Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience Held in Britain

Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience Held in Britain

On December 10th the China Tribunal, an Independent People’s Tribunal, announced an interim judgement, that they were “certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt that organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has taken place on a substantial scale.” The announcement coincided with Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The China Tribunal, which was established to inquire into “Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China,” is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, the lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Sir Geoffrey is joined by a panel of six with backgrounds in international law, medicine, business, international relations and Chinese history and assisted by Mr Hamid Sabi, Legal Counsel to the Tribunal, who draws on expertise from his experience with the Iran Tribunal.

The tribunal, established by ETAC (The International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China), was commissioned with a clear and direct mandate to operate independently and investigate what criminal offenses, if any, have been committed by state or state-approved bodies, organizations or individuals in China that may have engaged in forced organ harvesting.

Preceding the announcement were three full days of public hearings in London where witnesses, investigators and experts were invited to formally testify and answer questions so that their accounts could be fully and independently investigated. A total of 30 testimonies were heard, including accounts of prisoners of conscience who had received organ screening and blood testing while incarcerated in China’s prison systems.

During the tribunal hearings closing remarks, Sir Geoffrey outlined the panel’s conclusion that there have been multiple breaches of the universal declaration of human rights. He stating, “it can be confidently asserted… that China’s practice of forced organ harvesting as evidenced before us is in breach of, as a minimum, the Declaration’s: Article 3 (right to life); Article 6 (recognition as a person before the law); Article 7 (equality before the law); Article 9 (not to be subject to arbitrary arrest);  Article 10 (full equality to a fair and public hearing in determination of rights); Article 11 (presumption of innocence); and Article 5 (torture).”

Recognizing the rarity of a people’s tribunal issuing such an interim judgement, Sir Geoffrey also explained the reasoning behind the decision, “the oxygen of publicity given to the allegations made and supported to the extent they are by our interim judgment, may allow the real oxygen of life to continue life itself in some who might otherwise be killed” and that “Doing so now may possibly save innocents from harm.”

During the London hearings there was a notable absence from the procedure, with no formal representation or testimonies, of Chinese government officials or representatives. Mr Sabi confirmed that the Chinese Government, along with senior Chinese transplant officials such as Dr. Huang Jeifu, Chairman of the China National Organ Donation and Transplant Committee and President of the China Transplant Development Foundation, had been invited to participate in the proceedings but that “none of the Chinese officials have acknowledged the receipt of my communications and the reminders.”

It is perhaps not unusual for a country being investigated by a people’s tribunal to fail to engage with the proceedings. However, Sir Geoffrey was lucid in indicating that the public call remains open for submissions stating, “It must be clearly understood that any such evidence coming later – from doctors, academics, government officials, whoever – will be considered just as it would have been were it to have been heard in the last three days.”

When considering the scope and significance of the tribunal, Professor Heather Draper, Professor of Biomedical Ethics and member of ETAC’s International Advisory Committee, emphasized that any judgements “must be taken seriously, by all those involved in transplantation, so that is professionals, ethicists and potential [organ] recipients.”

David Matas, international human rights lawyer, author and principal researcher of organ harvesting, said the interim judgement was “unequivocal and powerful, for me also it was quite sad. From the moment I had come to the conclusions I did, I had hoped to have been proved wrong. That hope has now evaporated.”

Ethan Gutmann, author, investigative journalist and principal researcher of organ harvesting, stated, “every government needs to ban organ tourism to China” while calling for “full accounting to every family in China who has lost a relative because they were a Falun Gong practitioner, a Tibetan, a Uighur, or a House Christian.”

The China Tribunal’s judgment, “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” creates a sense of gravity at the magnitude of the implications that for many years, international organizations and governments have allowed, through non-action, this crime against humanity to not only occur but also to worsen and intensify. News headlines around the world reporting on organ harvesting seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Given the gravity of the genocide, it is difficult to comprehend such silence.