Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Carina nine years gone; dad says system failed



By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

[photo]
Tom Sylvester, father of abducted child Carina Sylvester, testifies on Capitol Hill about international child abductions.
Gannett News Service/STEPHEN J. BOITANO
WASHINGTON - Blue Ash father Tom Sylvester spent Father's Day the same way he spent the last nine.

In anguish.

Sylvester's ex-wife, Austrian-born Monika, disappeared with 1-year-old Carina Sylvester in October 1995. Since then, Sylvester has been waging a diplomatic and legal fight to get Carina, an American citizen, back from Austria.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, the courts, two secretaries of state and even President Bush have intervened on his behalf.

And he still does not have his daughter back.

"The system failed us completely," Sylvester told the House International Relations Committee on Tuesday. "No one has yet been able to make a difference."

According to the State Department, more than 16,000 cases of international child abductions were reported in the last decade. And most of them end up like Sylvester's: stymied by uncooperative foreign governments and courts, even in countries like Austria that are nominal allies.

"Affairs of state trump individual human rights on occasion," lamented committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Chabot said he would introduce a resolution condemning Austria for its role in the Sylvester case.

"This is a case that really rips your heart out," said Chabot, who called it the most frustrating case of his 10 years in Washington. "It's clearly a case of right and wrong, and wrong has prevailed."

The European Court of Human Rights even agreed. It unanimously awarded Sylvester the equivalent of about $50,000 from the government of Austria for his mistreatment.

Sylvester got the money, but estimates he's spent about $500,000 on the case, in lawyer's fees and travel costs.

What he really wants is his daughter.

"From the moment I came home from work to discover my baby daughter gone, my life has never been the same," said Sylvester, a former Chrysler executive. His business card now reads "Parent Advocate" and his Web site is www.carinasdad.com.

He has been allowed to see his daughter a total of 57 days, only with his ex-wife's permission and under supervision. Phone calls are difficult; he does not speak German, and Carina does not speak English.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which the United States and Austria have signed, requires countries in most cases to return children to the country of their births to determine custody. Sylvester has obtained court orders in the United States and Austria to regain custody of his daughter, but the rulings have not been enforced.

Austrian officials have said that the courts there have determined it is in the best interests of Carina to remain with her mother in Graz.

E-mail cweiser@gannett.com




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