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Swiss wins right to identify biological father

Andreas Jäggi hopes a DNA sample from his presumed father will determine his true identity

(Keystone)

A 67-year-old Geneva man will finally be able to carry out a DNA test on the dead body of his presumed father to determine his true identity.

This follows a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned Switzerland for "violating the right to respect for private life" by preventing Andreas Jäggi from obtaining a DNA sample to prove his paternity case.

The ruling comes after a battle with the Swiss legal system that has lasted over 40 years.

Born in 1939, Jäggi grew up as an orphan. At the age of 19 he met his mother for the first time and she revealed to him the identity of the man thought to be his father, A.H.

Since then, the Geneva antiques dealer has ceaselessly fought to confirm the truth about his father, which was always denied by A.H. right up until his death in 1976 and rejected by the Swiss courts.

"This victory is not just mine," an emotional Jäggi told Geneva-based Tribune de Genève newspaper.

"It's for all the women who have to deal with a man who runs off; it's for all those children who are seeking the truth. Everyone has the right to know who their father is."

"The verdict is unique in Switzerland," said Jäggi's lawyer, Bruno Mégevand. "It means that the law has to determine that it is an individual's fundamental right to know who their father or mother is."

Overturn

In its five-votes-to-two judgement, the court overturned the Swiss courts' previous decisions, declaring that Switzerland had violated article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights that relates to the respect for private life.

"Persons trying to establish their ancestry had a vital interest in obtaining the information they needed in order to discover the truth about an important aspect of their personal identity," the court concluded.

The court added that an individual's interest in discovering his parentage did not disappear with age, on the contrary.

"Jäggi had always shown a real interest in discovering his father's identity, since he had tried to obtain reliable information on the point. Such conduct implied moral and mental suffering, even though this had not been medically attested," it stated.

For the court, DNA testing is a "relatively intrusive measure" and sampling a deceased person cannot impair their private life as "it is made after their death".

Switzerland now has three months to decide whether to lodge an appeal.

swissinfo

In brief

Andreas Jäggi was born in 1939 and lives in Geneva.

Shortly before his birth a state-appointed adviser brought an action against A.H., his putative father, seeking a declaration of paternity and contribution towards his maintenance. The action was dismissed by the Geneva Court of First instance on January 30, 1948.

On registering his birth his mother declared that his father was A.H. Jäggi was then placed with a foster family. His mother informed him in 1958 that A.H. was his father.

Jäggi asserted he had regular contacts with A.H. and received presents from him and money. A.H.'s family rejected those allegations, and A.H. always refused to submit to tests to establish his paternity.

In 1997 Jäggi applied unsuccessfully for a private paternity test.

In 1999 he applied for revision of the 1948 judgment, requesting a DNA test on the mortal remains of A.H. His application was refused. On December 22, 1999 the Federal Court dismissed his appeal.

On July 13, 2006 the European Court of Human Rights condemned Switzerland for "violating the right to respect for private life" by preventing Andreas Jäggi from obtaining a DNA sample to prove his paternity case.

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