April 21, 2024

Kuwait becomes first country to demand universal DNA tests

Is its goal defeating terrorism or expelling a minority group?

Every country in the world examines your passport before you enter. Kuwait is about to become the first to examine your DNA. All citizens, visitors and expatriates will have to provide DNA samples for a government database.

The ostensible motivation for the Gattaca-like measure is greater security in times of terrorism. But it also gives the government a way to exclude about 10% of Kuwaitis from citizenship and expensive social benefits.

According to the Kuwaiti constitution, citizens must be able to prove that they or their forebears have lived in Kuwait since 1920. If this is strictly applied, about 10% of the Kuwaiti population are not citizens. They are Bidoons–Arabs who didn’t apply for, or didn’t qualify for Kuwaiti citizenship after independence from Britain in 1961. (The name comes from the Arabic words bidoon jinsiya, “without nationality”.) There are an estimated 100,000 of them in Kuwait.

Life for the bidoons is tough. The government regards them as stateless people. As non-citizens their access to social services, including education and health, is limited. The government is even negotiating with Comoros, an impoverished island nation in the Indian Ocean, to grant the bidoons citizenship – which would allow the government to deport them.

According to a report in Fusion, “Essentially, the law will allow the government to restrict access to citizenship based on verifiable bloodlines, while punishing those who skirted the system to get citizenship. The benefits that come with citizenship would be stripped.”

“I think that we reserve the word ‘draconian’ for instances such as this one,” Wafa Ben Hassine, a Tunisia-based legal expert and former Electronic Frontier Foundation fellow, told Fusion. “They went from violating the right to privacy to violating a human being’s right to an education and healthcare.”

“The intention is extraordinarily troubling, but on top of that, it’s important to call into question the science they claim underlies it,” Dr. Debra Mathews, of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, said. “I’m pretty convinced that they can’t do what they say they can do. You can’t look at someone’s DNA and tell definitively whether they are a member of an ethnic group.”

The United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a stinging report earlier this month about Kuwait’s treatment of the bidoons and its plans for a DNA database. This “imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the right to privacy,” it declared. 

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