Posts Tagged ‘human rights’


DNA Designed for Human Rights

Tue, Oct 20th, 2015

In May, human traffickers prevented thousands of Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya migrants from entering Thailand and Malaysia, despite extreme abuses aboard the ships including sexual assault of children and homicide. In April, thousands of northern Africans fled Libya to cross the Mediterranean, resulting in thousands ending up at the bottom of the sea. Last summer, extreme gang violence forced a surge of Central American children to migrate unaccompanied through Mexico and into the U.S. And in April 2014, the world was shocked by the brutal kidnapping of hundreds of young Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram.

Exploitation of vulnerable people around the world is a continuing reality, and unlikely to be resolved with any single effort. But measures can be taken to provide resources and assistance to address these human rights abuses. In the world of forensic sciences, this can include identification of displaced or deceased persons, and the reunification of children with their biological relatives.

Mass disasters and terrorist attacks in the last decade or so have helped to refine genetic technologies and tools necessary for kinship analysis, especially in challenged samples, advancing human rights efforts in post-mortem identification and verification of biological relationships. Improved technologies have enabled, for example, post-conflict identification efforts of victims in mass graves following several wars over the last 70 years.

However, we see few examples of our grand genomic technologies being applied to living vulnerable persons at-risk or suffering from human rights abuses, like orphans displaced by Argentina’s Dirty War, for example. The abuses we have witnessed in the past 18 months—and more are expected to come—deserve the attention and application of our refined sciences, and a cohesive response from the forensic community, armed with technology to apply the appropriate tools given the context of the crisis and the specific vulnerabilities of the population.

Valiant efforts have already been made to pilot DNA applications to high-risk populations and human trafficking cases. Five years ago, Forensic Magazine highlighted DNA-PROKIDS, a collaboration between the University of Granada and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI), which has provided resources, database technology and training to multiple nations in need of kinship analysis for child trafficking cases. UNTCHI also has partnered with Dallas law enforcement agencies to collect DNA of at-risk sex workers as a pre-emptive, post-mortem identification program.

Project KARE has operated a similar program in Edmonton, Alberta since 2003, collecting thousands of samples from sex workers.7 Forensic Magazine also covered the pilot efforts that have been made to explore the technical feasibility of using DNA in high-risk populations and for identification of missing persons, mass disasters and deceased migrants.

Stemming from these efforts and others, several human identification databases now exist or are under development to enable post-mortem identification in high-risk populations—some that parallel, compliment or are entirely independent of CODIS. Database-sharing tools and strategies that respect jurisdictional boundaries, minimize privacy intrusions and maximize identification results must be developed and shared with the forensic community. It is imperative that efforts of stakeholders at all levels work together to have the greatest efficiency and effect…

… To read the full article by Sara Katsanis, please click here.

SOURCE: This article was first published by Forensic Magazine on 25 September 2015.