Lucia remain in Colombia, the greater the risk to their personal safety and the greater the harm being done to their well-being,” said Mr Clarke.
“On Thursday I will light a candle for my beautiful children to keep the flame of hope burning that soon they will be returned home safely to the country of their birth,” he said.
“I hope people will help us and add their voices to our pleas to the President of Colombia by signing the petition calling for Colombia to honour The Hague Convention principles so I can bring my children home.” Mr Clarke said.
To learn more about Robert Clarke’s plea to President Iván Duque Márquez to help bring his children home and how you can help, sign and share our petition, please visit: HelpBringMyChildrenHome.com or Follow us on Facebook.
#HelpBringMyChildrenHome #HagueConvention #BennyandLuciaClarke #SignPetition
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