KARACHI: Police authorities have proposed to the Sindh government to prepare DNA database to identify missing persons and unclaimed bodies, as two forensic labs have recently been established in the province, according to officials and documents reviewed by Dawn on Friday.

“Counter-Terrorism Department [of police] has suggested a mechanism to the home department for identification of dead bodies and missing persons through DNA samples,” confirmed CTD chief Additional IG Dr Sanaullah Abbasi.

This proposal was also submitted to the Sindh High Court registrar, as the bench dealing with missing persons had earlier directed the provincial government to chalk out a strategy to trace the missing persons, said the officer.

Dr Abbasi said it was alarming to note that in a period of eight years, Edhi Foundation had buried over 58,000 unclaimed bodies in the country from 2005 to 2012. It buries over 100 unclaimed bodies in Karachi on a monthly basis.

Around 58,000 unclaimed bodies buried across country from 2005 to 2012

Besides, the number of people disappearing amid mysterious circumstances in Sindh rose to more than 270, said a senior official of the home department who wished not to be named.

The official said that some of them had been missing since 2010.

The CTD chief said that the DNA database would help in solving cases related to unclaimed bodies and missing persons.

Officials said that a meeting of the provincial task force was recently held in which the proposal was deliberated upon to identify unclaimed bodies and also as one of the options to trace missing persons.

Grim task

The Edhi Foundation and the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee have been carrying out the daunting task of identifying the city’s unclaimed bodies.

According to the Edhi Foundation, a record number of 58,261 unclaimed and abandoned bodies had been buried by the charity organisation between 2005 and 2012 in the country.

However, the documents reviewed by Dawn said: “The extent of the problem can be gauged from the fact that no single figure or even a close estimate of the total unidentified bodies recovered and later identified is available with any department of the government.”

The Edhi Foundation buried 12,561 unclaimed bodies in 2005 alone, while the charity organisation buried 4,819 bodies in 2006, 6,611 in 2007, 6,692 in 2008, 6,491 in 2009, 6,493 in 2010, 7,854 in 2011 and 6,738 in 2012.

The Edhi Foundation also claimed that they used to bury more than 100 unclaimed bodies a month in Karachi during this period.

‘Shanakth project’

With the recent initiative of the CPLC that had established ‘Shanakth project’ at the Edhi and Chhipa morgues, a number of unclaimed bodies had been identified since October 2015 but a huge number still remained unidentified, officials said.

Till April 1, the CPLC desks processed cases of 932 and 913 bodies as per record of Edhi and Chhipa, respectively, through Nadra link. Of them, 432 bodies (46pc) at the Edhi morgue and 531 bodies (58pc) at the Chhipa morgue were identified.

The CPLC’s own record till April 20 showed that they had processed cases of 1,898 bodies for identification purpose. Out of them, 1,067 bodies (56pc) were identified, according to the documents reviewed by Dawn.

The CTD officials said that the CPLC and the charity organisation used the national database and Nadra biometric data to identify the unclaimed bodies but it did not work in certain cases such as bomb blasts and fires in which fingerprints are lost. The issue of identification of such victims could be resolved through DNA samples only, the officials believed.

Dr Abbasi told Dawn that they had proposed the establishment of DNA database on the basis of a research on modern techniques of DNA analysis, including the study of procedures of DNA sampling adopted by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) of the National Institute of Justice, the US.

With recent establishment of DNA forensic and molecular biology laboratory at the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences and a forensic microbiological laboratory at Chandka Medical College, the police were already using DNA sampling in specific criminal cases such as rape or murder in the province.

“In order to maintain a record of unidentified bodies, which can be effectively used to trace out the relatives even after burial, DNA sampling of all unidentified bodies ought to be made compulsory,” the CTD suggested.

Besides, the CTD said, a DNA database of unclaimed bodies should be maintained separately at the forensic and molecular laboratories. It was recommended to the authorities that in order to identity unclaimed bodies, the laboratory should maintain two separate lists comprising DNA samples of all unidentified bodies and DNA samples of blood relatives of missing persons.

The police also proposed that DNA database at the labs should be integrated with the CPLC software already being used for cross verification through Nadra system to ensure quick and timely disposal of the cases.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2017

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