Rwanda proposes DNA database for all citizens

Authorities say the DNA database will facilitate pinning criminals, especially in rape, defilement and murder cases.
A senior laboratory specialist prepares DNA testing at the Rwanda Forensic Laboratory on March 19, 2019. The Government is considering creating a DNA and biometric data for all Rwandans, judicial officials have said. Emmanuel Kwizera.

The Government is considering creating a database for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and biometric data for all Rwandans, judicial officials have said.

Authorities say the database will facilitate pinning criminals, especially in rape, defilement and murder cases.

The Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, disclosed this while opening the ‘Justice Week’ in Kigali on Monday.

A technician places test tubes in a machine at Rwanda Forensic Laboratory on March 19, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Jeannot Ruhunga, the Secretary General of Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), said criminal investigation is sometimes delayed by testing the DNA of several suspects before coming to the real culprit.

Both officials said that they need a test of every Rwandan such that in such crimes, they only test the DNA of suspects, which would then be compared to the available DNA data to figure out who the culprit could be.

Workers of Rwanda Forensic Laboratory in job on March 19, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera

“We think we have the technical basis now to launch into the development of a DNA database. That said, it is, first of all, a legal process. We will examine global best practice on the issue, propose appropriate law and implement accordingly,” Busingye noted.

Rwanda, he said, is investing in forensic science to ultimately cub crime by forensic evidence that proves beyond doubt who is who in a crime.

“We have come a long way in science and I want to assure you that the ultimate goal is to have all the necessary equipment and technical knowhow to provide accurate information about who is responsible for the crime,” he said.

While the minister did not specify the timelines for setting up the database, he said securing the financial resources and seeking legalisation through parliament were some of the steps to be undertaken.

The New Times understands that government is in the processing of identifying a partner (s) to help with the project ahead of tabling the proposal in parliament.

Is it ethical and legal?

Dr Jean Nyirinkwaya told The New Times that whether this is ethical or not depends on how the society perceives the idea, but argued that it is something that requires debate before implementation.

“That is a sensitive and critical idea that requires thorough debate. Government should give ample time for people to think about what that would mean for them. Generally, ethics is something relative, so it’s up to people to decide, which depends on how advanced the society is. But definitely people need liberty,” he said.

Nyirinywaya added that this is also a costly investment that the country might want to look into before taking a decision.

Globally, there is no country that has managed to get DNA tests of its entire population and there is still a lot of debate regarding privacy of people, especially on collecting and processing DNA data as well as how data is used, shared and retained.

Athanase Rutabingwa, an advocate based in Kigali, said the proposal to collect DNA tests is a great idea.

“The idea itself is a good one in terms of security and in terms of combating crimes here and there, both in the country and even beyond. The issue is the right to the examination of one’s physical body, this always has to be voluntary,” he noted.

Rutabingwa said the law currently says that nobody would be subjected to forced examination of his body unless it is a legal requirement, for instance, in case of rape case where there is need for approval that someone is a suspect in that case.

However, Rutabingwa added, under normal circumstances there is no way you can take someone’s DNA test.

“That is against the law.”

Even in the possible scenario of legalising it – the way the Government proposes to do it through parliament – he highlighted that there are international conventions that Rwanda has signed and is party to, which prevail over domestic laws.

He mentioned, among others, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations (UN).

Last year, Rwanda established Rwanda Forensic Laboratory, which has the capacity to conduct DNA tests in the country.

Since its establishment, more than 400 DNA tests have been carried out for crime investigations or families seeking to verify the real parents of their children.

A DNA test for two parents and a child currently stands at Rwf257,032 at Rwanda Forensic Laboratory.

This means that conducting DNA tests for all Rwandans – based on the current population of 12 million – would cost over Rwf1 trillion, nearly half of the country’s annual budget for the 2018/19 fiscal year.

This is besides other expenses.

Before the establishment of Rwanda Forensic Laboratory, forensic evidence could be sought from outside the country where about 100 samples could be taken to foreign forensic laboratories.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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