Remarks by David Matas at the EESC Conference March 19, 2014

EESC Conference on Organ Harvesting in China

Update and next steps: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs


(Revised remarks to the European Economic and Social Committee 19 March 2014, Brussels, Belgium)

                                                                                          by David Matas

I want in this talk to cover three topics: the evidence on the killing of Falun Gong for their organs; recent developments and next steps to combat organ transplant abuse in China.


I am a lawyer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in private practice.  My clients are primarily refugee claimants seeking protection in Canada.  I have been engaged in this professional work for almost all of my professional career.

Because my clients flee human rights violations, I have become familiar through my work with the human rights situation in many countries, including China.  I try, as best I can, not only to assist my clients in obtaining protection, but also to combat the human rights violations which caused them to flee. In addition to tribunal and court work for individual clients, I have become involved in research, writing, advocacy and activism in the broader human rights scene.

Because of my human rights work on human rights and refugees, I knew about the persecution of the practice of Falun Gong in China more or less from time it started.  I knew that Falun Gong was a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation, started in 1992 with the teachings of Li Hong Zhi, initially encouraged by the Communist Party but then repressed in 1999 after it got too popular.

A woman with the pseudonym Annie made a public statement in Washington DC in March 2006 that her ex-husband had been harvesting corneas of Falun Gong practitioners in Sujiatun Hospital in Shenyang City in Liaoning province from 2003 to 2005.  Other doctors had been harvesting other organs. The Falun Gong practitioners were killed through the organ extraction and their bodies were cremated.  The organs were sold at high prices to transplant tourists.  The Chinese government immediately denied what Annie said.

Annie’s statement and the Chinese government denial were two of the many human rights stories which pop up on my computer every day.   Shortly after, a Washington based NGO, the Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong asked me and David Kilgour to investigate whether what Annie said was true.

It is common for me to be asked to assist in human rights work.  This request though was unusual though because of the difficulties it posed.

Though I knew full well that in China practitioners of the exercises Falun Gong were being persecuted, that did not mean that they were being persecuted in this particular way, being killed for their organs.  The Coalition who asked us to do the research did not give us any data, any money or any instructions.  For my part, I had no idea whether what Annie said was true or not

Her story presented a conundrum.  How was it possible to know whether what Annie was saying was true or not?  The question was not just, how do we prove what Annie said if it is true?  The question was also, how do we disprove what Annie said if it is not true?

The situation the testimony of Annie presented was this. She was saying that there were no victims to interview because the victims were all killed. There were no bodies to autopsy because the bodies were cremated.  There was no crime scene to visit, since the crime scene, an operating theatre, would have been cleaned up immediately afterwards.  There were no accessible records, since what records there are belong to Chinese hospitals and prisons, labour camps and detention centres, none of which are publicly available.  The sole witnesses available were perpetrators who were unlikely publicly to confess to crimes that they had committed.

The question whether what Annie said was true was difficult enough that it was unlikely to get much of a response either from human rights NGOs or inter-governmental organizations or the media.  Human rights NGOs, though they have some research capacity, are for the most part campaign organizations.  They look for the easily verifiable, not just because it makes research easier, but also because it makes campaigning easier.  Inter-governmental organizations have little internal research capacity and tend to rely on the work of NGOs.  As for the media, they cater to readers, listeners and viewers with short attention spans.  If a story can not be told quickly and simply, it normally can not be told at all.

Addressing a claim of human rights violations with little or no evidence is a situation to which I am quite accustomed.  That, in fact, is my daily work as a refugee lawyer.

Refugee claimants come to my office with stories of horror, the clothes on their backs and little else.  They of course have this advantage that they are witnesses to what happened to them.  Yet, they are often faced with sceptical refugee judges who suspect that they are economic migrants making up stories in order to move from a poor country to a rich country.  Are the stories these clients tell true or not true? Answering that sort of question is not that different form assessing the truth of the story Annie told.

I am often faced with the task of assisting my clients in attempting to establish to the satisfaction of one these sceptical judges the truth of the story they tell.

Often when victims or their representatives come to me for general assistance to combat a human rights situation abroad, I can send them off to the media or the local Member of Parliament or a human rights NGO or a UN human rights mechanism.  I realized though that, for what Annie said, that would not do.  If something was going to be done, David Kilgour and I were going to have to do it ourselves.

But the question was what was that something to be?  I began constructing imaginary evidentiary trails, trails that would either prove or disprove all the allegations.  In doing so, I followed four principles.

One was never to rely on rumour or hearsay.  If someone told me what someone else told him or her, I put the information to one side.

Second, I refused to rely on information from perpetrators.  In the course of our work, some perpetrators did come forward to offer testimony, subject to various conditions.  I turned all such offers aside, partly because I wanted to have nothing to do with perpetrators and partly because I have in the past found in other contexts perpetrator information to be self exonerating and unreliable.

Third, I insisted that all information I saw anyone else could see.  No one, after our work was done, had to rely on our conclusions.  Anyone who wanted to do so could look at the information we considered and come to his or her own conclusions.

Fourth, I determined not to draw conclusions either one way or the other based on one bit of evidence only. Rather I intended to have regard to all the evidence before coming to any conclusion.

The conclusion was that Falun Gong practitioners have been and are being killed for their organs.  While it would take far too long for me to go through all the evidence which led to that conclusion, I will mention here a few bits.

• Investigators made calls to hospitals throughout China, claiming to be relatives of patients needing transplants, asking if the hospitals had organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale on the basis that, since Falun Gong through their exercises are healthy, the organs would be healthy.  We obtained on tape, transcribed and translated admissions throughout China.

• Falun Gong practitioners and non-Falun Gong practitioners alike who were detained and who then got out of detention and out of China told that

1) Falun Gong practitioners were systematically blood tested and organ examined while in detention.  Other detainees were not.  The blood testing and organ examination could not have been for the health of the Falun Gong practitioners since they had been tortured; but it would have been necessary for organ transplants.

2) Falun Gong practitioners who came from all over the country to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to appeal or protest were systematically arrested.  Those who revealed their identities to their captors would be shipped back to their home localities. Their immediate environment would be implicated in their Falun Gong activities and penalized.

To avoid harm to people in their locality, many detained Falun Gong practitioners declined to identify themselves. The result was a large Falun Gong practitioner population in detention whose identities the authorities did not know. As well, no one who knew them knew where they were.  This population is a remarkably undefended group of people, even by Chinese standards.  This population provided a ready source for harvested organs.

3)  The Party has engaged in a prolonged, persistent, vitriolic national and international campaign of incitement to hatred against Falun Gong.  The campaign has prompted their marginalization, depersonalization and dehumanization in the eyes of many Chinese nationals.  To their jailors, Falun Gong are not human beings entitled to respect for their human rights and dignity.

• Patients we interviewed who went to China for transplants told that

1) Waiting times for transplants of organs in China are days and weeks. Everywhere else in the world waiting times are months and years. A short waiting time for a deceased donor transplant means that someone is being killed for that transplant.

2) There is a heavy militarization of transplantation in China.  Hospitals with a ready supply of available organs are often military hospitals.  Even in civilian hospitals, the doctors performing operations are often military personnel.  The military have a common culture with prison guards and readier access to prisoners as organ sources than civilian hospitals and civilian personnel do.

In China, the military is a conglomerate business and the sale of organs is a prime source of funds.  Military hospital web sites used to boast this fact before we started quoting them. Though they have since taken down the boasts, we archived this information so that independent researchers can still see them.

3) There is an inordinate secrecy surrounding transplantation in China.  The names of doctors are not identified.  Patients are not allowed to bring their own doctors with them.  Before our 2006 report came out, Chinese doctors used to provide letters to patients indicating the treatment given and counselled.  The letters ceased after the publication of our report.

• The standards and mechanisms which should be in place to prevent the abuse are not in place, neither in China nor abroad.  International organ transplant abuse should be treated like international child sex tourism, an offence everywhere with extraterritorial effect.  However, so far that is not the case.

On the one hand, we have organ transplant abuse which is possible without legal consequences.  On the other hand, we have huge money to be made from this abuse, as well as desperate patients in need of transplants.  This combination is a recipe for victimization of the vulnerable.  Standards and mechanisms to prevent the abuse need to be introduced.

• There is no other explanation for the transplant numbers than sourcing from Falun Gong practitioners.  China is the second largest transplant country in the world by volume after the US.  Yet, until 2010 China did not have a deceased donation system and even today that system produces donations which are relatively small.  Until 2013, China did not have an organ distribution system. The organ distribution in place today is limited to the relatively small donated organs, and does not distribute organs from prisoners.  The living donor sources are limited in law to relatives of donors and officially discouraged because live donors suffer health complications from giving up an organ.

The Government of China at first took the position that all organs came from donations, even though at the time they did not have a donation system.  They then acknowledged that the overwhelming proportion of organs for transplants in China came from prisoners but asserted that the prisoners who are the sources of organs are all sentenced to death.  Falun Gong practitioners have been given short sentences for disrupting social order or sentenced to nothing.

Yet, the number of prisoners sentenced to death and then executed that would be necessary to supply the volume of transplants in China is far greater than even the most exaggerated death penalty statistics and estimates.  Moreover, in recent years, death penalty volumes have gone down, but transplant volumes, except for a short blip in 2007, remained constant.

Going through all relevant evidence to come to an informed conclusion either one way or the other on the killing of Falun Gong for their organs is a time consuming task, and it may be unrealistic to expect everyone interested in the issue to do that.  I do not expect all other interested in the issue to replicate our research, though I would be pleased if you had the time and inclination to do so.  Nor do I expect you to trust our conclusions.  But that does not mean that you should do nothing.

The onus does not fall on me to show that Falun Gong practitioners are being killed for their organs. I do not have to explain where China gets its organs for transplants.  China does. It falls on the Government of China to explain the sourcing for their organs.

The World Health Organization, in an Assembly in May 2010 endorsed Guiding Principles on Human Cell, Tissue and Organ Transplantation.  Two of these principles are traceability and transparency.

For the research I and others have done, we were able to garner useful information about transplant volumes from the China Liver Transplant Registry in Hong Kong.  After our research was published, the China Liver Transplant Registry shut down public access to statistical aggregate data on its site.  Access is available only to those who have a Registry issued login name and password.

The Chinese health system runs four transplant registries, one each for liver, kidney, heart and lung.  The other three are located in mainland China, kidney and heart in Beijing and lung in Wuxi.  The data on the other three sites are also accessible only to those who have registry issued login names and passwords.

The Government of China refuses to provide death penalty statistics on the basis that they are state secrets.  At the United Nations Universal Periodic Review Working Group in February 2009 Canada, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Austria, Italy recommended that China publish death penalty statistics. The Government of China said no to this recommendation.  The same recommendation was repeated by Belgium, France, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, UK, and Italy at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review Working Group in October 2013.  This time China said, we’ll see.

The connection between death penalty statistics and organ transplant abuse was made explicit by the UN rapporteur on torture, the UN rapporteur on religious intolerance and the UN Committee on Torture.  All have asked China to explain the discrepancy between its volume of transplants and its volume of sources.


Recent developments

In this field of organ transplant abuse in China, global reactions and Chinese government responses, there are new developments virtually every day.  I will highlight just four.

1) Fengying Zhang

One is the release of Fengying Zhang, her escape to Australia and the story she had to tell.  Fengying Zhang in one sense presents a very ordinary story, a practitioner of the exercises Falun Gong, arrested in China because of her exercises and tortured in an attempt to get her to renounce the exercises and the concomitant beliefs.  The first unusual feature of her story is that she was released.  The date of release was July 15th, 2013.

At the beginning of the repression, many practitioners of the exercises Falun Gong agreed after arrest to renounce their beliefs and release was fairly common.  By now, though practitioners Falun Gong in detention are long stayers, kept there because they refuse to renounce their beliefs.  Fengying Zhang had the good fortune to have an international connection, a daughter in Australia who started an international campaign for release on her behalf.  The efforts of the daughter prompted calls for release of her mother from around the world.

Past experience tells us that these campaigns do have an impact.  Many of those released from the Chinese gulag have these campaigns to thank.

A second unusual feature is that the mother managed to get out of China shortly after her release.  So she had a recent story to tell, once she got to Australia and her daughter, about what happened to her in detention not that long ago.

The story the mother told was this:  On 22nd January 2013, she was transferred from the place of arrest to Beijing Tiantang He Women’s Forced Labour Camp, 12 Weiyong Road, Tiantanghe, Daxing District, Beijing, China.  She was blood tested on arrival. Then on the 18th February at the labour camp affiliated Li Kang Hospital, she was blood tested a second time. In May, she was blood tested a third time.  This time she observed that all the detainees of the Camp, 90% of whom were Falun Gong practitioners, were pushed into a mobile medical van and got their blood drawn.

This information is noteworthy because it advances evidence about blood testing to recent times.  One indication, as I noted earlier, that practitioners of Falun Gong were being killed for their organs, is blood testing.  When we combine this testimony of Fengying Zhang with the fact that transplant volumes in China have remained constant while death penalty numbers have decreased, her testimony is hard evidence that the killing of Falun Gong for their organs continues in large numbers in the heart of China, the capital of China, to present times.

2) Omar Health Care Service

A second noteworthy development is not so much change as continuity.  When David Kilgour and I began our work, it was common for hospitals in China on their websites to tout their work, promote their short waiting times, post their prices and even talk about how much money they were making from the business.  This website information has more or less disappeared.

The Government of China has responded in a number of different ways to our research.  One of the most persistent and active is cover up.  When we cite a website, it disappears.  When we quote a Chinese official, the official issues a denial.  We have archived all information on which we relied emanating from the Government of China.  So researchers who want to see the information we saw can still see it at archived postings.  Nonetheless, the systematic take down policy has prevented researchers from within China seeing this information.

In light of this institutionalized coverup, it is surprising that this website posting continues –  under the name Omar Health Care Service.  This website has changed over the years.  It was originally Arabic and English at the same website, which explains the use of the name Omar. Now the website continues separately with different languages.  Although the website has an Arabic name, it is otherwise entirely Chinese.

The website address is <>.  The website promotes transplants in Tianjin, China.  The website is user friendly.  It has forms to fill out and a system for remitting fees.  The home page blurb states:

“We are here to assist you in getting a kidney, liver or heart transplant in China.  Please browse through the website to find out more information about our services and contact use for the next step.  We are working directly with the most qualified two hospitals in China.”

The website is an unabashed pitch for transplant tourism.

3) The Transplantation Society

A third related development is the evolution of the position of The Transplantation Society.  The Communist Party/Government of China responds to criticism in one of two ways.  One is aggression.  The second is charm.

The response of aggression takes this form.  Critics are attacked personally and in detail. Logic is met with bafflegab.  Hard evidence is met with coverup and denial.  The Party flies the flag of cultural relativism. It engages in mock indignation, claiming interference in internal affairs.

That is the typical response the Party/State gives to criticism of repression of the practice of the exercises Falun Gong.  The repression itself is denied. But the denials are accompanied by such vituperation against Falun Gong that the responses in themselves are evidence of the incitement to repression.

The response of charm takes this form.  The Party/State says to its critics: you are right. We agree in  principle.  We will change. Give us time. Help us.  You know more than we do.  We do not have the technological know how.  Come to China.  Tell us what to do.

Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.  For the Communist Party of China, hypocrisy comes easy.  Laws can change without varying the practice, since the Party controls the application of the law.

A charm offensive has been the typical response to the criticism that China has been harvesting organs from prisoners.  As long as the words Falun Gong are not used and the critic restricts the criticism to sourcing of organs from prisoners, the response of the Party/State has been a good deal more accommodating.

The difference between these two responses, aggression and charm, is more style than substance.  In neither case is there real change.  These two responses are variations on the good cop bad cop routine.

Someone familiar with the modus operandi of the Communist Party of China would be aware with these two technique and appreciate that they are variations on the same theme.   Most subject matter experts though do not deal with a spectrum of Chinese human rights violations.  They normally deal with violations only in their field of expertise.  So they are easily beguiled by Chinese Communist Party charm which they may see only once, in their own field.  It may take them a while to realize the roughness underneath the Chinese Communist Party surface of smooth talk.

That has been the history of The Transplantation Society dealings with the Communist Party/Government of China.  The Transplantation Society is an NGO which gathers together transplant professionals from around the world.   The Chinese Communist Party/State invited The Transplantation Society to a meeting in Hangzhou China at the end of October 2013 which endorsed a resolution phasing out sourcing of organs from prisoners.

It did not take long for The Transplantation Society to realize they had been had.  The Omar Health Care website promoting transplant tourism into China as well as other information prompted an open letter from The Transplantation Society to President of China Xi Jinping.

That letter stated:

“The Tianjin website continues to recruit international patients who are seeking organ transplants … the fact that foreign patients are still undergoing transplantation in China suggests that some hospitals are boldly and irresponsibly violating Chinese government regulations, thereby rendering the law a mere ‘paper tiger’. These centers are both jeopardizing the public trust at home and tarnishing China’s reputation on the international stage.”

The letter noted that “the anecdotal reports of patients returning from China to their native countries with complications from clandestine organ transplants are many” and gave one example. The letter stated that “Chinese media report that even as the new [organ donor] program is being piloted, it has already been infiltrated by persons driven by the same corrupt practices who have assumed authority for the distribution of organs.”  The letter asked China to get matters right.

4) Reversion

The response of the Government of China to this calling of China to account was to drop the pretence.  Having realized that its game of make believe had ceased to entrance the international community, the game stopped.

Huang Jiefu, the man in charge of transplants in China, whose previous statements over years had been to emphasize phasing out of sourcing of organs from prisoners, in early March 2014 did a flip flop.  He asserted that, rather than shifting from prisoners to donors for sourcing of organs, China would incorporate the sourcing of organs from prisoners into its donor system.  He is quoted as saying “we will regulate the issue [inappropriate handling of organ donations from executed prisoners] by including voluntary organ donations by executed prisoners in the nation’s public organ donation system”[1].

If the killing of prisoners for organs ended, then the killing of prisoners of conscience for organs would also end.  The fact that the killing of prisoners for organs is now the official policy even of the reform elements of the Chinese transplant system means that the possibility of this short cut to ending the killing of prisoners of conscience for organs is gone.


Next steps

As for the two previous topics, here too there is much to say.  I will restrict myself though to two proposal sets, one set directed to the European Union and the second set directed to the United Nations.

1. European Union

The European Parliament passed a resolution on December 12, 2013 which says in part:

 “2.  ….  calls on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to end immediately the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience and members of religious and ethnic minority groups;

 3.  Calls for the EU and its Member States to raise the issue of organ harvesting in China; recommends that the Union and its Member States publicly condemn organ transplant abuses in China and raise awareness of this issue among their citizens travelling to China; calls for a full and transparent investigation by the EU into organ transplant practices in China, and for the prosecution of those found to have engaged in such unethical practices;

 4.  Calls on the Chinese authorities to respond thoroughly to the requests of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief asking the Chinese Government to explain the sources of extra organs following the increase in the number of organ transplant operations, and to allow them to conduct an investigation into organ transplant practices in China;

 5.  Calls for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in China, including Falun Gong practitioners;”

The resolution from the European Parliament then calls on the European Union to engage in a number of activities.  What part of the European Union is supposed to do all these things?  In particular, who or what in the EU would undertake the “full and transparent investigation … into organ transplant practices in China” for which the resolution calls?

I am told the organ in the European Union which would implement the resolution would be the European External Action Service (EEAS).  I tried to arrange a meeting with the External Action Service officials who would be responsible for carrying forward this file.  They refused to meet with me stating that “we are answerable to the European Parliament directly and would therefore prefer to deal with this issue with him [an Member of the European Parliamant who referred me to these officials] in a correct procedural way”.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the constitutional structure of the European Union, but, from what I gather, this statement – that the EEAS is answerable to the European Parliament – does not tell the whole story.   The European Parliament, as I understand it, does not govern the EEAS.  The EEAS is not legally obligated to do anything merely because the European Parliament passes a resolution asking them to do that.  A European Parliament resolution is, to the EEAS, a request and nothing more.

The democratic governance of the bureaucrats in the EEAS passes through the Council of Ministers and not the European Parliament.  The Council of Minister is not though, like the European Parliament, on its own initiative able to do all that much.  In order for the Council of Minister to act, it needs first a proposal for action to consider.  That proposal for the issue at hand would come from – the EEAS.  So unless the EEAS bureaucrats, on their own initiative, decide to propose a plan of action on the matter to the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament resolution is a dead letter.

Though the EEAS did not meet with me, they did meet on March 18, 2014 with some colleagues of mine who were with me in Brussels, a delegation from the Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplants (TAICOT).  From my conversations with my colleagues who attended the meeting, I gleaned that the EEAS was not all that anxious to implement the European Parliament resolution.  They were reluctant to present to the Council of Ministers a proposal for “a full and transparent investigation … into organ transplant practices in China” unless and until they knew, in advance of such an investigation, what the investigation would establish.

The question then becomes how do we get action and service out of the External Action Service?  It would seem that the only hopes are for European Parliamentarians and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the institutional voice of civil society within the European Union, to lobby the EEAS.  If the EESC and enough Parliamentarians often enough press the EEAS to propose a plan of action to the Council of Minister to implement the resolution, then, maybe, the EEAS can be moved to do that.


If moving the European Union to confront organ transplant abuse in China is daunting, moving the United Nations to act is an entirely different order of difficulty.

I joined a delegation from the NGO Doctors against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) which met in Geneva December 9, 2103 with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a petition with nearly 1.5 million signatures from 53 countries and regions. The petition asked the High Commissioner Mme Navi Pillay to:

1. call upon Government of China to end immediately the forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners,

2. initiate an investigation which can lead to the prosecution of the perpetrators of this crime against humanity, and

3. call upon the Government of China government to end immediately the brutal persecution of Falun Gong.

One of the people in the Office of the High Commissioner with whom we met suggested we contact the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna. I followed up on that suggestion and arranged a meeting for March 21st with UNODC for myself and the TAIDOC delegation.

The Protocol on Trafficking in Persons to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of 2000 defines trafficking in persons to

“mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, … the removal of organs;”[2]

China is a party to the Trafficking in Persons Protocol to the Transnational Organized Crime Convention, but with the reservation that it is not bound by paragraph 2 of Article 15 of the Protocol.  Paragraph 2 of Article 15 of the Protocol provides:

“Any dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of this Protocol that cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall, at the request of one of those States Parties, be submitted to arbitration. If, six months after the date of the request for arbitration, those States Parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration, any one of those States Parties may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice by request in accordance with the Statute of the Court.”

The question then becomes how to make the UNODC system work, if at all, to combat organ transplant abuse in China.  There a couple of suggestions I would make.

First, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime publishes an annual report on trafficking in persons. The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 states

“Organ trafficking is not classified as human trafficking. For an act to be considered trafficking in persons, a living person has to be recruited by means of force or deception for the exploitative purpose of removing an organ. There is a large grey area between licit organ donations and the trafficking of persons for organ removal.”[3]

Within this “grey area” the authors of this report should include the killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs to be sold at high prices to transplant patients as human trafficking. We should ask the authors of the report to do that.

Second, the UNODC Working Group on Trafficking in Persons at its meeting in Vienna, 10‑12 October 2011 made a number of recommendations about trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs. They were:

“1. Coordination among United Nations entities with regard to efforts against trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs should be encouraged.

2. States parties should encourage relevant United Nations entities, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to gather evidence‑based data on trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal, including the root causes, trends and modi operandi, with the aim of facilitating better understanding and awareness of the phenomenon, while recognizing the difference between trafficking in organs, tissues and cells.

3. States parties should make better use of the Organized Crime Convention and the Trafficking in Persons Protocol in combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs, especially for joint investigations and intelligence gathering.

4. States parties should take measures to ensure the full and effective implementation of the applicable provisions of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the Organized Crime Convention relating to trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs.

5. States parties should, in the course of a comprehensive approach to preventing trafficking in persons, develop measures to raise awareness in particular among vulnerable groups, including potential victims of trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal.

6. States parties should encourage relevant entities responsible for preventing and combating trafficking in persons to coordinate with the relevant representatives of the health sector, including health service providers, to ensure better guidance for all actors in identifying and responding to trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs.

7. The use of public‑private partnerships in the context of preventing trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs should be encouraged.

8. UNODC should develop a training module on trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs and related conduct and begin to provide technical assistance, especially with regard to investigation, the exchange of information and international legal cooperation.”

The 2012 Conference of States Parties to the Transnational Organized Crime Convention passed a resolution which

“Decides that the mandates for the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons should be continued and that its areas for future work should reflect, as appropriate, the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Group,”

This sequence is circular.  When it comes to a training module, the resolution makes a recommendation directly to the UNODC about what it should so, which is to develop a training module.  When it comes though to gathering evidence, the Working Group asks states parties to encourage the UNODC to do this.  Yet, the Working Group consists of states parties.  Why could not the Working Group, as it did with development of a training module, simply ask the UNODC to do it, rather than to ask themselves to ask the UNODC to do it?

Was the Working Group making a recommendation for the Conference of States Parties to adopt?  It seems not. The Conference of States Parties on receipt of the Working Group report decided that the areas of future work of the Working Group should reflect the Working Group recommendations.  If the Working Group recommendations were directed to the Conference of States Parties, then the Conference in turn sent those recommendations back to the Working Group.

It seems as if the Working Group is telling the Conference of States Parties, you do it – “it” being asking the UNODC to gather evidence.  In turn, the Conference of States Parties is telling Working Group, you do it.

Rather than get hung up on the literal meaning of language in international resolutions which at the best of times are not models of clarity, we should attempt to deal with the sense.  The intention is apparent, that the UNODC should “gather evidence ‑ based data on trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal, including the root causes, trends and modi operandi“.  We should be approaching the UNODC to do just that.

The UNODC at the last minute, after travel arrangements had been made, cancelled the meeting I had arranged for March 21st.  After a confirmation of the meeting and some back and forth about the time of meeting, an unnamed person from the UNODC office sent me an e-mail March 14th, one week before the meeting, stating that “Unfortunately” the person we had arranged to meet “will not have the time to meet with you and the Asian delegation”.

The TAICOT delegation showed up at the UNODC offices and nonetheless attempted, on the originally scheduled day, to have a meeting without its being pre-arranged.  That attempt failed, but did elicit an e-mail one week later from Ilias Chatzis, Chief, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch, United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime.  He wrote that the work of his section “does not include … organ harvesting”.

The notion that trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal does not encompass trafficking in the organs of prisoners who are killed through organ extraction once their organs are sold is not at all obvious, indeed surprising.  Maybe what the UNODC section chief says is so and we need another international convention or protocol to deal with transplant tourists buying the organs of prisoners.   If that is so, we should certainly direct our attention to creating that convention or protocol.

Nonetheless the response of the UNODC needs exploration.  A Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols is scheduled for Vienna, 6‑10 October 2014.  That Conference should be asked, by way of resolution, to affirm that trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal encompasses the international trafficking in organs of prisoners killed through organ extraction after the sale of their organs.

As well, we need to go back to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The UN human rights bureaucracy sends us off to the United Nations crime bureaucracy.  The UN crime bureaucrats tell us, not our responsibility.  We should be passing that on, that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has hit the ball back into the court of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The problems with the UNODC and the OHCRC are similar to the problems with the EEAS, except more so. EEAS is faced with an unequivocal request from the European Parliament but they do nothing. The OHCHR says go to the UNODC.  The UNODC embraces an interpretation of their responsibilities which avoids the need to do anything. The result in all cases is the same, inaction.

The response should be the same.   Civil society, states and political actors have to be mobilized to prod the international bureaucracies into action.



I have been on this file, the killing of Falun Gong for their organs, for eight years and it has been a long haul.  At the beginning we were two, David Kilgour and me.  Over the years, NGOs and professional associations have come on board.

I am pleased to see here today Willy Fautré chair of Human Rights without Frontiers and Manyan Ng board member of the International Society for Human Rights.  Doctors against Forced Organ Harvesting and the Taiwan Association for International Care of Organ Transplants, two NGOs founded after the first version of the report David Kilgour and I wrote came out in 2006, are both represented here today.  The hosting of this event by the European Economic and Social Committee, the gathering point for civil society in Brussels, as well as the participation of Member of the European Parliament Tunne Kelam, are both signal events.

It should not be surprising that the hardest nut to crack would be intergovernmental organizations, particularly ones where the Government of China is a member.  Every day that passes without the ending of the abuse means another day of victimization.  So the progress no matter how fast is always too slow.  Yet, the fact of progress must reinforce us in our determination to end the abuse of killing of Falun Gong in China for their organs.


David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

    [1] Shan Juan “Govt seeks fairness in organ donor system for inmates” China Daily USA, 2014 March 07

    [2] Article 3(a).

    [3] At page 43