Rights Conflict in Argentine Court Battle Over DNA

Date: 2010-06-04

AP Interview: Adoptees in Argentine DNA fight defend right to not know where they come from

The Associated Press

The adopted children of Argentina's leading newspaper publisher are nearing the end of an epic legal battle over their DNA and preparing themselves for the possibility of a match with families of victims of the dictatorship.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera accused Argentine human rights groups and authorities of violating their privacy by forcing them to give DNA samples in a politically charged case that could put their elderly adoptive mother behind bars.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo allege that Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble illegally adopted them 34 years ago with help from officials of the military junta. Hundreds of political dissidents were kidnapped and killed after giving birth in clandestine torture centers during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, and human rights groups believe the Noble Herreras' birth mothers were among them.

Barring a last-minute Supreme Court ruling, the National Genetics Bank's scientists will begin extracting DNA on Monday from underwear and other clothing they surrendered last week under a court order, following what they described as a dangerous car chase from the judge's office to their mother's mansion.

The DNA will then be compared to results from hundreds of samples given by families of the disappeared, in a process they fear gives them no guarantees.

"There is not a single concrete fact showing that we were taken" from the junta's imprisoned enemies, said Marcela, who with her brother spoke exclusively to the AP in their lawyer's office.

But if the DNA shows a match to families of the disappeared, their very existence would serve as evidence — "object proof" as they put it — of a crime that could land their mother in prison, if lawyers can then show she knowingly accepted stolen babies.

A match also would mean the adoptees have other families to consider — whether they want to have anything to do with them or not.

"If it is really true ... well, it's up to us to assimilate it, it's up to us to prepare ourselves and it's up to us to see what we want to do," she said. "Only we will know how we'll feel."

Felipe was more dismissive: "Whatever the result, for me it's just one more sheet of paper, one more fact in my desk."

Ernestina Herrera de Noble, already a widow when the military took over Argentina, adopted both children using paperwork that rights groups have challenged in court as falsified.

But they say they have no need to know more about their birth families, not after 34 years developing their own identities.

"Our identity is ours. It's a private thing, and I don't think it's up to the state or the Grandmothers to come and tell us what is ours," Marcela said, referring to the prominent human rights group that works to identify infants stolen during the dictatorship.

"Despite this, they have tried for nine years to forcefully impose our genetic history on us," she added. "They don't listen to us, they don't respect us, they don't respect our timing."

The case began in 2001 with two families of dictatorship victims asking the courts to obtain the adoptees' DNA. The Grandmothers later became plaintiffs as well, and pressed to have the DNA examined at the Genetics Bank. The group also is closely allied with President Cristina Fernandez, whose supporters in congress passed a law last year requiring all DNA tests in missing persons cases to be handled by the Genetics Bank, rather than the judicial system's labs.

The Grandmothers have succeeded in identifying 101 children of the disappeared over the years. But some adopted children would rather not know, particularly if the information implicates their adoptive parents in crimes that happened a generation ago.

"For them, we would be just No. 102, No. 103. Just a number. ... And that's not how it is — a person is not just a number," Marcela said.

The Noble Herreras again refused last week to surrender blood samples for the Genetics Bank's database, prompting a judge to send armed agents to videotape them surrendering their clothing to prove the chain of custody.

"Their work is noble, it's praiseworthy. But the end doesn't justify the means," Marcela said, adding that Friday's chase scene convinced her that the rights group won't rest until her mother is in prison.

"When human rights groups say they have to protect the victims, to take care of these children we love, is this love? It's a form of love that we don't understand. This is why we feel we aren't listened to," she said.

The Noble Herreras' lawyers are trying to get judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado removed and all of her decisions invalidated for bias. In response, the Grandmothers asked the Interamerican Human Rights Commission to declare Argentina in violation of their "right to the truth" if DNA tests don't commence on Monday.

The case also has become a touchstone in Argentina's media wars, with each side seizing on developments as evidence of wrongdoing by the other.

Marcela, herself a journalist rising through the ranks of Grupo Clarin, said she and her brother agreed to talk with the AP so that their points of view could reach the public in more neutral way.

"We want to make clear that we don't have a fight with the government," she said. "We're defending what we feel, what we think, nothing more."


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