Falun Gong practitioners enact 'live organ harvesting' in a protest in Hong Kong. The China Tribunal found evidence that China’s former president Jiang Zemin issued written orders to harvest organs from followers. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A growing number of voices are calling for an international investigation into the root causes of the coronavirus pandemic, and many hold the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime responsible for its cover-up, its silencing of whistleblowers and its lack of transparency about the real death toll and infection rates.
But if we are to hold the Chinese regime accountable for its actions in relation to the pandemic, there is another healthcare-related atrocity which we should not ignore: reports of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
Last month the China Tribunal, an independent body established in 2018 in London, published its final judgment. Its conclusions are damning, its opening words chilling. The judgment begins: “For over a decade the People’s Republic of China has stood publicly accused of acts of cruelty and wickedness that match the cruelty and wickedness of medieval torturers and executioners. If the accusations are true, then thousands of innocent people have been killed to order having their bodies — the physical integrity of their beings — cut open while still alive for their kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, cornea and skin to be removed and turned into commodities for sale.”
This independent people’s tribunal, chaired by the barrister who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, was established with a mandate to ask the very question: are these horrific allegations true, and if so what does it mean in international law? The seven-member panel, consisting of four experienced lawyers from different jurisdictions, an eminent medical expert, an academic and a businessman, had no prior involvement in or knowledge of the issue of organ harvesting and only one had specific China expertise, so no one can accuse them of being campaigners, activists or — worse — China bashers. They were truly independent and exercised their skills to assess the evidence presented to them. They were supported by counsel who similarly had no prior China agenda, and they consulted two other independent legal experts.
In December 2018, the tribunal issued an interim judgment which said that based on the evidence they had been presented with, they were “certain — unanimously and sure beyond reasonable doubt — that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.” But in publishing an interim judgment, they invited evidence to the contrary and gave the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the opportunity to put its case. That invitation, as with five other requests to Beijing to engage with the inquiry, was met with silence.
In June 2019, the final summary judgment was published, which reiterated the conclusion that forced organ harvesting has been perpetrated, and concluded that it amounts to a crime against humanity. Those who engage with the CCP regime, the judgment argued, must do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state.”
Falun Gong targeted
The full judgment published last month runs to 160 pages, but with appendices including all written evidence totals 562 pages. It provides a detailed account of how the tribunal came to its conclusions. It cites undercover telephone calls that indicate that China’s former president Jiang Zemin issued written orders to harvest organs specifically from practitioners of Falun Gong Buddha-school spirituality, and telephone calls in which doctors from leading Chinese transplant hospitals appear to admit that organs from Falun Gong practitioners are available. It heard from 28 witnesses who shared their personal experience of events related to organ harvesting, received a further 16 written witness statements and studied thousands of pages of further reading material from experts. All of this is published on the tribunal’s website.
Two of the central questions for China, which the tribunal asks, are how to explain the discrepancy between the number of transplant operations carried out in the country versus the number of registered donors, and how to explain the availability of matched organs for patients within astonishingly short timeframes.
“Very large numbers of transplant operations have been carried out in the PRC,” the final judgment notes. “The tribunal assesses as credible numbers of operations between 60,000 and 90,000 per annum in the years 2000-2014. This, when compared to the number of eligible registered donors, which by 2017 had risen to 5,146, leaves an incomprehensible gap.”
Furthermore, “to achieve the numbers of transplants performed — before and since 2017, the year of most recent estimate — there must have existed another source or other sources of tissue-typed organs.” The tribunal concludes that “hospitals in the PRC have had access to a population of donors whose organs could be extracted according to demand for them.”
Based on the evidence, the tribunal adds, “forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC and on multiple occasions for a period of at least 20 years and continues to this day.”
While it stops short of concluding genocide, the tribunal “has no doubt whatsoever that physical acts have been carried out that are indicative of the crime of genocide,” specifically against Falun Gong and the Uyghurs. And it is in no doubt that forced organ harvesting constitutes crimes against humanity. It is, in the tribunal’s judgment, “the greatest possible breach of a person’s human rights” and one of the world’s “worst atrocities committed” in modern times.
On Feb. 29, China trumpeted a major medical breakthrough — a double lung transplant operation on a coronavirus victim in an emergency situation. The performance of lung transplantations due to the Covid-19 lung infection amid the pandemic, with a very short waiting time for the donors’ lungs, raises high suspicions regarding the source of these organs. Serious questions need to be asked about how a donor was found so rapidly.
Since then at least three other double lung transplant operations have been reported, with waiting times of a matter of a few days. Again, how is this possible? For a double lung transplant, not only do you need to match blood and tissue but also the physical size of the donor with the recipient. While they vary, in most parts of the world waiting times would be expected to be between three and six months at least — not a few days. So, the Chinese authorities must be asked the question again: how has it been possible to source and perform double lung transplants so quickly?
The tragedy is that, amidst all the other death and destruction caused by Covid-19, it is likely to boost the grim organ-harvesting trade in China. Seriously ill Covid-19 patients often report organ failure, especially with the liver, and so demand for organs will rise. The world cannot ignore the China Tribunal’s judgment any longer.
Making China accountable
So, what should be done? There are a number of avenues to be pursued. The tribunal notes that one route could be for the UN General Assembly to request from the International Court of Justice an advisory opinion on whether forced organ harvesting in China constitutes genocide, against Falun Gong, the Uyghurs or any other targeted population. China would not have to consent to this request — it would be a question of whether enough member states in the General Assembly had the courage to pass a resolution on this.
The principle of “Responsibility to Protect” — established by the UN in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity — could be invoked, requiring governments to intervene to stop these crimes. Of course, this is restricted by China’s veto power on the UN Security Council, but even calling for it would help alert the international community to the gravity of the charges.
The UN Human Rights Council could consider the matter and perhaps mandate a special rapporteur to investigate forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in the PRC. China’s recent appointment to the Human Rights Council’s Consultative Group, which oversees the selection of the UN’s human rights mandate holders, hampers this, but it may be worth pursuing.
International bodies should urge China to permit an international, independent inspection team that can do unannounced, unrestricted visits to investigate. If they have nothing to hide, why say no? The reality is that we know they will reject this but once again it will help further highlight the issue.
Other options proposed in the tribunal’s judgment include asserting universal criminal jurisdiction powers in domestic courts or permitting individual plaintiffs to file civil legal actions.
Targeted Magnitsky sanctions, now introduced in legislation in several countries, could be imposed on officials in the Chinese regime responsible for organ harvesting as well as for the Covid-19 cover-up, as proposed by Canada’s former justice minister Irwin Cotler. And just as Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo bravely called on the CCP regime to apologize and compensate the world for Covid-19, so we should call for an act of contrition for the barbaric crime of forced organ harvesting.
Medical institutions with links to those in China engaged in organ transplantation should study the tribunal judgment and consider severing such partnerships. Medical experts — both practitioners and academics — should cease exchanges with those in China working in the transplantation field. The World Health Organization — currently under increasing fire for its relationship with the CCP — and the Transplantation Society should completely review their position and be held to account.
And there is a role for the general public to pressure their governments to take these allegations seriously and act — and, in addition, for the ordinary citizen to exercise their own boycott of goods from a regime which the tribunal describes as “a criminal state.”
While some governments are studying the tribunal’s judgment and a growing number of parliamentarians around the world have been speaking out, governments have so far shown a shocking reluctance to act. Maybe Covid-19 — for all the suffering it is causing — is a wake-up call. At the very least, the body of evidence assembled by the China Tribunal must not sit on a shelf gathering dust. If there is to be, as some have advocated, a “reckoning” with the CCP regime after this pandemic, the charges of organ harvesting must be taken into account in that reckoning.
Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is co-founder and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and founder and chairman of Hong Kong Watch. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.