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U.N. rights panel urges Kuwait to amend broad DNA testing law

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights watchdog called on Kuwait on Friday to amend a counter-terrorism law requiring nationwide compulsory DNA testing, saying that it was disproportionate and violated the right to privacy.

Any testing should be limited to individuals suspected of having committed serious crimes and only after a court order, the 18 independent experts said after reviewing Kuwait’s record in upholding civil and political rights.

In July 2015, Kuwait’s parliament adopted a law put forward by the Interior Ministry to create a DNA registry of Kuwaiti nationals and residents living in the Gulf state. The law, which the panel said also applied to tourists, imposes a one-year prison term and a fine on those who refused to provide samples.

The law “imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the right to privacy”, the U.N. Human Rights Committee said.

“We ... asked them to amend it to ensure that DNA collection is limited, only on the basis of individuals suspected of having committed serious crimes and on the basis of a court order,” panel member Sarah Cleveland told a news briefing.

“Part of the reason the committee is very concerned about it is because of the prospect of copycat laws by other countries,” she said. “It’s certainly the first time our committee has seen such a law.”

Jamal Alghunaim, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva who led the government delegation, told the panel last month that the law was due to terrorist threats. The database could not be disclosed without a necessary court warrant and anyone who did so would be sentenced to three years of prison, he said, according to a U.N. summary.

A year ago Kuwait, home to several U.S. military bases, suffered its deadliest militant attack in decades when a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed Shi’ite mosque, killing 27 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

OPEC member Kuwait, a U.S. ally and neighbor of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is part of a 34-nation alliance announced by Riyadh in December aimed at countering Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

State news agency KUNA said this month Kuwait foiled three planned Islamic State attacks on the country, including a plot to blow up a Shi’ite mosque, after launching raids that resulted in the arrest of militants.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams