On June 17, the China Tribunal in London delivered its final judgement on China’s forced organ harvesting practices. The seven-member panel, an independent People’s Tribunal which formed in 2018, found that forced organ harvesting from prisoners has taken place “on a substantial scale by state-supported or approved organizations and individuals…” The Tribunal stated that it has “no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled and absent a satisfactory explanation as to the source of readily available organs concludes that forced organ harvesting continues till today.” The panel estimated that there are as many as 90,000 organ transplant operations taking place in China each year, a number far higher than official statistics, and that adherents of the Falun Gong practice are likely the “principal source” of organs.
Although a People’s Tribunal does not have the authority to charge those accused, the judgments and conclusions reached at the China Tribunal will hopefully fuel a dramatic shift in how the international community responds to China’s transplantation crimes. The outcome of the panel’s research has garnered a staggering amount of publicity, with over 30 articles in English alone from some of the world’s largest media companies from England, the U.S., Australia, Canada and Asia as well as from medical, legal and religious organizations.
The Tribunal was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, best known for leading the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević in the Yugoslavia war crimes trial. Nice told The Guardian: “The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilizations known to modern man.” The remainder of the panel included experts in law, medicine, business, international relations and China and was commissioned by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), an Australian-based human rights group.
According to US News, Tribunal investigators spent 12 months collecting evidence, questioning more than 50 witnesses, experts, investigators and analysts in two public hearings held in December 2018 and April 2019. The tribunal also evaluated written submissions, investigative reports, and academic papers.
Witnesses and survivors recalled horrifying experiences in their testimonials to the Tribunal. “Prisoners went through years of incarceration without a fair trial, endured constant torture and harsh living conditions, and watched daily as one of the inmates was forcefully evacuated from the prison never to be seen or heard from again,” wrote Renée-Marie Stephano in an article for Medical Tourism Magazine. Most of the presented evidence dated back to the year 2000, though the Tribunal considered reports about kidneys harvested from executed prisoners in China as far back as the 1970s.
The Tribunal referenced several pieces of evidence that led to their conclusions, including: torture of Falun Gong and Uyghurs; accumulated numerical evidence which indicated the number of transplant operations performed and the “impossibility of there being anything like sufficient ‘eligible donors’ under the recently formed PRC [People’s Republic of China] voluntary donor scheme for that number of transplant operations;” extensive infrastructure development of facilities and medical personnel for organ transplant procedures, often beginning before any voluntary donor system was put in place; and direct and indirect evidence of forced organ harvesting.
Moreover, the Tribunal recognized the extraordinarily short waiting times for organ transplant procedures conducted in China and the surplus of compatible organs. A study published in SocArXiv revealed that in a 10-day period in 2016, there were a total of 640 organs transplanted from 30 officially listed donors. The numbers suggested that every donor would have donated 21 body parts on average.
While the Tribunal reviewed extensive evidence on the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong, the members were also briefed on other groups victimized by this practice. It was less clear if the Uighur Muslim minority had been victims, though the Tribunal felt Uighurs were vulnerable to “being used as a bank of organs.”
The Tribunal repeatedly requested information from the Chinese government “at every stage,” but never received a reply. The Chinese embassy to the U.K. recently told The Guardian that the Chinese government “always follows the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years.”
Chinese authorities announced in 2014 that they would end the practice of removing organs from executed prisoners on January 1, 2015, yet U.S. News and World Report reported that as recently as 2016, pro-Beijing news media in Hong Kong reported that “the practice of removing organs from executed prisoners had international support.” The Tribunal valued China’s organ transplant trade at an annual rate of US$1 billion.
In addition to determining the occurrence of forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience by the Chinese government, which the Tribunal referred to as a “crime of humanity,” the Tribunal assessed whether or not forced organ harvesting constituted genocide. While the panel concluded that “there is justifiable belief in the minds of some or many—rising to probability or high probability—that genocide has been committed,” it could not say conclusively that the crime of genocide as defined under international law had been committed because it could not prove intent.
Former Canadian MP of the Asia Pacific region and co-author of Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter David Kilgour testified at the Tribunal and told the ABC’s The World program that the government’s transplantations crimes are escalating. “I was a prosecutor for 10 years. The evidence is overwhelming,” he said.
The Tribunal recommended that “there is a duty on those who have the power to institute investigations for, and proceedings at, international courts or at the UN to test whether Genocide has been committed. They should act immediately to determine accountability for any acts contrary to the provisions of the Genocide Convention.”
The Tribunal also stated that “Governments and international bodies must do their duty not only in regard to the possible charge of Genocide but also in regard to Crimes against Humanity, which the Tribunal does not allow to be any less heinous.” Failing that, the Tribunal urged citizens to act jointly to pressure governments “so that those government and international bodies are unable not to act.” The judgement added, “any who interact in any substantial way with the PRC including doctors and medical institutions; industry, and businesses, most specifically airlines, travel companies, financial services businesses, law firms and pharmaceutical and insurance companies together with individual tourists, educational establishments and arts establishments should now recognize that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.”
The Tribunal’s findings, notes Illicit Trade News Network, have in fact put pressure on Western governments to ban so-called transplant tourism to countries such as China, and resulted in calls for doctors and medical organizations across the globe to stop working with the country in fields relating to organ transplantation.
In March of this year, over 40 British MPs called for a ban on UK citizens traveling to China for organ transplant operations, urging the UK government to impose similar restrictions to those imposed by Italy, Spain, Israel and Taiwan.
Wendy Rogers, ethicist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and chair of the international advisory committee of ETAC, who testified at the Tribunal’s hearing stated that the panel’s report “illustrates the gravity of events transpiring in China…I hope hospitals and journals will take a closer look at their policies.”
The World Health Organization and the World Medical Association condemn the practice of procuring organs for transplant from executed prisoners. The use of research data procured from the use of illicitly obtained organs is also widely criticized. A number of journals have policies that ban the publication of such data. However, there is total lack of transparency surrounding organ procurement sourcing procedures for all research studies conducted in China.