Why Does Kuwait Want Your DNA?

The Government of Kuwait is preparing to enact a law passed last year that would require all residents and visitors of the country to submit DNA samples. The DNA will be stored in a facility operated by the General Department of Criminal Evidence for an unknown range of potential applications. The international human rights and scientific communities have expressed deep concern over the policy, calling it a radical and unwarranted invasion of privacy. With no precedent for the potential uses of such a database, the government has claimed it will strictly be used for fighting crime and terrorism.  NGOs worry that the government is instead using the screen of fighting terrorism to enforce ethnic standards for citizenship, which has been a de facto policy in the country for decades.

Since 1960, the resident population of Kuwait has grown from 262,000 to 3,892,100. Today, merely 30% of that population are actually Kuwaiti citizens; the rest are expatriates, migrant laborers, or stateless. In order for an individual to gain Kuwaiti citizenship, they typically have to prove that their ethnic heritage dates back to the region in the early 20th century. This policy creates major problems for the Bidoon population, a group of approximately 110,000 stateless residents. Bidoon lack citizenship primarily because their ancestors failed to register themselves when the country became independent. Many NGOs worry that this DNA database will create a one step process for disqualifying those who appeal for their right to nationality, despite having lived in the country since its formation.

Enforced statelessness is a major issue throughout the Gulf region. Discrimination and the lack of official citizenship creates insurmountable obstacles for stateless people to live normal, productive lives. Without the proper documentation, many are barred from attending school, receiving medical treatment, traveling abroad, owning property, and working in both public and private sector jobs. Kuwaiti officials often advocate for deportation policies that would see millions forced out of the country, but many of these people have nowhere to go. One plan gaining traction in the country would send Kuwait’s stateless to Comoros, an island nation half the size of Rhode Island where the GDP per capita is around $810. In the past, the Kuwaiti government has offered stateless activists a choice between deportation to Comoros or lifelong imprisonment.

Being able to register and categorize the genetic information of Kuwait’s entire population creates a dangerous opportunity for the government to identify groups such as the Bidoon for deportation. The progression of this law comes as some MPs are already calling for the “sorting” of expatriates to identify who should or should not be allowed to stay. The former UN special rapporteur on the rights of non-citizens, David Weissbrodt, wrote in his book The Human Rights of Non-Citizens, “At the very least, a person should be eligible for the citizenship of the country with which she or he has the closest link or connection.” The Kuwaiti government must respect people’s right to be citizens of their homeland and refrain from violating the privacy of millions to create genetic exceptions.

Graham Pough is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB