Rwanda has proposed the world’s first country-wide DNA database, a project that will involve collecting samples from all of the country’s 12 million citizens in an effort to crack down on crime.
The scheme has prompted concerns from human rights campaigners who believe the database could be misused by the government and violate international human rights laws.
Plans for the database were announced by Rwanda’s Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye.
Speaking in the country’s capital, Kigali, he said the project would help to fight crimes like rape and murder.
He said: “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.”
He added: “I want to assure you that the ultimate goal is to have all the necessary equipment and technical know-how to provide accurate information about who is responsible for crime”.
Officials still need to secure a budget for the project and push legislation through parliament to permit the creation of the database, according to the Rwandan daily The New Times.
Human rights organisations are wary of the new scheme as they believe that the government could potentially misuse DNA data, which can reveal a broad range of intimate medical and genetic details.
Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, global programme lead at the charity Privacy International, said: “There is an inherent risk that this kind of database could be misused in the future.”
“Around the world we have seen instances where large sets of data have been misused for repression – allowing authorities to identify and profile groups in society that a government might want to locate.”
The retention of this data is also problematic from a legal point of view and, depending on its implementation, could violate legislation set out in the International Bill of Human Rights, according to the UK-based law reform group Justice.
Rwanda is still suffering from tensions in the wake of the 1994 genocide when 800,000 Rwandans were killed in just a hundred days, after the country’s Hutu political elite directed the mass murder of the country’s Tutsi population.
It is estimated that 70 per cent of the country’s Tutsi population were killed in the genocide.
Though officials want Rwanda to be the first country to have a comprehensive DNA database that documents all of the country’s citizens – several other nations have already started to implement large-scale DNA databases.
Elsewhere there are concerns that the Chinese government is using DNA testing to oppress the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority.
Researchers believe more than a million Uighurs are being systematically detained in what China calls “re-education” camps.
China’s Xinjiang government has denied that it used its medical programme to make a DNA database and also denies that Uighurs are being detained without due process.
In 2015 Kuwait passed the world’s first law that required all citizens and visitors to submit samples of their DNA, but it was revoked before it came into force.
It was introduced with the aim of identifying terrorists but, in 2017, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the law violated Kuwait’s constitutional guarantee of personal liberty.
Human rights groups say that that China has built up a vast DNA database of Uighurs living in Xinjiang province, collecting samples without consent from nearly 36 million people as part of a free medical check-ups programme.
In 2014 Chinese researchers published a paper describing how to distinguish Uighurs from other ethnic groups