Asia Pacific region combines states with widely varying human rights records
and institutions. There are both democratic states with strong human rights
records and undemocratic states which violate the rights of their citizens in a
gross and flagrant manner.
possible, with such a stark contrast, to construct a human rights institution
which functions effectively across the region? We can attempt to answer this
question by considering the experience of the Universal Periodic Review of the
United Nations Human Rights Council. The
Universal Periodic Review is a new element of the United Nations Human Rights
Council created in 2006 to replace the failed UN Human Rights Commission.
Universal Periodic Review
Universal Periodic Review brings together all states of the United
Nations. The review is conducted by the
Council itself, in a working group composed of all member states of the Council  .
states members of the UN Human Rights Council can vote on the reports of the
Universal Periodic Review Working Group, any state can speak during the
deliberations of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group and the Human Rights
Council  .
Non-governmental organizations are not allowed to speak.
state member of the United Nations comes up for review once in a four year
cycle . A state under
review both receives recommendations from other states and responds to those recommendations.
label "review" is misleading.
Unlike an expert mechanism report, the review produces no evaluation or
assessment of the human rights record of the state under scrutiny, no overall
recommendations, observations or statements of concern. All that happens during the course of the
review is that other states comment on the human rights record of the state
subject of the review. The state under
review decides on its own which recommendations from other states to
adopt. The remaining recommendations are
just noted .
Universal Periodic Review Working Group began its work in April 2008. Since
then, it has had five sessions. At each session, the human rights record of
sixteen states is reviewed. The number of states records which have been
reviewed by the Working Group now totals eighty.
of those eighty states come from the Asia Pacific region. The Universal
Periodic Review is a laboratory for an Asia Pacific human rights institution,
because, in that Review, Asia Pacific states comment on the human rights record
of other Asia Pacific states, state by state, across the human rights normative
spectrum, and the states under scrutiny respond, either accepting or rejecting
the recommendations of commenting states, recommendation by recommendation.
documents on which the review are based include information contained in the
reports of treaty bodies . The worst violators, which sign
no or few
treaties, have little or nothing in reports from treaty bodies. The states which show the greatest respect
for international human rights by signing all human rights treaties have the
greatest volume of reports from treaty bodies.
Looking at reports of treaty bodies creates an inherent bias in favour of
violators and against those who attempt to respect international human rights.
documents on which the review are based also include reports from special
procedures. While the Israel specific
mandate has been continued indefinitely, country specific special procedures
for countries other than Israel have been fast disappearing.
duration of the review for each country in the working group is three hours . The review
an interactive dialogue . That is to say that during those
the state the subject of the review responds to interventions. Given the time allowed for this response, if
the chairs limits state interventions to two minutes, as has become a common
practice, 60 state interventions at maximum can fit within the three hours.
member state which wishes to make a statement is allocated a time slot on a
first come first serve basis. States who
can not intervene are allowed to post their statements on the relevant UN
website. Yet, the country under scrutiny is obliged to respond only to those
states which have intervened. The
comments of the remaining states are effectively ignored.
did not take long before gross violators states figured out how to game the
system. They lined up their friends or
those they could bully to register to speak during the two hours, chewing up
the time with praise or even justifications for the violations. The Universal Periodic Review interactive
debate has become a rush to the microphone.
Since the pool of potential speaker states is the full UN membership and
not just the Council membership, the three hours can become quickly consumed
with organized filibustering.
Falun Gong and other UN Bodies
focus in on this intra‑regional human rights exchange both at the
Universal Periodic Review Working Group and at the Human Rights Council when
the Council considers the reports of the Working Group, then to what extent
does the region shares human rights views and practices which could provide a
foundation for an effective, functioning regional human rights institution? As a case study, I will single out the
report of China to the Universal Periodic Review in February 2009 and the abuse
of killing Falun Gong practitioners for their organs. How was that abuse dealt with by other Asia
Pacific states in the context of the Universal Periodic Review?
Gong is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation. It is a subset of the Chinese qi gong
exercise tradition. Tai Chi is perhaps
the best known of these exercises.
spiritual foundation is a blending and updating of ancient Chinese spiritual
traditions - Buddhism and Taoism. In its
joining of exercise and spiritualism, Falun Gong is a Chinese version of yoga.
practice of Falun Gong began in 1992 with the writings and teachings of Li Hong
Zhi. The Government of China initially
encouraged the practice because its health benefits.
practice grew from a standing start in 1992 to from 70 to 100 million
practitioners in 1999, according to a Government of China leaked estimate. The large numbers and the non-Communist
beliefs of its practitioners in 1999 frightened the Communist Party Central
Committee, and the practice in June 1999 was banned.
who did the exercises after June 1999 or protested the banning were arrested
and asked to denounce the practice.
Those who did so were released.
Those who did not were tortured.
Those who still refused to recant after torture disappeared.
happened to the disappeared? David
Kilgour and I concluded, in a report released in a first version released July
2006, in a second version dated January 2007 and a third version in book form launched
November this year, that disappeared practitioners were being killed for their
organs which were sold for large sums to people in need of transplants.
elements of the United Nations system took our report seriously and confronted
China with its findings. The United
Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, and the UN Rapporteur on
Religious Intolerance, Asma Jahangir, addressed our concerns in their 2007 and
2008 reports. They wrote in 2007:
"Allegation transmitted: Organ
harvesting has been inflicted on a large number of unwilling Falun Gong
practitioners at a wide variety of locations, for the purpose making available
organs for transplant operations.... It is reported that there are many more
organ transplants than identifiable sources of organs, even taking into account
figures for identifiable sources, namely: estimates of executed prisoners
annually, of which a high percentage of organs are donated, according to the
statement in 2005 of the Vice Minister of Health Mr Huang Jiefu; willing donor
family members, who for cultural reasons, are often reluctant to donate their
organs after death; and brain‑dead donors. Moreover, the reportedly short
waiting times that have been advertised for perfectly‑matched organs
would suggest the existence of a computerized matching system for transplants
and a large bank of live prospective donors. It is alleged that the discrepancy
between available organs and numbers from identifiable sources is explained by
organs harvested from Falun Gong practitioners, and that the rise in
transplants from 2000 coincides and correlates with the beginning of the
persecution of these persons...."
The Government of China responded but without addressing the concerns
raised. As a result, the Rapporteurs reiterated their concerns in 2008 with
"A critical issue was not
addressed in the Government's previous responses, in particular: It is reported
that there are many more organ transplants than identifiable sources of organs,
even taking into account figures for identifiable sources, namely: annual
estimates of executed prisoners by whom a high percentage of organs are
donated, according to the statement in 2005 of the Vice Minister of HLTH, Mr.
Huang Jiefu; willing donor family members, who for cultural reasons, are often
reluctant to donate their organs after death; and brain‑dead donors.
Moreover, the short waiting times that have been advertised for perfectly‑matched
organs would suggest the existence of a computerized matching system for
transplants and a large bank of live prospective donors. It is alleged that the
discrepancy between available organs and numbers from identifiable sources is
explained by organs harvested from Falun Gong practitioners, and that the rise
in transplants from 2000 coincides and correlates with the beginning of the
persecution of these persons. The Special Rapporteurs note reports that on 15
November 2006, Vice‑Minister Huang reiterated at a conference of surgeons
in Guangzhou that most organs harvested come from executed prisoners. And
notwithstanding the reported stringent criteria in place for donors, including
for those sentenced to death, the Government informed in its response of 28
November, that voluntary donations, and donations between relatives are the two
other legitimate sources of transplant organs. According to the allegations,
based on data from the China Medical Organ Transplant Association, between the
years 2000 and 2005 there were 60,000 transplantations performed, or
approximately 10,000 per year for six years. This period coincides with the
alleged rise in the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. In 2005, it is
reported that only 0.5% of total transplants were accounted for by donations by
relatives; non‑relative brain dead donors were around nine in 2006; and
estimates-given that the Government does not make public statistics on
executions-for 2005 indicate 1770 executions were carried out, and 3900 persons
sentenced to death. It is alleged that the discrepancy between the number of
transplants carried out and the number of available sources is made up from the
harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners. However, it is also
reported that the true number of executions is estimated to be around 8,000 to
10,000 per year, rather than the figure of 1770 executions referred above. As
the Special Rapporteur on torture recommended in his report on his visit to
China, he reiterates that the Government (E/CN.4/2006/6/para. 82,
recommendation q) should use the opportunity of the restoration of the power of
review of all death sentences by the Supreme People's Court to publish national
statistics on the death penalty. A full explanation of the source of organ
transplants would disprove the allegation of organ harvesting of Falun Gong
practitioners, particularly if they could be traced to willing donors or
executed prisoners. The request for an explanation for the discrepancy in the
number of transplants between the years 2000 to 2005 and the numbers from
identifiable sources of organs is reiterated."
The Chinese government, in a response sent to the Rapporteurs by letter
dated March 19, 2007 and published in the report of Professor Nowak to the UN
Human Rights Council dated February 19, 2008, stated that
"Professor Shi Bingyi expressly
clarified that on no occasion had he made such a statement or given figures of
this kind, and these allegations and the related figures are pure
Moreover, the Government of China, lest there be any doubt, asserted
"China's annual health statistics
are compiled on the basis of categories of health disorder and not in
accordance with the various types of treatment provided."
Shi Bingyi was interviewed in a video documentary produced by Phoenix
TV, a Hong Kong media outlet. That video shows Shi Bingyi on screen saying what
the Government of China, in its response to Nowak, indicates he said, that the
figures we quote from him he simply never gave. He says on the video:
"I did not make such a statement
because I have no knowledge of these figures I have not made detailed
investigation on this subject how many were carried out and in which year.
Therefore I have no figures to show. So I could not have said that."
Yet, the actual source of the quotation is footnoted in our report. It
is a Chinese source, the Health News Network. The article from the Network was
posted on the website for transplantation professionals in China . The text, dated
2006-03-02, stated, in part, in translation:
"Professor Shi said that in the
past 10 years, organ transplantation in China had grown rapidly; the types of
transplant operations that can be performed were very wide, ranging from
kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, lung, bone marrow, cornea; so far, there had
been over 90,000 transplants completed country‑wide; last year alone,
there was close to 10,000 kidney transplants and nearly 4,000 liver transplants
This article, in June 2008, remained on its original Chinese website,
though it has been taken down since. The original source of the information
remained available within China through the internet at the time Shi Bingyi
denied the information.
Moreover, the information in this article continues to be recycled in
Chinese publications. The official web site of the Minister of Science and
Technology of the People's Republic of China posts a newsletter of June 20,
2008 which states:
"Up to date, China has performed
some 85,000 organ transplants, only next to the United States in number. In
recent years, China performed organ transplants on more than 10,000 patients a
year...Liver transplants have exceeded 10,000 in number... Heart transplants
went over 100 in number..."
The number of 90,000 total transplants in 2006 and only 85,000 total
transplants in 2008 are not consistent and call for an explanation only those
who provide the statistics can give. What is striking about the later article,
aside from the statistical mismatch, is that it flies in the face of the
official Chinese statement to the Rapporteurs that China's health statistics
are compiled on the basis of categories of health disorder and not in
accordance with the various types of treatment provided.
So what we have is a statement from Shi Bingyi on a Chinese based web site
which was extant at the time of the denial, a statement which Shi Bingyi
publicly denied ever having said. Moreover, despite the continued presence on
this website of a statement showing that Shi Bingyi said what we wrote he said,
the Chinese government accused us of fabricating the words we attributed to Shi
Neither the Government of China nor Shi Bingyi claim that the Health
News Network had misquoted or misunderstood what Shi Bingyi said. At the time
of the denial, there was no effort to hide or mask or take down from the
internet the publicly posted article of the Health New Network where Shi Bingyi
was quoted. The continuation of this article on a Chinese web site at the same
time as China was removing from the internet so much other information about
organ transplants which we used to come to our conclusions amounted to a
continuation to assert what is to be found in that article.
The United Nations Committee against Torture picked up the baton from
the special rapporteurs. In its November 2008 concluding observations, it
"While noting the State party's
information about the 2006 Temporary Regulation on Human Organ Transplants and
the 2007 Human Organ Transplant Ordinance, the Committee takes cognizance of
the allegations presented to the Special Rapporteur on Torture who has noted
that an increase in organ transplant operations coincides with "the
beginning of the persecution of [Falun Gong practitioners]" and who asked
for "a full explanation of the source of organ transplants" which
could clarify the discrepancy and disprove the allegation of organ harvesting
(A/HRC/7/3/Add.1). The Committee is further concerned with information received
that Falun Gong practitioners have been extensively subjected to torture and
ill‑treatment in prisons and that some of them have been used for organ
transplants (arts. 12 and 16).
The State party should immediately
conduct or commission an independent investigation of the claims that some
Falun Gong practitioners have been subjected to torture and used for organ
transplants and take measures, as appropriate, to ensure that those responsible
for such abuses are prosecuted and punished."
We are independent from the Government of China and the Falun Gong
community. The Committee against Torture did not mean to suggest anything
different. What they were proposing was
an investigation independent from the Government of China with which the
Government of China would nonetheless cooperate by giving access to Chinese
territory, documents, places of detention and witnesses in China without fear
of intimidation or reprisals.
C. Falun Gong and the Universal Periodic Review
When China came up for scrutiny under the Universal Periodic Review in
February 2009, I went to Geneva and lobbied states to raise the violations
identified in our organ harvesting report.
At the very least, I1 asked states to request China's compliance with
foundational rights, the respect for which would have made the violations we
identified impossible. Many states did
speak out for these foundational rights during the two hours of the Universal
Periodic Review Working Group allocated to these speeches, but to no
avail. The Government of China rejected
virtually all these rights.
What with time consumed in Chinese government statements and chair
interventions, 60 states were able to make interventions. Fifty‑five
states who wanted to make interventions were at the end of the queue and were
not able to say anything.
The Asia Pacific states which managed to intervene in the China debate
were Australia, Canada, Singapore, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka,
Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand,
Myanmar, and Malaysia. The Asia Pacific
states which wanted to intervene but were too far back in the line were North
Korea, South Korea, Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Cambodia,
East Timor, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Mongolia.
States which participated in the Universal Periodic Review were more
timorous than the UN specialized mechanisms.
States were not prepared to go as far as either the UN Rapporteur on
Torture or the UN Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance or the UN Committee
Canada came the closest. It was the sole country to note that respect
for freedom of belief includes respecting the freedom of belief of the Falun
Gong. It was also the sole country to
recommend that China implement the recommendations of the Committee against
Torture which had in turn addressed directly organ transplant abuse.
The Universal Periodic Review Working Group came out with a report
tabulating the recommendations of states which spoke during debate. As the beginning of the Review, the
Government of China representatives endorsed acceptance of human rights
"in light of China's national realities" . They said that
China works towards
"Chinese-style democracy" rather than just democracy. They added: "It is natural for
different countries to have different views on the question of human
rights." The Government of China
reaction, which followed immediately upon release of the report, gave us a
clear idea of what those earlier weasel words had meant.
The Chinese government accepted some recommendations, mostly from other
gross violator states which commended the Government of China for its efforts
and encouraged it to keep on doing what it was doing. The Government of China said it would
consider other recommendations. There
was also a long list of recommendations the Government of China rejected out of
Here is a partial list of the recommendations the Government of China
Germany and Canada recommended that
China guarantee all citizens of China the exercise of religious freedom,
freedom of belief and freedom of worshipping in private. The Government of China said that it would
not accept this recommendation.
Canada, the United Kingdom, Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, Sweden
and New Zealand recommended that China abolish all forms of arbitrary detention
including re-education through labour camps.
These forced labour camps produce goods at prices with which the US and
other countries can not compete, leading to global unemployment. Falun Gong practitioners in all forms of
detention are blood tested, organ examined and, if they refuse to recant, even after
torture, killed for their organs. We
interviewed many Falun Gong practitioners who did recant after torture and were
released and who told us of this blood testing and organ examination. This blood testing and organ examination are
unique to Falun Gong practitioners. Former prisoners who are both Falun Gong
practitioners and who are not tell us of this distinctive treatment.
Arbitrary detention facilities are forced organ donor banks. Getting rid of administrative detention and
re-education through labour camps will do more than just end abusive labour
practices; it will go a long way to ending abusive organ harvesting.
The Government of China said no to this recommendation. It also rejected the Canadian recommended
that China implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture.
Finland recommended that China take effective measures to ensure that
lawyers can defend their clients without fear of harassment. One example we
gave in the chapter on strategy is the case of Gao Zhisheng. To this recommendation of Finland also, the
Government of China said no.
So with the Government of China, we have more than just a denial of the
facts. There is a rejection of the
The Government of China, relying on its own particularity, says no to
freedom of belief, yes to forced labour, yes to arbitrary detention, no to an
independent investigation into the allegations that Falun Gong practitioners
are being killed for their organs, no to explaining the discrepancy between
sources of organs and volume of organ transplants, no to bringing perpetrators
of organ transplant abuse to justice, no to allowing human rights lawyers to
defend their clients without harassment.
When the Government of China talks about acceptance of human rights
"in light of China's national realities", working towards
"Chinese-style democracy", having its own "different views on
the question of human rights", this is in practice what it means. It is noteworthy that Sudan, Egypt and
Algeria, all states with poor human rights records, commended the Government of
China during the Universal Periodic Review interactive debate for implementing
human rights in harmony with its national realities