DNA proposals in South Africa ‘violate rights of the innocent’

by jeeg 13. June 2013 21:17

Latest version of law to create DNA database criticised for having provisions that violate human rights of innocent persons

WHILE the latest version of a law to create a DNA database has been welcomed as an improvement on the 2009 version, it has been criticised for having provisions that violate the human rights of innocent persons.

The Criminal Law Forensic Procedures Bill seeks to allow the police and medical personnel to take body samples from a wide range of persons to develop a DNA profile and to use the profiles to populate a DNA database.

The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative, an international nongovernmental organisation, said in a submission to Parliament’s police committee that "the use of DNA profiling in criminal investigations can bring benefits to society by helping to solve crimes and assisting in the enforcement of the rule of law. However, the storage of DNA collected from individuals and the inclusion of computerised DNA profiles on computer databases raises important human rights concerns."

The previous version of the bill was withdrawn from Parliament following an outcry over its provisions that critics claimed violated human rights.

Jeremy Gruber, on behalf of the Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative, said: "Collection of DNA from individuals convicted of violent crimes such as murder and rape — crimes which have both an increased likelihood of repeat offense and DNA left at the crime scene — are generally accepted by most countries as sufficient justification for including such populations on a DNA database.

"The bill sets out to include a wide variety of pre-convicted categories of persons including individuals arrested, on bail or summonsed for an offence."

He added: "Collecting the DNA of individuals yet to be convicted of a crime, many of whom will never be convicted and some of whom are known to be innocent at the time but whose DNA is collected because they are part of a suspicious group is a serious intrusion into the privacy and human rights of the public."

Legal Aid SA said in its submission that "the all-inclusiveness of pre-convicted persons remains an unequal and arbitrary invasion of an individual’s privacy, especially as an accused person is presumed to be innocent until convicted by a competent court. It is therefore proposed that the taking of samples for DNA testing should be limited to persons accused of schedule 1 offences."

Wyndham Hartley, Business Day South Africa


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