For immediate release on 9 April 2019
Stop collecting and destroy DNA samples collected from those registered for military conscription in southern border provinces
Since 1 April 2019, Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) has received several reports that DNA samples have been collected from those registered for this year’s annual military conscription in the three Southern Border Provinces (SBPs) including Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and four districts in Songkhla including Chana, Nathawee, Saba Yoi and Tepha. According to the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command’s Peace Operations Center, these DNA records will be added to the security database, which will then be used to facilitate investigation of insurgencies in the region.
CrCF has undertaken a fact-finding mission in Yala and Pattani and learned about the process of such DNA-collecting activities. According to the information received, security officers employed the buccal swab method to obtain DNA samples from the cells on the inside of the cheek of military conscripts in the SBPs. These samples are stored in paper boxes on which names of the DNA owners are written. The conscripts will then be asked to sign their names on the box to certify their ownership of the DNA sample. It must be noted that all the conscripts are requested to sign a consent form prior to this process.
According to many of CrCF’s local interlocutors, the authorities failed to inform them as to how their DNA samples would be used for, how they would be processed, who or which agencies shall keep the samples, how to keep them, or who would have access to and be able to use their DNA samples. Most of them expressed their concerns about the lack of measures to prevent misuse of their DNA samples, i.e., abuse of such forensic evidence to convict them criminally. Despite their suspicion and reluctance, most of them did not know that they had the right to refuse to participate in DNA collection and, therefore, decided to give their consent without having adequate information. Moreover, some of them dared not refuse to cooperate out of a misunderstanding that DNA collection is a lawful process or out of fear of the authorities.
Based on these facts, Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) has the following concerns:
The collection of DNA samples constitutes an unlawful act that violates the right to bodily autonomy and privacy. That the DNA samples are kept in boxes with names of the DNA owners could enable unauthorized persons to have access to such DNA information. According to the information received, there is no transparent mechanism in place to ensure that the DNA samples will not be misused or used with biases to incriminate the DNA owners wrongfully.
This method of DNA collection raises questions regarding the possibilities of breaching the Chain of Custody (CoC). Normally, this process should only be conducted by authorized and professional agencies regulated under a rigid code of ethics. Such agencies should be independent and have put in place measures to control access, transfer, retrieval, and preservation of the DNA samples. These samples will be used in court as evidence in national security-related cases that can result in severe punishments including the death penalty. Therefore, the authorities have to adhere strictly to the principles when handling the DNA samples.
The authorities must not distort legal facts to threaten those who refuse to give their DNA samples. On April 5, a high-ranked security officer has informed the media that “For those who refuse to allow the DNA testing, please bear in mind a legal provision. According to Section 131/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the inquiry officials are invested with powers to prove the guilt of alleged offenders. If the alleged offenders refuse to allow a DNA testing, it could be presumed that the fact is in line with the outcome of the analysis of which, if having been held, would be noxious toward such alleged offenders. If you refuse to allow the test, it means you are a perpetrator. If you are innocent, why would you not allow the test?” The statement is a distortion of the law. In fact, DNA collection can only commence after the commission of an alleged offense. Moreover, it has to be conducted by a competent inquiry official who has the powers to inquire a suspect in criminal cases per the Criminal Procedure Code Section 131/1. Those who register for military conscription are ordinary and innocent citizens, not criminal suspects. Collecting their DNA information and adding it to the security database constitutes an unnecessary and disproportionate use of power. By disseminating such false information, the authorities are instigating fear among the local population in the SBPs and employing it to justify their abuse of power. Such an act is considered a gross violation of human rights that must end.
Apart from being unlawful, the DNA collection of those registering for military conscription has only been conducted exclusively in the SBPs. It could give an impression that this is an act of discrimination by creating a negative stereotype that people in this region are potential criminals that must be treated with suspicion. Such practice is incompatible with the fair treatment of citizens and the presumption of Innocence, which is a fundamental principle in domestic and constitutional laws in Thailand.
CrCF believes that the state has key duties to bring about solutions to the conflict in the SBPs in order to restore peace. Undeniably, such duties also include bringing to justice the perpetrators engaged in armed violence that destroys lives and properties. To achieve these goals, the state needs to gain the trust and cooperation from the local people, which will be possible only if they respect human rights principles and operate lawfully.
As explained above, the collection of DNA samples from those registering for military conscription subjects the local people to unfair discrimination and perpetuates negative stereotypes of them as potential insurgents and perpetrators of armed violence. Thus, this type of operation inevitably results in great fear and anxiety among the locals that the DNA samples will be misused against them. CrCF is concerned that this practice will eventually deplete trust the people have in the state.
Therefore, CrCF urges all relevant government authorities to respect the right to bodily autonomy and privacy of those registering for military conscription and adhere to the rule of law and transparency. They should stop collecting more DNA samples and destroy the ones that have already been collected.
9 April 2019
For more information, please contact Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), phone 02-1015481