Science, Ethics, Identity and Human Rights

The Science, Ethics, Identity and Human Rights (SEIHR) Kenan Creative Collaboratory synergizes scholars, researchers and students in the sciences and humanities to examine a key challenge in the world: the ethical application of scientific technologies for human identification in human rights contexts. The team examines ethically sound processes for human identification in high-risk populations that maximize the investigative utility and minimize risk of privacy violation.


DNA-Human-TraffickingThe overarching goal of this partnership is to connect pioneering research in forensic sciences to social science research in ethics for human identification, using this bridge as a backbone for opening dialogues on policy approaches to employing science for human rights.

We seek to develop a sophisticated understanding of the key challenges for applying scientific technologies in human rights contexts, with an initial focus on DNA identification.

DNA technologies are powerful tools to prevent human trafficking and identify missing persons. While use of DNA for criminal law enforcement purposes is accepted broadly, the application in human rights contexts is fraught with challenges regarding data security, privacy, respect for persons, abuse of power, beneficence, and resource allocation.

These concerns highlight some key contexts for exploring the realities and practicalities of science applications in human rights, while at the same time examining societal impact of technologies on human behavior and interaction.


The primary focus for this project is on the use of DNA in migration, specifically genetic identification applications at the U.S.-Mexico border in identifying human remains and processing family reference samples for missing migrants.

Specifically, we will:

  1. Form a consortium of stakeholders with an interest in human-rights-based identification using technology;
  2. Conduct research on ethical and social challenges associated with identification strategies;
  3. Develop and pilot novel human identification tools for high-risk populations; and
  4. Host cross-disciplinary seminars in science and human rights.

The expected ethics and technology research findings will be key in developing policies and approaches for using DNA as an identifier in refugee and human trafficking contexts.

We welcome new collaborators and stakeholders in human rights, migration, and science.

Seminar Series

Related Team Presentations

Sara Huston Katsanis, project co-director, Duke University, Science & Society Initiative
Seth Faith, project co-director, North Carolina State University, Forensic Sciences Institute

Team Collaborators
Amanda Flaim, Duke, Sanford School for Public Policy
Suzanne Katzenstein, Duke, Duke Human Rights Center at The Kenan Institute for Ethics
Robin Kirk, Faculty Co-Chair, Executive Committee, DHRC@FHI
Ann Ross, NCSU, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Suzanne Shanahan, Duke, The Kenan Institute for Ethics
Dr Chelsey Ann Juarez, NCSU, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Lindsey Snyder, Duke University ‘18
Victoria Grant, Duke University ‘20

External Collaborators
Alexa Barrett, consultant
Cristián Orrego Benavente, University of California at Berkeley
Amy Mundorf, UTK, Department of Anthropology
Tom Parsons, ICMP, Director of Forensic Sciences
Jennifer K Wagner, Geisinger Medical Center

We welcome new collaborators and stakeholders in human rights, migration, and science.

Contact Sara H Katsanis to collaborate or for more information about the project
Register for the SEIHR listserv

Unaccompanied minors: Migrant minors trafficked in Ohio farms Aug 24, 2015 | Fox News Latino
Immigration Biometrics: Eyes wide shut: challenges of humanitarian biometrics Aug 26, 2015 | IRIN
Unidentified remains: Naming the nameless – drowned migrants: Aug 17, 2016 | Reuters
Missing persons: Long wait for families of missing migrants: Aug 31, 2016 | BBC News

Forensic DNA: When DNA implicates the innocent: Jun 1, 2016 | Scientific American
Unaccompanied Minors: UNICEF reports of unaccompanied minors in Europe: Jun 14, 2016 |
Unidentified Remains: Hundreds of unidentified remains in Imperial County: Jun 18, 2016 | LA Times
Unidentified Remains: Analyzing unknown human remains: Jun 20, 2016 | Forensic Magazine
Immigration: Migrant detainees rising to 40,000 in May: Jun 20, 2016 | Breitbart
Refugee Crisis, Unaccompanied Minors: Europe’s refugee crisis: unaccompanied minors:  Jun 27, 2016 | OUPBlog

Unaccompanied Minors: Next ICE raids include Central American children: May 16, 2016 | AZ Central
Forensic DNA: Questions on transparency of forensic DNA: May 17, 2016 | The Atlantic
Immigration: Migration from Central America rising: May 19, 2016 | Devex News
Missing Persons: Global challenge of missing persons: May 20, 2016 | ICMP

Refugee Crisis: Amid Central American violence, refugee rights must be respected: Apr 1, 2016 | LA Times
Immigration: “Illegal alien” swapped for “noncitizen” by Library of Congress: Apr 3, 2016 | IB Times
DNA Immigration: Athens DNA lab helps trace migrants lost at sea on Aegean crossing: Apr 5, 2016 | UNHCR
Unaccompanied Minors: Kids crossing borders – alone: Apr 9, 2016 | Reveal
Unaccompanied Minors: Report on unaccompanied children from Central America: Apr 11, 2016 | Congressional Res Service

Missing Persons: “Identify the Missing” day: Mar 16, 2016 | San Diego Union Tribune
Immigration DNA: Law enforcement turn to private DNA databases: Mar 26, 2016 | The Washington Times
Unaccompanied Minors: Mexico turning child migrants back to face violence in Central America: Mar 31, 2016 | The Guardian

Unaccompanied minors: Drop in migrant minors but raids continue: Feb 4, 2016 | Washington Post
Unaccompanied minors: State Dept budget: Central America a priority: Feb 9, 2016 | SunHerald
Unaccompanied minors: Report on unaccompanied minors: February, 2016 | GAO report
Unaccompanied minors: US agency puts migrant kids at risk: Feb 22, 2016 | Washington Post
Immigration Biometrics: Biometrics in aid & development: Feb 22, 2016 | The Guardian
Immigration: A single question decides migrants’ fate: Feb 25, 2016 | NP

Unaccompanied minors: US deports Central American families: Jan 9, 2016 | WSJ
Immigration Biometrics: Biometric screening at San Diego border: Jan 11, 2016 | NPR
Immigration Biometrics (Spanish): Biometrics in Mexico: Jan 16, 2016 | RT
Missing Persons: Missing woman identified through DNA: Jan 19, 2016 | Seattle PI
Unaccompanied minors: New wave of Central American Migrants: Jan 19, 2016 | Washington Post
Missing Persons (Spanish): Disappearances in Mexico: Jan 27, 2016 | Proceso
Missing Persons: International frameworks for the missing and disappeared: Jan 28, 2016 | ICMP

Unaccompanied minors: US officials report increase in child migrants: Dec 2015 | U.S. Customs and Border Protection
DNA Photofitting: Can DNA predict a face?: Dec 12, 2015 | ScienceNews
Rapid DNA: FBI praises Rapid DNA law: Dec 16, 2015 | BiometricUpdate

US-Mexico Border Crisis: Faces from the Border: Nov 11, 2015 | The New Yorker
Unaccompanied minors: Ohio trafficking of migrant minors: Nov 15,  2015 | LA Times
Unaccompanied minors: Migrant minors on the streets: Nov 24, 2015 | Al Jazeera-America
Unaccompanied minors: Almost 5,000 migrant minors in Nov: Nov 25, 2015 | The Guardian

Unaccompanied minors: New Migration Policy Institute report on migrant minors: Oct 2015 | Migration Policy Institute
DNA Technology: Concerns grow over forensic DNA statistics accuracy: Oct 9, 2015 | NPR
Immigration DNA: DNA testing in U.S. refugee programs: Oct 19, 2015 | Frontline, PBS
Human trafficking: New Polaris Project report on U.S. labor trafficking: Oct 29, 2015 | Polaris

Rapid DNA: DNA program could help spot human traffickers Sep 10, 2015 | KRGV
Unaccompanied minors: Uptick of children crossing the border Sep 21, 2015 | ABC News
Missing Migrants: Texas stakeholders discuss migrant remains Sep 28, 2015 | The Monitor

For more resources, please visit Duke Science & Society.

“The Living Disappeared”, a film by Alexa BarrettDukeBarrettScreeningFlyer5Oct.pptx

What do the scientists who pioneered forensic DNA testing and human trafficking scholars think should be done to identify the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children crossing into the U.S. from Latin America? With firsthand accounts from immigrants who crossed as children and who were kidnapped, stripped naked, smuggled in with coyotes and crossed through the desert, we see the human side of the complex problems of identifying the dead and preventing human trafficking.

20 September 2016 — Global Identity Summit, Tampa FL

27 April 2016 — UC-Berkeley Human Rights Center followed by a panel including Sara Katsanis (Duke), John Tonkyn (CalDOJ) and Henry Erlich (CHORI)

8 December 2015 – American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Washington, DC followed by expert panel discussion including Oscar Martinez, Thomas Parsons, Alexa Barrett, and Sara Katsanis

5 October 2015 – Richard White Auditorium, Duke University East Campus

5 October 2015 – Laboratory Corporation of America, Burlington, NC