Haas-State Department correspondence, Spring 1978

[Editor’s note: The PDF accompanying this page includes 10 photocopied pages from the Digest of International Law, which was attached to the letter from Jeffrey Haas. Those pages appear following the State Department’s reply to the Haas letter.]

[Letterhead of Jeffrey A. Haas, attorney-at-law, San Francisco]

March 16, 1978

Mr. Douglas J. Bennet, Jr.
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

RE: John Victor Stoen

Dear Mr. Bennet:

As you may recall, I represent Ms. Grace Stoen in her efforts to regain custody of her son, John Victor Stoen. In response to several congressional inquiries into this matter, you have both misstated an opinion which I have expressed as well as arrived at an inaccurate interpretation of international law. I wish to set the record straight on both these matters.

In early January of this year, I accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Stoen to Guyana to attend a hearing concerning several legal arguments raised by Ms. Joyce Touchette of the People’s Temple. I am informed that the hearing was held over a period of a week. While the Stoens remained in Guyana for the entire period, I was present only the first day. I discussed the case at that stage with Mr. Richard McCoy, and informed him that the judge had decided in our favor on one of the many points which were raised at that time. The precise reason that it was necessary to advise Mr. McCoy was because the judge had excluded him from the hearing.

My primary concern at that stage, which I discussed with Mr. McCoy, was whether the United States Government would tolerate continued Guyanese governmental interference with the court process in that country. As you may recall, it was necessary for United States representatives in Guyana to write a Diplomatic Letter complaining of alleged governmental interference. I do not know at this stage whether the Government is applying political pressure, but I remain suspicious.


I met with Mr. Frank Tumminia, who is on the Guyanese desk of the Department of State, just prior to traveling to Guyana. At that time, I provided him with our research concerning the legal question of the United States Government’s responsibility to insure Mr. and Mrs. Stoen of a just and expedient resolution in this matter. Enclosed please find copies of these materials.

Referring to the Digest on International Law, at page 698, it is clear that the United States owes diplomatic protection to its nationals where there has been a denial of justice. A denial of justice has been defined as an unwarranted delay or obstruction of access to the courts. The Habeas Corpus in this matter was brought within the Guyanese system in September of 1977. It is hornbook law that the Habeas Corpus proceeding, because of its intrinsic urgency, is entitled to the top priority. It is nearly seven months since the motion was filed and we still have no court decision. In addition, our own representatives, as referenced above, have diplomatically noticed obstructive practices.

In conclusion, it seems clearly inconsistent that the State Department takes the position that there is little that can be done. Our system of justice, if it is to be respected, cannot tolerate this abuse. With the passage of time, your position in this matter becomes increasingly more irresponsible.

Very truly yours,
/s/ Jeffrey A. Haas
Jeffrey A. Haas


[Editor’s note: While there is no date at the head of this reply from the State Department, it was apparently last reviewed within the agency on April 14, 1978.]

Mr. Jeffrey A. Haas, esquire
3609 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, California 94118

Dear Mr. Haas:

I have been asked to reply to your letter of March 16 addressed to Assistant Secretary Douglas J. Bennet, Jr. I regret that you found our responses to congressional inquiries on the John Victor Stoen custody case unsatisfactory.

The attorney’s favorable opinion expressed in these responses is that of Clarence Hughes, the Stoens’ attorney in Guyana.

On February 24 the American Consul in Georgetown, Guyana met with the new Minister of Justice, Mohamed Shahabuddeen who stated the child custody cases are civil disputes and there is no legal requirement that hearings be scheduled within a specific time period. Further, the Minister indicated that a judge’s written opinion may take at least four months to compose and release. Consequently, the delay today in this case is not considered excessive.

The Department appreciates the Stoens’ desire to be reunited with their son. Although the Department cannot intervene in this case, it will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure that the decision is reached fairly and in accordance with the laws of Guyana.

I am forwarding a copy of your letter to the Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor for comment on the issue of the interpretation of international law. If you have further questions, please contact our Office of Special Consular Services on 632-3015.

Stephen A. Dobrenchuk
Emergency and Protection Service Division

Originally posted on June 17th, 2020.

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