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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Combating the killing of Falun Gong for their Organs

(Speech to the International Society for Human Rights, Bern, Switzerland, January 16, 2010, on receipt of the Swiss Section Human Rights Prize)
By David Matas

Four messengers come to Job, one to tell of the loss of his oxen and asses with their attendants; the next to tell of the death of his sheep and shepherds; the third to tell of slaying of all of his camels with the servants; and the fourth to tell of the death of all his sons and daughters. Each messenger says: "I only am escaped alone to tell thee." These are also the words of Ishmael, in Herman Melville's novel "Moby Dick", at the end of his tragic tale of Captain Ahab and the ship Pequod.

Strictly speaking, I am not a survivor of the Holocaust, since all four of my grandparents came to Canada before World War I. Yet, in a very real sense, every Jewish person is a survivor of the Holocaust. Six million Jews were killed. All Jews were targeted. It is only the fortunes of war that gave an Allied rather than an Axis victory in World War II. If the Axis powers had won, not I, not one Jewish person would be alive today.

I have escaped to tell. If we can give any meaning at all to the meaningless slaughter of so many millions of innocents, we must learn the lessons of the Holocaust. To say "Never again" is easy. To make it happen is not so easy. The reality is that since World War II, genocide has happened again and again, not to Jews, but to Cambodians, to Hutus, to Tutsis, to Bosnians, to Somalis and now to practitioners of Falun Gong.

One of the lessons I have attempted to draw from the Holocaust is never to accept in silence gross violations of human rights, wherever they occur. The Holocaust would not have happened if people everywhere had protested gross violations of human rights anywhere as soon as they occurred.

I have engaged in human rights work to act on this lesson, to join the human rights struggle on this front. In fighting on this front, I have had to combat an enemy that prowls throughout the human rights battlefield, a horsemen of our very own human made apocalypse, the horseman of helplessness.

There is an all too prevalent sense that human rights violations are so massive, and so far away, that nothing can be done about them. It is my view not only that individuals in countries like Canada far away from gross and flagrant violations can have a positive impact on respect for human rights. It is the voice of individuals around the world which is most likely to lead to respect for human rights.

There is a tendency to turn to governments or to the United Nations to promote respect for human rights. Yet, human rights belong to individuals. Unless individuals promote respect for rights, these rights are bound to wither.

When I was asked, with David Kilgour, to investigate allegations that Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs, I did not hesitate to agree. I had no views whether the allegations were true. But I knew that the Government of China had a policy and practice of persecuting Falun Gong practitioners. And I also knew, from my experience with human rights non-governmental organizations, that this was an allegation which those organizations would have difficulty assessing.

For this alleged crime, there was unlikely to be any eye witness evidence. The people present at the scene of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners, if it was occurring, would have been either perpetrators or victims. There would have been no bystanders. Because the victims, according to the allegation, were murdered and cremated, there would be no body to be found, no autopsy to be conducted. There would have been no surviving victims to tell what happened to them. Perpetrators are unlikely to confess to what would be, if they occurred, crimes against humanity.

The scene of the crime, if the crime had occurred, would have left no traces. Once an organ harvesting is completed, the operating room in which it takes place looks like any other empty operating room.

The Chinese government represses human rights reporters and defenders. There is no freedom of expression. Those reporting on human rights violations from within China are often jailed and sometimes charged with communicating state secrets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is not allowed to visit prisoners in China. Nor is any other organization concerned with human rights of prisoners.

These evidentiary obstacles made it clear to me that the non-governmental organizations with which I worked would do nothing about the allegations. There was an allegation which cried out for investigation, but no established non-governmental organization to investigate it. So I agreed to step in with David Kilgour to fill the breach.

How we were able to come to grips with the allegations, the evidence on which we relied, I leave you to find out for yourself by reading our work. Our conclusion is that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.

We concluded in July 2006 that the government of China and its agencies in numerous parts of the country, since 1999 have put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. Their vital organs, including kidneys, livers, corneas and hearts, have been seized involuntarily for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners, who normally face long waits for voluntary donations of such organs in their home countries.

Our conclusion came not from any one single item of evidence, but rather the piecing together of all the evidence we considered. Each portion of the evidence we considered is, in itself, verifiable and, in most cases, incontestable. Put together, they paint a damning whole picture. It is their combination that convinced us.

Because we are both human rights activists, we could not sit idly by once we concluded that innocents were being killed for their organs. Our activism, our travels for that activism, led us to discover new evidence. We produced a second version of our report in July 2007 and a third version in book form in November 2009 under the title Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs.

Since we announced our investigation in May 2006, there have been many changes in China and abroad. Changes in China about organ transplants are these:

  • The Government of China has banned the sale of organs. On July 1st, 2006, a law banning the sale of organs came into effect [1].
  • Civilian hospitals engaged in transplants must now be registered with the Ministry of Health. Unregistered civilian hospitals can not be engaged in transplants.
  • Chinese patients are now given priority access to organ transplants, taking precedence over foreigners. The Ministry of Health of the Government of China announced that change on June 26, 2007 [2].
  • The Government of China has committed to enacting a law to legalize organ harvesting from the brain dead. The original proposal for the law change about organ transplants which took effect on July 1, 2006 included a provision to that effect.
  • Web sites in China which used to advertise prices of organ transplants and short waiting times for transplants have disappeared. We have archived the sites, but the sites are no longer visible from their sources.
  • The Government of China announced in August 2009 an organ donation system as a pilot project in ten locations.
  • When we began our work, the official Chinese government position was that all organs were sourced from voluntary donations, this in spite of the absence of an organ donation system. Today, the Government of China acknowledges that its predominant source of organs is prisoners.
  • What is more, the Government of China now accepts that this sourcing of organs from prisoners is improper. Deputy Health Minister Huang Jeifu, at the time of the announcement of an organ donor pilot project in August 2009, stated that executed prisoners "are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants". [3]

Since we began our work, there have also been significant developments outside of China.

  • Israel passed a law banning the sale and brokerage of organs [4].
  • Israel as well ended its funding through the health insurance system of transplants for their nationals in China.
  • Taiwan banned the visit of Chinese doctors brokering organ transplants [5].
  • The major transplant hospitals in Queensland, Australia have banned training Chinese surgeons [6].
  • A Belgian senator Patrik Vankrunkelsven and a Canadian Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj has each introduced into the Parliament of his country extraterritorial legislation banning transplant tourism. The proposed legislation would, when enacted, penalise any transplant patient who receives an organ without consent of the donor where the patient knew or ought to have known of the absence of consent.
  • The World Medical Association entered into an agreement with the Chinese Medical Association that organs of prisoners and other individuals in custody must not be used for transplantation except for members of their immediate family.
  • The Transplantation Society opposed the transplantation of organs from prisoners and the presentations of studies involving patient data or samples from recipients of organs or tissues from prisoners.

These changes are not sufficient to resolve the abuse on which we have reported. On the contrary, for Falun Gong practitioners, matters have got worse, not better. Since we began our work, the number of prisoners sentenced to death and then executed has decreased dramatically, but the number of transplants, at first decreased just a little, and then went back to traditional levels. Since the only other substantial source of organs for transplants in China besides Falun Gong practitioners is prisoners sentenced to death, a decrease of sourcing from prisoners sentenced to death means an increase of sourcing from Falun Gong practitioners.

Though the violations against Falun Gong practitioners have become more acute since our work began, the substantial movement in policy and practice both inside and outside China encourages us. The willingness to change is there. We need to continue to press for changes until the abuse ends.

The award you are giving us here today certainly helps. I have, over the years, for my human rights work, received a number of awards and I appreciate them all. But this award is special because of the seminar over the last day and a half on the substance of our work and the commitment of the International Society for Human Rights to join with us in combating this abuse.

It seems these days everyone wants a short cut. The number of people who are prepared to go through our writings, check our sources and come to their own conclusions is few and far between. They do exist - Kirk Allison, an academic at the University of Minnesota, Tom Treasure, a transplant surgeon Britain, Howard Wang, an undergraduate Yale thesis student, and I applaud them for it.

But for the media, for parliamentarians, for bureaucrats often what matter is not so much the quality of our work as who agrees with it. The very fact that David Kilgour and I were practically alone was itself, for many, a reason to question our work. Having a respected non-governmental organization like the International Society of Human Rights (and Human Rights Without Frontiers headquartered in Belgium, which has also joined our efforts) adds to the credibility of our work, lightens the burden on our shoulders, reinforces our advocacy campaign and supplements research capacity for the ongoing work.

So, I thank you for this award. And I look forward to working with you in the months to come in the struggle to end the killing of Falun Gong for their organs.

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

[1] Article 27, Clinical Application of Human Organ Transplant Technology Management Interim Provisions
[2] Jim Warren China moving rapidly to change transplant system Transplant News, September 2007
[3] "China's Organ Reforms", China Daily, August 26, 2009
[4] Shahar Ilan, With top rabbis' blessing, Knesset approves organ donation, Haaretz 24/03/2008
[5] Wang Changmin, Medical Doctors Brokering Organ Transplants Will be Banned from Visiting Taiwan Liberty Times in Taiwan, 10/26/2007
[6] Hospitals ban Chinese surgeon training, The Sydney Morning Herald, December 5, 2006

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