Stand Up for Human Rights Podcast Episode 1
Tune in for the story of Karin vonKrenner -- a journalist, photographer, and ex-fugitive -- whose landmark court case relating to kidnapping across borders changed the way human rights are viewed in a judicial setting.
Marina: Hello and welcome to the Global Human Rights Defence podcast: Stand Up for Human Rights. Every episode of this series will feature a unique guest who’ll share their experiences and expertise pertaining to the human rights topic of their choice, so no two episodes will ever be the
same. I’m your host, Marina Krivonossova, and I’m excited to be here today with Karin vonKrenner.
Karin vonKrenner has spent her life traveling and living around the world since she was "knee-high to a cricket". As an AP trained correspondent and human rights legal advocate, she focuses on bringing new perspectives to tough issues. In 2008 she challenged the Hague Convention On Kidnapping and introduced new protection protocols for women and children fleeing domestic violence across borders. Karin is currently writing a book; "Collateral Damage" based on her experiences as a journalist and fugitive. She has been recently featured in Voice magazine, Access To Justice and nominated for the Athena Award. In 2017 she co-founded "The Business Of Diversity" event as a platform for diversity communications in the business world. Karin is a freelance journalist, photographer and currently, Founder of "Project-ASK.org" a platform for social change through the medium of art that was inspired by her travels during the 2020 pandemic.
Welcome, Karin, it’s great to have you here. Can you tell our audience a little more about the topics we’ll be tackling today?
Karin: Hey Marina, it is absolutely wonderful to be here, and I love the fact that you brought me here. We’re gonna be talking about international law, but in a very specific arena, that’s the Hague Convention on kidnapping, which is again, it’s a very specified area when we’re talking about international law. It does cross into human trafficking because of the things that happen within that arena, and obviously domestic violence is a huge one. So, all these are very women and child-centered issues, but there are men involved in it, I’ll say that from the very beginning. Less, but there are some. So, I’m gonna be delving into that very interesting, dark area, and my expertise literally comes from being a kidnapping parent and fugitive from Interpol, FBI, and a few other people. (Chuckle)
Marina: Oh, wow! So very direct experience there, I didn’t know that! (Chuckle)
Karin: I started out as a journalist in the Middle East, worked for Middle East Review, ANSA, Action, and a few other organizations, I was a war correspondent. I always say my first war was actually in the Philippines during the Marcos Era, and I worked my way across into the Middle East, and summarizing, along the way I had a son, and at that time the country I was in was not
part of the European Union, and to really, really age myself here on Zoom, computers were kind of a new thing, the internet was a new thing, so information gathering, connections, the network, all these wonderful things that we have today did not exist. (Chuckle)
Karin: It took me 11 years to escape -- and “escape” is the word I’m using, and under the Hague Convention at that time -- it was the Hague Convention for international kidnapping -- and as a kidnapping parent, which would be me (chuckles), we had zero legal defense, zero protections, and absolutely no support. At that time, we were considered high level felons, and considered dangerous criminals.
Marina: Wow... And I think when most people think of kidnapping, they think, you know, a guy driving up to a playground, grabbing someone’s child and running, so that’s very clearly not what you’re talking about, so can you explain more the kind of kidnapping you’re referring to?
Karin: So, I’m referring to -- like I said -- it’s a very specific area that the Hague Convention tried to cover, and initially it was designed for protection, but actual usage of the Convention became something that was almost terrifying to those of us on the opposing side of that Convention. It never addressed issues of domestic violence. It never addressed protection, per-se, even though the overall umbrella implied it. It was very much directed to jurisdictional issues and to the seemingly presumed-innocent parent who had the child kidnapped from. So… Kidnapping is perceived, like you said, of someone grabbing a kid and horrible, horrible things happening and disappearing with that kid, and we don’t even wanna go there down that dark hole of what we can imagine there.
Karin: But nobody’s ever addressed the side, in a large way, of kidnapping for protection. The fact that many women around the world are doing something to try to escape a situation, and if you work with domestic violence, they always say eight is the standard number for a woman to try to leave a domestic violence situation. We up that to an even higher, almost impossible
number debating on two issues.
One, if she has children, it becomes harder to leave, not easier. Because it’s a financial issue. And women will stay in a domestic violence situation that’s been horrific from the outside and can be internally, but for the sake of their children, they will sacrifice literally their lives because there’s no other option for their child to be fed, housed, or have a roof over their head. We know the generational damage that does, we have the studies now. But we’re still dealing with what’s primarily a legal and financial issue.
Marina: I can very much see where you’re coming from with the financial aspect, but I’m very much curious... I’ve obviously never been in this sort of situation, so everything that I can say will be from, you know, the internet, or something I heard from someone, but in this situation pertaining to domestic violence, wouldn’t the first course of action be to go to the police and
seek protection and hope that the law can protect you? Like, how it is that the law is protecting the person inflicting the damage?
Karin: Okay, I’m gonna bring this back into the international arena.
Marina: Mhm, of course.
Karin: The international arena, we have two issues: when we do the law, we’re working internationally with politics, it’s very much a political issue, especially with international law. And one of the primary things we have -- the issue between signing a convention and ratifying the convention. We have many countries out there that will happily sign anything because it looks great. It’s a good political push. But to usually, to access it as a legal tool, that convention has to be ratified. And that’s a whole different thing. So, for instance with the Hague Convention, there’s several countries still to this day who have signed on to it, that means absolutely nothing, to be honest. Unless they ratify it, it is not a legal tool or a use process that can be accessed. Now, when we deal with international law, we’re also dealing with jurisdiction. And the first thing I say to anybody is always, “I don’t care where you were born, I don’t care what your passport is, once you put your foot on the ground, you are liable to the laws of the country you’re in.” That’s just bottom line.
Karin: In my case, you can appeal, and many did. Like I said, mine was very educational, I can do Fugitive 101 now: How to Do It! (Chuckeles) And How Not to Do It!
Karin: Like I said, there was no information available to me, so it was a very hard and long learning curve, to say the least. You’re in a jurisdiction, and that jurisdiction of court has the majority of power over you, as long as you are physically in that arena, so as tourists, we will go and visit a country, with our children and with our family, and we might get a speeding ticket, which we pay that speeding ticket off, but we’re pretty okay. We haven’t broken any major laws. And as we all know from the amount of Hollywood movies, the minute you break a law in that country, you’re in big trouble.
Karin: The embassy will not help you. And this is again a rather interesting perception that we have when we’re overseas, that if we’re in trouble, our embassies will help us. Embassies are there as government, um, business entities. Again, back to “You are liable for the laws of the
country you are in.” Your embassy cannot help you, literally. They will bring you -- in jail -- a long list of, you know, local lawyers. And that in it of itself is the problem. Because if you’re trying to fight something at the level I was, in that own country, within their own lawyers, you’re already at the negative level.
Marina: Mhm. Yeah.
Karin: (Chuckles) You’re trying to fight a country against themselves, to say the least. Um, so, again, signing and ratifying is a huge thing. The other thing that happens in international law is a parent will have custody -- full blown custody, paperwork issues in their own country -- and something happens in the other country. So, we’re talking international kidnapping and international custody right now. Unless there's a mirror order written in the other country or partner country, and unless that country has a legal process to support that, you can have all the custody orders you want, and if that child is kidnapped from one country to the other country, without a mirror court order written in their courts, you basically don’t have a custody order. You’re back to law of the land. So in my particular case, I kidnapped -- as my son says, “You kidnapped me two times, mom!” (Chuckles) And I’m like, “I keep forgetting about that one!” (Chuckles) The issue that I had was to first fight within the country I was in, that is what took me so long. Literally, yes, I did kidnap my son twice, and that’s a complicated story. The first time was to Ireland, and that was actually a fantastic experience! (Chuckles) And we were recaptured and it took me another five years to escape again.
Marina: Oh, wow. And you were separated at the time, you and your son?
Karin: We were separated when I was returned, yeah. Most under again -- under the Hague Convention -- old Convention -- there was a 90% kill rate of women who were returned to countries. The children were ok, but there was a 90% kill rate.
Marina: Oh, wow… Wow.
Karin: So where was I, okay. At that time, I had to fight within the local court system to get custody of my son. That took me approximately 5 or 6 years and was my beginning education in law. (Chuckles)
Marina: Oh, man, in 5 or 6 years you could just become a full-blown lawyer at that point!
Karin: (Chuckles) And it was my primary education in the Hague Convention, because in that process, the Hague Convention terrified me.
Marina: I can understand.
Karin: It was actually something that was locking me down, and it was being used against me. And people say, “Why did you study the law, and why do you like it?” And I’m like, “Well, I studied it to find every loophole I could to survive.” And the Hague Convention became not my, shall we say, savior or saint or something to look forward to, but it became my absolute adversary. And I just combed through it, like, you know, literally every word was against me.
And the reason for that is because (1) I did not have custody (2) Domestic violence was never included in the Hague Convention, and (3) I was liable to the laws of the land of the country I was in. It was a jurisdictional issue. Under the old Hague Convention, where if you escaped, or you kidnapped your child, and at that point you were a legal fugitive, you were an international fugitive depending on which country you were in.
So, you had the whole system against you. You were a kidnapper. And under that definition, the Hague Convention would come through the country representatives and forcibly take you and the child and return them to the country you had escaped. And this is irregardless of citizenship, so again, there was this terrifying little area where even as a citizen of another country, returning to your home country -- your home country would forcibly return you from the country you had escaped from.
Marina: Despite the fact, that you know, it’s like a domestic violence issue, there’s actual human rights infringements left and right, that’s all just completely ignored?
Karin: At that time, that didn’t exist.
Karin: These are the changes that have been made since based on my case.
Marina: Okay, I see.
Karin: So, when I was doing this, there were no protections. There were 6 basic defenses that were tried to be used, but they were almost impossible to defend, and almost impossible to give evidence. So, again, citizenship, law of the land, jurisdiction are even today huge issues in international law. And many people feel that because being citizens of another country that they have some sort of magical protection. I wanna say that that ain’t -- just, no, toss that out the window! (Chuckles) And in certain cases of international law, returning to your home country will not protect you either. And in kidnapping, this becomes very important.
Marina: Mhm, wow. I’m saying “wow” so many times, but I’m honestly just processing this, because again, in my mind, like human rights is this big component of law, or international law, or at the very least, it should be, so I can’t imagine a situation where someone is being mistreated
like that. Where a mother and her child, a father and his child are try to kind of flee, and the country just doesn’t care. They’re just focusing on what on paper, doesn’t matter what your rights are just as a human, we’re focusing on what’s on paper. Nothing else matters.
Karin: Well focusing on jurisdiction, and therein lies the biggest problem of international law. Now, what I did with my case is like I said I combed through the Hague Convention as my biggest adversary. And I came upon an issue and I’m also as you know a journalist and a writer, so that was possibly helpful, of something called habitual residence. And I pinned my entire hopes and case on those two words. And the reason for that is at that time, there was no definition for it.
In the law, there's a definition for each separate word, hence all these baffles that go over legalese, because if you change the context, you change the meaning. Now, habitual residence in it of itself was such a grey area, that nobody could define it at that time. And it was defined as, “The place where the child had spent the most time of their life.” Which again, made it a very big negative, for people in my situation, parents in my situation. Um, my son ended up in the country from the age 8 months. We were going on a holiday, and it became a very long holiday. (Chuckles)
When I fled the second time, um, to the US, as a citizen of the US, and my son is also a citizen of the US, when we fled there in 2002, or 2001, the case became public in 2002, what I was looking for under habitual residence when I challenged it in the US federal courts was under the proof and to this day, mine remains the most documented case of kidnapping today. And again, that’s because as journalist, I made sure everything was documented, despite interesting events, shall we say. Car bombs going off on me, all sorts of wonderful things happened.
Marina: Oh, wow, so you really endured everything you possibly could going through this situation.
Karin: Yeah, the first time I went to the police -- again, it’s a matter of changing your perspective. The first time I went to the police after an incident, the police basically clarified very clearly that I had no rights, and that you know, they weren’t going to do anything.
Marina: Was this in the US?
Marina: Oh, okay.
Karin: This was in the country I escaped from.
Marina: Oh, okay, I see.
Karin: So, that was an education in it of itself, of different ways of doing things, different cultural attitudes. But under the habitual residence, I had 12 years of documentation behind me. When we fled, we had 2 suitcases: 1 that had the boy’s clothes and some toys in it, and another suitcase full of documents. And I got some of those docs in a little bit of a shady way, but that’s Fugitive 101! (Chuckles)
Marina: (Chuckles) I understood as much.
Karin: Um, so, when I challenged habitual residence, I challenged it on the fact that despite the child being in a country for 12 years, I could prove categorically that we had tried several times to leave and were prevented from doing so. In other words, I could prove that under the Hague Convention umbrella of habitual residence, that despite the child being in a particular place for the majority period of his life, it was not by choice. And to me this is a foundational issue in everything I do. The ability to have a choice. And this is what I challenged under the Hague Convention. We did not have the choice to leave. I could have left, yes, if I had left my child behind. That is what I was offered. “You can leave, but the child stays here.” Um, being a rather momma bear, over the fact, I’m like, “That ain’t happening!” (Chuckles) “I’m sorry, that ain’t happening!” So, to this day, habitual residence has been redefined. And that’s under the domestic violence clause. So, now, under the Hague Convention, you have a point where you can bring forth a new defense, of domestic violence, you will -- that slows the system down. So previously, as I said, if you were caught, as a fugitive, as an international fugitive, your own country would immediately would without the right to a court hearing send you back to the originating jurisdiction country. Now, we have an event of time, so if there is a claim of domestic violence or violence, then that slows the entire system down, so that that parent has a chance to be heard. Which did not exist before. And in that point of time is where you have a chance for the first time again to tell your side of the story. And that has been a table turner for many, many cases.
Marina: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Just hearing about how often things like this happen, I can only imagine how relevant this is just, to so many people. How many lives this is saving and changing in the positive direction.
Karin: It is important when I do both as a journalist and law expert, words are very important, how we use them, how they are used. And it can come to something ridiculously that small that can overturn an entire system. And when we deal with international laws, we’re not only dealing with jurisdictional issues, we’re dealing with translation issues, we’re dealing with cultural issues. For example, if we look at the EU now, the EU works on a very similar system, oddly enough to the US.
In the US, the legal system is county, which is small, state, which is bigger, and theoretically federal, which is the umbrella law. In the EU, even currently today, you’re dealing
with a similar system. So it’s again, state, as in city or county, country, and then EU law being your version of fed umbrella law that overseas everybody in the EU. However, the issue there is that it might be easy to work from county to country, if you’re challenging something, but once you challenge within a country, it's very, very difficult to get to that overall theoretical protection of the umbrella EU law.
So, a lot of these cases again, what’s happening in human trafficking cases, in domestic violence cases, and kidnapping cases, is they’re so stuck in the mud of the country law, that the EU never hears about them. The only time the EU’s gonna hear about them is if in this case there’s a kidnapping. In which case suddenly, the EU jumps all over you. Because it’s an international case.
Marina: You really have to get it to that extreme level for them to…
Karin: You still do, unfortunately, as you know in the EU, it’s very, it takes years for a case to get heard in the European courts. It takes almost a generation sometimes for a case to actually go to the European human rights court level to be heard. And in that space of time, you’re losing all these other cases. Literally losing them. And if you take it to the next level of extremity, you’re losing a lot of lives.
Marina: Do you think there’s any chance for improvement in this case? Do you think there’s anything that can ever be done to really standardize it, to speed up the process? Because you know in the US you have like, the right to a quick and speedy trial and everything, but do you think we’ll ever have that in real time in the EU? Or anywhere for that matter?
Karin: I think it’s possible. I think it’s just a matter of having these hard conversations. It’s taken me a few years to start talking about it again, as in a personal issue. I’ve spent many years talking about it as a speaker in international law, but to bring my personal case forward has been difficult for a long time to talk about it. Um, it still causes me to shake a little. (Chuckles) There’s some funny parts to the story, and there’s some rather terrifying parts to the story, but I believe in speaking now that if we talk about these things, we can cause much quicker change than it took me to do in my time.
The internet, networking, people like you reaching out and talking about difficult subjects, bring this to the forefront of change and social impact. We are in this amazing period of time now when we can talk to each other around the world like we’re doing now, we can talk about difficult things that we couldn’t talk about a few years ago, a movement of being transparent about yourself, of being truthful about these things in a public arena, not having to separate your professional from your personal, this is huge. And I see this as a massive change maker for social human rights, social impact, and all of these things. Because we can talk about them now.
Marina: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, I absolutely love that you’re sharing this story because this is so important to get out there. It’s so important to raise awareness and really talk about it, because until people start understanding what’s happening, and start hearing these stories, there’s gonna be no change. Because again, I’m hearing something like this for the first time, and I’ve studied these topics extensively, I’ve talked to people in the government, but I’ve never heard the perspective of someone like you who’s really experienced it first hand and I’m sure all the listeners here are feeling the same way, so thank you again, and everybody should be able to share stories like this and raise awareness.
Karin: It’s great. Like I said, I still get a case by case of things that come out of the blue, and it makes me a little sad, because we set up Seattle Access to Justice many years ago, we set up a system there that has created protections under domestic violence. You will now see stickers and things that say, you know, referring directly to kidnapping parents for help, when I did it, there was no such thing. Even domestic shelters wouldn’t protect us. We had to hide from domestic shelters, that’s how bad it was. So these things are now out there, as information, support systems, and that’s awesome.
And now with, like I said, with our new international tech world, this is even more so. People can reach out to each other, people can talk to each other, it isn’t somebody trying somewhere, lost, on their own trying to figure it out anymore, so that’s huge.
Marina: That’s absolutely great, and I’m really happy to be a part of that, and I’m very happy to be living in the point in time where I’m currently living today to see that change happen, because it’s just absolutely wonderful. But obviously, we have a lot of work to do, so one step at a time.
Karin: I think we’re all doing it, and we can do it, it’s awesome.
Marina: Exactly, exactly. And another thing I wanted to ask you, because you mentioned this, “Art as a place to open communications and initiate social change.” Could you tell me more about what you mean with that, because I’m super intrigued.
Karin: Ohh, Project ASK! (Chuckles) Okay. I started Project ASK when I decided to travel through the pandemic, and at that time I was in Portland, Oregon, and at that time, the world suddenly new about Portland, Oregon due to the protests that were happening every night, and across the US, so I decided to start driving literally by myself across the US and see what was really happening out there. Which is what gave birth to Project ASK. I discovered there across the US, and across the world, it’s a difficult time, we’re in a pandemic, it’s frightening on a lot of levels, we’re in an environmental crisis, we have got so much out there to worry about, and people don’t talk to each other. And people don’t talk to each other. And I'm a communicator. At least in writing I can do that, and it was breaking my heart literally to see families falling apart
over pandemic issues, over political issues, and it was like the only place I saw people able to talk to each other was around the field of art.
So if you’re standing in front of a beautiful sculpture, or painting, or you’re listening to music, usually people who wouldn’t talk to each other are having the most amazing conversations. And not just conversations about that piece of art, they go into conversations about everything else. How does that piece of art make you feel, and how it refers to current events. And suddenly I thought, “Well, if art can do that just when I look at it, what if we used it as a tool around the world to communicate on difficult subjects and support the artists who are putting their art forward?” And that’s where Project ASK came from. “What’s your powerful question?”
Marina: Okay, that’s really nice, I actually never thought about it that way. I mean, I love art, but I.. I understand how it’s a uniter, but I don’t know, I just never looked at it from that perspective. That’s very true, even people who, you know, I disagree with, people who I otherwise might not really get along with, I’m sure that if we just found ourselves in an art museum, there’s definitely something we could talk about, and keep it neutral, and keep it positive. That’s great.
Thank you for joining me today on Stand Up for Human Rights, Karin. It was a pleasure speaking with you. If anyone listening to this would like to learn more about my guest today, Karin vonKrenner, don’t hesitate to connect with her with the help of the information provided in this episode’s description.And, if you are passionate about and interested in human rights, and if you think you have what it takes to be our next guest speaker on Stand Up for Human Rights, please send me an email or reach out to me on LinkedIn.My name is Marina Krivonossova, and I’d like to thank you once more for tuning in to this episode of Stand Up for Human Rights. Until next time.
If you would like to learn more about Karin, her projects, and how to get in touch with her, visit these websites:
All the opinions in the podcast are that of the guest. GHRD and GHRTV do not endorse or promote any opinions.