Kuwait passes DNA law in attempt to boost security

The law will see the establishment of a database with the DNA of Kuwait’s 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents

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The Kuwaiti parliament passed a law enabling authorities to obtain DNA samples from the country’s residents and citizens in a move condemned by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday but considered a necessary security measure by experts.

Parliament endorsed the legislation on July 1, weeks after an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affliate attacked a Shiite mosque killing 26 people.

The law will see the establishment of a database with the DNA of Kuwait’s 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents.

“Many measures could potentially be useful in protecting against terrorist attacks, but potential usefulness is not enough to justify a massive infringement on human rights,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said.

However, experts say the information could not only curb crime, but also vamp security as challenges posed by groups such as ISIS continue.

“From a security perspective, this is really important…A DNA sample that can be found in any crime scene can help identify this person without any mistake, given that there are so many factors that might make it really almost impossible to get fingerprints from a crime scene,” Mohammed AL Wuhaib, professor of political science at Kuwait University, told Al Arabiya News.

As to why would Kuwaiti authorities feel the need to pass such a law, Al Wuhaib said the increasing number of attacks such as the deadly bombing of two Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia in May, could explain the decision.

“I think the security situation gives the government the incentive to go ahead with such a law,” he said.

Saudi-based analyst Salman Al Ansari also attributed the measure to “the wave of terrorist attacks in the region…with the increasing threat of terrorism, I believe sooner or later most countries will apply such DNA sample law to protect their security,” he told Al Arabiya News in an email.

“Kuwait is courageous enough to be the pilot for whole Middle East region,” he added.

Additionally, “such a bank would be important for Kuwait to fight crime. People who break laws, regarding borders, passports, visas,” as Kuwait has a border “quite perceptible to breach by many,” Sami Al Faraj, president of the Kuwaiti Center of Strategic Studies, told Al Arabiya News.

However, certain challenges lay ahead of the Kuwaiti government in the form of securing the information obtained in addition to the procedure with which the interior ministry will get the samples.

“Another challenge would be around the nature of the Kuwaiti community which encompasses tribes and people of different racial origins that don't tolerate racial segmentation or public information about their DNA data,” Ansari said.

To deal with that, the Kuwaiti government “should assure the public of protecting their data with extreme sensitivity.”

The new law will also affect the government’s dealings with Kuwait’s stateless, or Bedun, community, a chronic and controversial issue that has long caught the attention of rights organizations.

Dealing with “the issue of stateless residents ‘Bedun,’” may have been another reason behind the law.

“There's hardship on tracking such residents paperless community,” Al Ansari said.

More than 100,000 people in Kuwait are registered as stateless as their predecessors failed to register themselves with the Kuwaiti government after the country’s independence in 1961. Today, many claim the Kuwaiti citizenship through a process the government undergoes to confirm that they are indeed the descendants of families who lived in Kuwait before 1961.

“The DNA test would help determine who is who, whether this man or this woman is actually a descendant of these, [and] in this context I don’t see any problem with violating human rights,” Al Wuhaib said in comment to HRW’s condemnation of the law.

In order to process a stateless resident’s application for citizenship, the government would setup committees that would investigate the person’s claim through questioning and other techniques.

“If someone just crossed the border and claims that they are stateless, a DNA test would determine if they have any relatives in Kuwait and therefore…will help solve the situation quickly on solid grounds given that all the old measures we used in the past are shady and not transparent,” he added.

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