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China amassing DNA samples from entire Tibetan populations for its grassroots-level policing system

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(TibetanReview.net, Sep05’22) – While collecting DNA samples for the purpose of investigating serious crimes under specific court orders is an established practice for the purpose of determining the perpetrators thereof, China is collecting such samples throughout occupied Tibet, even from kindergarten children, said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new report Sep 5.

DNA samples are collected also for the purpose of scientific research with specific consent from the subject thereof.

However, new evidences shows a systematic DNA collection drive by China for entire populations across Tibet as part of a “crime detection” drive. What is more, the group said, “There is no publicly available evidence suggesting people can decline to participate or that police have credible evidence of criminal conduct that might warrant such collection.”

The mass collection for such a purpose is a serious human rights violation in that it “cannot be justified as necessary or proportionate,” the report said.

The DNA collection drives was stated to have begun in 2019 under a policing campaign called the “three greats” (inspection, investigation and mediation), designed to strengthen China’s intensive grassroots-level policing system. The report was also stated to have cited two government tenders for the construction of local DNA databases in 2019.

The report is based on publicly available police and state media publications. HRW has identified drives in 14 distinct localities across every prefecture-level region in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), including one whole prefecture, two counties, two towns, two townships and seven villages. It also detected some collection drives on Tibetan regions outside the TAR.

HRW also cited a January official report as saying police had described efforts in Chonggye county (in Lhokha City) to conduct information registration and DNA collection. “No village must be omitted from a township, no household must be omitted from a village, and no person must be omitted from a household,” the report was quoted as saying.

Samples were stated to have been taken from all residents of some villages, including those as young as five, or of all male residents.

Likewise, in April, police in Nyemo county, Lhasa municipality, were reported to have collected DNA from entire classes of children at three kindergartens, with no suggestion in the publicly available reports that parents were involved in the consent process.

The report said that the stated purpose of “crime detection” didn’t appear to be legitimate or proportionate, or in the child’s best interests, and that the extraction of DNA in a school setting without the consent of caregivers or an apparent option to refuse was a violation of the children’s privacy.

Chinese police have claimed to have explained “the necessity and importance of DNA samples collected by the public security organs” and thereby “promptly eliminated the doubts and concerns of the masses and obtained the support and understanding of the collected persons.”

HRW noted that government DNA collection was sometimes justified as an investigative tool but must be “comprehensively regulated, narrow in scope and proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal”.

“DNA information is highly sensitive and can facilitate a wide array of abuses if collected or shared non-consensually. Hence, any compelled collection or government use is a “serious intrusion on the right to privacy”, it said.

“Coercing people to give blood samples, or taking blood samples without informed, meaningful and freely given consent or justification, can violate an individual’s privacy, dignity and right to bodily integrity.”

The report noted that the TAR campaign was similar in scope to DNA collection drives in Xinjiang, which targeted communities en masse rather than individual cohorts of concern, such as recently released prisoners, as occurred elsewhere in China.

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