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ARGENTINA: Identity Dispute for Child of the ‘Disappeared’

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 1 2003 (IPS) - A human rights group in Argentina announced Wednesday that it would turn to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to challenge a Supreme Court ruling that a young woman does not have to undergo genetic testing to verify her identity.
      Evelyn Vázquez, 26, is thought to be the daughter of two of the 1976-1983 dictatorship’s victims of forced disappearance.

A human rights group in Argentina announced Wednesday that it would turn to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to challenge a Supreme Court ruling that a young woman does not have to undergo genetic testing to verify her identity.

Evelyn Vázquez, 26, is thought to be the daughter of Susana Pegoraro and Rubén Bauer, two of the 1976-1983 dictatorship’s victims of forced disappearance, which rights groups estimate to be as many as 30,000.

Vázquez was illegally adopted by former navy officer Policarpo Vázquez and his wife, who are on trial for concealing the girl’s true identity.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who for the past 26 years have been searching for their missing grandchildren, said the Supreme Court verdict made them feel as if their years of efforts have been ”in vain.”

The human rights group is seeking the sons and daughters of victims of forced disappearance, who were either abducted along with their parents or born into captivity. Many of the babies were reportedly given to military families.

The vice-president of the Grandmothers, Rosa Roisinblit, told a news briefing that her group ”strongly rejected” the Supreme Court ruling, which ”violates international treaties” signed by Argentina, ”and represents a setback with respect to previous decisions handed down by the Court.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Vázquez, who changed her mind after initially agreeing to undergo a DNA test, on the argument that the results could be used as evidence that would complicate the legal situation of former navy officer Policarpo Vázquez and his wife, who she considers her parents.

The Supreme Court said it would be ”an aberration” to make the young woman undergo the blood test by force, and added that the DNA test was not necessary to convict Vázquez and his wife, because they have already confessed to illegally adopting her.

A previous court verdict in a lawsuit brought by the Grandmothers in 1999 ruled that a sample of Evelyn’s blood could be extracted ”with the help of the police” if she refused to cooperate. A second instance court upheld that decision, which was appealed to the Supreme Court.

But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled seven-to-one that an adult could not be forced to undergo genetic testing, as it would amount to a violation of privacy. The Court considered that her right to privacy was above the right of her presumed biological family to know her true identity.

The Grandmothers have so far found 70 of the 400 children they have been seeking. Their grandchildren, who are young adults today, have reached different decisions regarding whether or not to maintain ties with their biological relations.

The Grandmothers’ lawyer, Alcira Ríos, told IPS that the Supreme Court ruling ”endorses state terrorism, the illegal deprivation of liberty, and forced disappearance,” and sets a ”negative precedent” for cases in which families are seeking the sons and daughters of their disappeared loved ones.

In other cases, the Supreme Court has upheld previous verdicts ordering minors to undergo genetic testing. But this was the first case it handled involving an adult in that situation.

Roisinblit pointed out that the Court had previously ruled that submitting to a DNA test posed no health risk and was not a humiliating practice, and argued that ”this doesn’t change just because the person involved is an adult.”

Genetic testing, which matches DNA based on blood samples, is considered evidence of a biological relationship if compatibility of over 99 percent is found.

”I know that at some point I will feel the need to find out my identity,” Evelyn told a local newspaper Wednesday. But she said she refused to do it during the trial of the couple she considers her parents, because she does not want to create more problems for them. ”When this business with my father is resolved, I’ll see what happens.”

Vázquez said she felt that her rights had been violated, because besides the attempt to force her to undergo a DNA test, her identity documents were retained as evidence that Policarpo Vázquez had committed the crime of change of identity.

However, the Supreme Court did not rule on the authenticity of the documents, which were returned to her.

Policarpo Vázquez and his wife Ana Maria Ferra are accused of concealing the real identity of Evelyn, who was born in 1977 in the Navy School of Mechanics, which operated as a notorious torture centre during the dictatorship. In 1999, they confessed that they had falsely registered the baby as their own.

In her appeal to the Supreme Court, Evelyn argued that ordering her to undergo a DNA test amounted to a violation of not only her privacy, but her dignity, because it failed to respect her decision ”not to betray her intense emotional ties” with the people she sees as her parents.

The Grandmothers said that forcing Evelyn to undergo genetic testing was neither their goal nor their desire, but ”the only solution for the necessary reparations” to be made. The group blamed the justice system for the delays that have dragged out the cases until the missing youngsters have become adults.

The Supreme Court recognised the biological family’s right to find out the young woman’s identity, but said the state could not use force to obligate an adult to undergo a DNA test in the fulfilment of that right.

The Grandmothers had stated earlier that a Supreme Court ruling in Evelyn’s favour would amount to a ”tombstone” for the other youngsters who are still living under a false identity, in some cases with those who were directly responsible for the forced disappearance of their biological parents.

They also complained that the verdict was based on controversial arguments. The decision states that Evelyn was ”an orphan” when Vázquez and his wife agreed to take her in, and that she had expressed her ”gratitude” to them, which ”justified” her refusal to undergo genetic testing.

The justices noted that the law protects adults who refuse to provide elements that can be used in DNA testing as evidence to convict direct family members. However, the Grandmothers point out that Vázquez himself admitted that Evelyn is not his daughter.

The president of the Supreme Court, Justice Carlos Fayt, clarified Wednesday that the verdict was limited to this particular case, would not interfere with the prosecution of Policarpo Vázquez, and should not be taken as a precedent in other trials.

 
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ARGENTINA: Identity Dispute for Child of the ‘Disappeared’

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 1 2003 (IPS) - A human rights group in Argentina announced Wednesday that it would turn to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to challenge a Supreme Court ruling that a young woman does not have to undergo genetic testing to verify her identity.
(more…)

 
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