- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

STOCKHOLM — The Finnish media has transfixed the nation with the story of a mother who has defied the Finnish Supreme Court for over a month by refusing to comply with an order to return her children to their American father.

John Rogers, a South Carolina man who crossed the Atlantic in early August hoping to bring his two sons home in time for the start of school, is still waiting for a local bailiff to execute the highest court’s ruling.

Finnish newspaper reports, which have been sympathetic to the mother, Outi Koski, say that after a 2003 summer vacation in their mother’s homeland, 9-year-old Jake Rogers and his 13-year-old brother Alex asked Mrs. Koski to remain with them in Finland.

“My sons have been completely cut off, not only from me, but their grandfather and their elder brother and sister with whom they grew up their whole lives,” said Mr. Rogers. “None of us has been allowed so much as a phone call on a birthday or at Christmas,” he added.

The court order returning the boys to their father was based on The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which prevents parents from fleeing unpalatable family court rulings by shifting the playing field to a new jurisdiction abroad.

The logic of the convention is that acrimonious parental relationships are best dealt with in courts where the children have their habitual residence. The convention also calls for speedy decisions.

Finnish media, however, have incorrectly reported that the United States is not party to the convention, and have taken to identifying the boys as Jaakko and Aleksi Rogers, though those names do not appear on any official papers.

Mrs. Koski’s case has also been defended by her maternal uncle Markku Koski, the deputy speaker of the Finnish parliament, who argued on her behalf at a press conference last week. Supreme Court President Finn Leif Sevon subsequently accused the lawmaker of “losing all perspective.”

Another prominent sympathizer is Emeritus Terttu Arajarvi, a child psychiatrist who is also the mother-in-law of President Tarja Halonen.

Arguing the other side has been the boys’ half-sister, Christy Rogers, who received a few short lines in one tabloid newspaper.

“My father is an excellent dad,” said the 23-year-old dentistry student at the Medical University of South Carolina, who came to Finland with her father to help smooth the boys’ return.

Miss Rogers said Finnish officials had only reluctantly allowed her to meet her brothers.

“It was very strained,” she said of the meeting. “But their father calmed the boys and within about an hour they were hugging him. In another hour, they came to agree to go back to the United States. And they wanted to go at once.”

The sister said officials arranged for the boys to have five minutes in private with their mother to say goodbye.

“An hour and a half later, this enforcement officer announced that she let the children go with their mother because she had gotten them so upset,” said Miss Rogers, arguing that Finnish officials had failed to protect her brothers from emotional abuse.

Justice Ministry official Outi Kemppainen said the government hopes to enforce the decision of the Supreme Court “as soon as possible.” However Mrs. Koski failed to appear at a scheduled meeting with a bailiff on Friday and the media now says her whereabouts — and those of the boys — are unknown.

State Department officials have come under great pressure from angry parents whom The Hague Convention failed. Last year, Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty testified to Congress on the reasons.

“The Hague Convention cannot make a biased judicial system fair, or a nationalistic judge more objective, nor can it remove gender bias from a society or its judicial system,” said Miss Harty.

William Hilton, a California lawyer and a leading expert on The Hague Convention, said that if the Supreme Court decision is not executed, “the U.S. government will find Finland noncompliant with Hague Convention.”

The United States has returned nine children to Finland under the convention since 1999.

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