Kyrgyz Republic Takes New Step Towards International Accreditation of its Forensic Services with UNODC, INL support

Since 2014, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), have been working together to strengthen forensic services in the Kyrgyz Republic.

One of the main goals of UNODC and INL’s joint initiative is to support the Kyrgyz Republic’s forensic laboratories to acquire international accreditation in line with ISO 17025 - the main international standard containing general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. This standard is applied by laboratories to develop and implement their management system for quality, administrative and technical operations with the goal of improving their ability to produce valid results.

Accreditation is a formal recognition of the competence demonstrated by a laboratory in line with the relevant international standards. As part of accreditation, an independent evaluation is carried out by conformity assessment bodies signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Corporation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Arrangement to ensure that the international standard requirements are fulfilled at all stages including sampling, storage, laboratory analysis, data analysis and interpretation of results. An incentive for a laboratory to become accredited is minimizing the risks that the quality of its test results can be called into question.

To support preparations for international accreditation, UNODC facilitated the establishment of a framework for cooperation between the State Forensic Service (SFS) of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Levan Samkharauli National Forensic Bureau (NFB) of Georgia. The basis for this mentoring relationship was laid in 2014 when an initial needs assessment of the SFS was conducted by a group of NFB experts, which generated targeted recommendations relating to arrangements for the SFS to get prepared for international accreditation. The NFB itself had obtained international accreditation with INL support and was thus well placed to share its experience.

Based on an action plan developed following the initial needs assessment, UNODC rolled out a set of training and capacity building activities aimed at putting in place the basic requirements for the SFS to work towards international accreditation in line with international standards for forensic services. The first phase of the UNODC/INL project, which finished in 2017, supported the opening of new, modern premises and laboratory space for the SFS. When the new premises were ready, the next phase of the UNODC/INL project was launched, which supported further improvement of the infrastructure, equipping its laboratory space with advanced technologies, training of experts and other steps to bring its services in line with international standards and best practice.

Since 2015, SFS forensic experts have been participating in the UNODC International Collaborative Exercises (ICE) of the International Quality Assurance Program with results achieved qualifying the SFS drug testing laboratory as one of the best in the Central Asian region. The UNODC/INL support helped launch the process of developing a quality management system. As part of this joint effort, the post of Quality Manager was introduced in the staffing table of the SFS and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for selected types of forensic examinations drafted.     

In February 2020, UNODC and INL facilitated an exchange visit of SFS experts to Georgia. Along with a visit to the NFB, SFS experts got acquainted with the work of the Forensic Criminalistics Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. Meetings and demonstrations were organized in all laboratories with further practical workshops in those laboratories chosen by the SFS for international accreditation, including handwriting analysis, technical expertise of documents, drug testing and ballistics. 

During the visit to the NFB Criminalistics, Forensic Chemistry and Biology Departments, the SFS experts familiarized themselves with the procedures followed at the ultra-modern laboratories, which meet the requirements of international standards. The NFB is accredited in compliance with the ISO 17025 standard and operates in line with international forensic practice. The Bureau is a member of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutions (ENFSI), a leading international network of forensic organizations. The operation of the Bureau encompasses about 500 traditional and nontraditional examinations. The Bureau employs more than 400 qualified professionals, who are consistently trained and update their skills at various leading forensic institutions around the world.

NFB experts shared a wide range of practices in integrating approaches to comply with the requirements of international standards through workshops and in-depth discussions with their counterparts from Kyrgyzstan. The Georgian experts provided insights into methods and equipment used to manage a huge volume of demand for forensic examinations coming from criminal justice providers as well as ordinary consumers. More than 96,000 forensic examinations were carried out by the NFB experts in 2019 , which became possible due to the quality management system and standard operating procedures (SOPs) incorporated by the Bureau.

At the Forensic Criminalistics Department (FCD) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, local experts delivered a seminar for the Kyrgyz delegation on the main requirements of ISO 17025 as the international standard for testing and calibration laboratories. For forensic laboratories, it represents a set of requirements to show that they operate a quality management system which make them technically competent to conduct forensic examinations. The Kyrgyz delegation also had the opportunity to familiarise itself with the FCD’s centralised storage facility with appropriate conditions to safely store and ensure the safe chain of custody of submitted evidence.

A new office of the FCD was opened in December 2019 and currently accommodates 20 modern labs, including a DNA lab. Besides forensics laboratories, the new building of the Department offers a ballistic shooting range, special repositories, working spaces, an exhibition space and a recreation area.

Following the exchange visit, both Georgian forensic institutions will start providing targeted support to the SFS by sharing their best practice of forensic examination and implementation of the quality management system to comply with international standards. A Memorandum of Understanding between the SFS and Georgian counterparts is being prepared to document and formalize this new partnership in the sphere of forensic science services. In this way, the SFS has taken a step forward on its path to obtaining international accreditation. To complete the process, the SFS will have to apply for accreditation to a conformity assessment body signatory to the ILAC and after that an independent review/audit is to be carried out to confirm the SFS competence in line with the ISO 17025 international standard. This process is to be completed in the year to come.