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Public human rights education and the killing of Falun Gong for their organs

By David Matas
Remarks prepared for delivery to the International Conference on Human Rights Education
University of Western Sydney
November 5th 2010

David Kilgour and I wrote a report released in July 2006 which concluded that practitioners of Falun Gong in China were being killed for their organs. The organs were being sold by Chinese hospitals to patients world wide in need of transplants. Falun Gong is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation the Communist Party of China banned in 1999.

Both David Kilgour and I are human rights activists as well as researchers and writers. Having reached the conclusion we did, we could not just shelve our report and move on. We had to do something to end the abuse we identified.

That something was an attempt to public mobilization through human rights education. We set about informing people world wide about the results of our work to attempt to stop the abuse.

Engaging in this effort presented unusual challenges. For one, both David Kilgour and I are private actors, not representing any institution or organization. For another, we had to combat the Government and Communist Party of China, not just on the substance of our work, but also in communicating our message.

Acting as individuals has obvious disadvantages. We have no funding, no staff support, nobody tasked with doing our research for us. We were and are engaged in many other activities and could devote only a portion of our time to this work.

It also has advantages. One advantage is our ability to pursue just one China agenda.

The hope of doing business with China silences both private enterprise and government objections to Chinese human rights violations. Geopolitical reality mutes governmental and inter-governmental criticism of China. The need to obtain access to Chinese officials and visas to enter China muzzles many China scholars.

The wealth of human rights violations in China and the temptation to focus on those most likely to be remedied leads many human rights NGOs away from combating persecution of the Falun Gong. The Communist Party is adamant in its intent to persecute the Falun Gong. Challenging the persecution of the Falun Gong is equivalent in the minds of Chinese officials to challenging their hold on power. Raising the issue with them leads to bullying, anger, and threats. Since the persecution has begun, the Party/state has not budged an inch on the issue and there is no sign of their doing so.

The Party/state when faced with criticism from human rights NGOs in other areas - such as the death penalty or the absence of fair trials - is more accommodating. It is willing to acknowledge that there are problems and promises change. The promises may be mere hypocrisy; the changes seem never to come or to be only superficial. Nonetheless, for human rights NGOs, it is tempting to move from theatre of fury and stubbornness about the Falun Gong into an arena of discourse where conversation is polite and a mirage of change beckons.

David Kilgour and I do not need to balance other considerations against the need to be forthright about Chinese government human rights abuses. We have no career or business interests which might be compromised by confronting the Government of China with its persecution of the Falun Gong. We can afford to discomfort the Government of China. We have fought many human rights battles over decades and have developed thick skins; we are used to being the targets of criticism.

A similar advantage is our ability to be selective. Governments, inter-governmental organizations, and NGOs, when protesting any particular abuse, are met with calls from a wide variety of actors to oppose equally other abuses. Every country, without exception, has some human rights abuses. As soon as any entity says something about this, they are immediately met with the query, what about that?

Though David Kilgour and are met with similar queries, we have a simple answer - we can not do everything. Our very budgetary and time constraints become an advantage, allowing us to justify actively campaigning against one violation without campaigning equally actively against all others.

A third advantage we have is that there is no board of directors or staff or media director or secretary general or membership we have to please. We can react immediately to media queries or invitations to speak without the need for clearance. We can take whatever position we choose.

The nature of the victim group added to our flexibility. Some victim groups are organized. Advocates opposing victimization of organized groups, even if the advocates do not form part of the victim group, attempt to work in coordination with them, consequently enduring some organizational constraints.

Falun Gong though is not an organization. It is a number of individuals dispersed around the world engaged in the same set of exercises. It is a group without a membership, without officers or offices, without a bank account, without funds. There is a spiritual leader, Li Hongzhi, but no organizational hierarchy to approve or disapprove of our efforts, to constrain us in any way.

Practitioners of Falun Gong have banded together, sometimes with others, to engage in a number of activities. There are the Epoch Times newspaper, the Sound of Hope radio, New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV), Shen Yun Performing Arts Dance Spectacular, Clear Wisdom website, country based Falun Dafa associations, and the Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong (CIPFG).

It was the Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong which had asked us to investigate the charge that in China Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs. The Coalition though gave us no instructions, no funds, and no data. After accepting their request to look into the matter, which we did because of our view of the need to do so, we were on our own.

The Coalition offered to pay our expenses for the research leading up to our report. We never took advantage of this offer. Neither of us ever asked the Coalition for any money and neither of us got from the Coalition any money.

Individual Falun Gong practitioners did provide us with bits and pieces of data helpful in our research. For instance, several Falun Gong practitioners detained in China who managed to get out of detention and then out of China told us of their experiences in detention in China. Assembling and analyzing the data was our work alone.

How our travel costs were paid depended very much on the nature of the invitations we received. If an organization or institution asked us to speak, typically the requesting organization or institution would pay our expenses. We have received reimbursement of travelling expenses from hosting NGOs, hospitals and universities. If individual Falun Gong practitioners decided to take upon themselves the hosting of an event where we were invited to speak, those practitioners would pay for the event expenses out of their own pockets.

When our report first came out, there was a good deal of interest world wide. We received a number of unsolicited invitations to talk about it. However, over time, the shock of the new wore off. Regrettably, the violation we identified persisted. So we had to devise a strategy to keep the issue alive.

One focus was a website we created. It is <>. We accept communication to the website, some of which has been quite useful in identifying further information as well as volunteers willing to join us in our efforts.

Another effort we undertook was revisions. We produced a second version of the report in January 2007 and a third version in book form in November 2009. Revisions were necessary simply because the situation on the ground kept on changing. The persecution continued; but the form varied.

Choosing a book form for the third version had a disadvantage. It is not available as an e-book; it is available in hard copy only. A book version had advantages as well, generating book reviews, invitations to book store venues and book fairs, and an opportunity to address the issue at book length.

One way of communicating our work was translations. Our report became available, the first version in eighteen languages, the second version in nineteen languages all posted on our website. This multi-lingual technique could not be sustained though for the book, which had a lot more in it to translate and which needed publishers in different countries.

We certainly tried to accept every invitation we got. Being just two of us sometimes made that difficult at the beginning when invitations came pouring in. We tried to organize tours to combine as many invitations as possible. There was many a day that I was in three countries the same day and one day I was actually in four. One or the other of us was in over forty countries and eighty cities talking about our work.

We visited many of these countries more than once. This is my fifth trip to Australia since our report has come out, and my second this year.

As unsolicited invitations diminished, I went about eliciting them, putting in abstracts and proposals for a variety of conferences, including this one. Every conference is a new audience, not just because the people in the room are different, but because each conference brings together its own community. This conference brings together human rights educators, giving us an opportunity to reach out to the human rights education community.

In August this year I was in Melbourne addressing a United Nations conference on global health. My talk was delivered in the context of a panel on international organ transplant abuse which I had proposed to the organizers of that conference.

David Kilgour or I have addressed the United Nations as well at its Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group in Geneva when China came up for consideration, at its Committee against Torture also in Geneva when China's report of compliance with the Convention against Torture was being assessed, through meeting with its Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak in Vienna, and through speaking as a representative of a hosting NGO in the Human Rights Council chamber. The NGO which we represented was Interfaith International which gave us the authorization to speak in their name on the basis that we were combating religious intolerance.

We have engaged the NGO human rights community, briefing as many interested NGOs as we could - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China and so on. Two NGOs, besides Interfaith International, have been active in adding to our efforts, the International Society for Human Rights, headquartered in Frankfurt and Human Rights without Frontiers, headquartered in Brussels.

We have made every effort to engage the media. Media inquiries come from everywhere. They are often quite detailed. And usually the reporter has a short deadline.

When major media come calling, it does not take a fine strategic sense to realize that answering their queries is advisable. For us though, no media outlet is too small, too far away. If I get a media inquiry from a journalist in a high school newspaper in a town I never heard of, I would do my best to answer it.

The issue we addressed, Chinese organ transplant abuse, occurs at the intersection of ethical, human rights, medical and regional concerns. Each has its own community which we try to address. So I went to and spoke at an academic conference in Houston in March 2009 at the University of St. Thomas on the ethics of organ transplantation. The proceedings of that conference are now being published in book form. I am carrying with me on this trip the proofs of my contribution to the book for proof reading.

We attended and spoke at a number of regional conferences dealing with Asian human rights. So for instance, I addressed in July 2009 a conference of the Global Alliance to Stop Genocide in Northeast Asia in Seoul Korea. I spoke at a conference on Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region held at the University of Sydney in November 2009.

We have made every effort to engage the professional transplantation community, meeting with individual leaders in that community as well as addressing professional conferences. The Transplantation Society, which gathers together the planet's transplant professionals, meets every two years. In 2006 it met in Boston; in 2008 it met in Sydney; this year it met in Vancouver. David Kilgour spoke to a public rally outside the Boston conference. I made a poster presentation to the Sydney conference. I proposed an abstract for the Vancouver conference which was accepted and I spoke there.

Organ transplant abuse occurs when safeguards needed to prevent that abuse are not in place. Safeguards can be legal as well professional. David Kilgour and I have made an active effort to encourage legislation in this field. Last month we, for instance, were both in Paris to support the proposed legislation of member of the National Assembly Valérie Boyer designed to combat international organ transplant abuse by French nationals and residents. We have made presentatations to many parliamentary committees.

Diplomacy, when dealing with Chinese human rights violations, is a frustrating activity. Nonetheless we have met with diplomats around the world asking them to engage China on the issue of our concern.

We became opportunistic, taking advantage of other events to raise our concerns. The awarding of the Olympic games to China in 2008 gave us an opportunity to speak at Olympics human rights torch rallies held throughout the world. The hosting in Sydney of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in September 2007 became an occasion for us to speak at rallies raising human rights concerns in the APEC region.

Last but not least, we have tried to engage the public directly, speaking to public forums wherever we had an invitation to do so. So for instance, I have taken advantage of this trip to address public fora earlier this week in Brisbane and Sydney.

Doing all this has been for David Kilgour and me a daunting task. If we had just been left to our own devices to go about our business, that would have been difficult enough. However, on top of all the logistical issues we face as individuals without institutional support, one of the largest and most aggressive organizations world wide, the Communist Party of China (CCP), has been actively working against us, attempting to thwart our every move.

When we provide information, the CCP countered with disinformation. When we or our hosts organized venues, the CCP tried to engineer their cancellation. When we invited people to meet with us, the CCP tried to discourage them from attending. We have been slandered, boycotted, picketed, and threatened.

The global Chinese Communist Party/State campaign against our work is unlike anything we see from any of the other major human rights violators. As court room lawyers, we are used to having people disagree with us. But we have never seen anything like the disagreement with our report from the Government of China.

The Government of China Embassy in Canada issued its first response to our report the same day as our report, July 6, 2006 and a second one dated July 26, 2006. The first statement dismissed our report out of hand. That meant that the Government of China engaged in no investigations to determine whether or not what the report contained was true.

The second statement released almost three weeks after the release of our report gave it time to delve into our report and produce any substantive contradictory information. Yet, there was none.

The first Chinese government statement then says: "It is obvious that their purpose is to smear China's image." This is typical of CCP propaganda, identifying the Party with China and claiming any criticism of the Party is anti-China.

The Government of China wrote in its first response: "It is very clear that Falun Gong's rumour has ulterior political motives." This one statement contains two typical CCP evasions, claiming that our report is based on rumour and attributing our work to the Falun Gong community.

The two Government of China responses attack us as not independent from Falun Gong and attack Falun Gong as an evil cult. Yet our work has to be judged on its merits. Attacking us is not an appropriate response.

The second Government of China response is primarily an elaboration on the "evil cult" attack on Falun Gong. The second response has eight paragraphs. Only three deal with organ harvesting. One talks about Canada-Chinese relations. Four paragraphs, the bulk of the response, are a venomous attack on Falun Gong, replete with false, slanderous allegations. It is this sort of slander which, in China, depersonalizes and dehumanizes the Falun Gong and makes possible the violation of their basic human rights. Indeed, the fact that the Government of China would make a hate filled attack on Falun Gong the focus of its response to our report reinforces the analysis of the report.

Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong media outlet, produced a Government of China documentary response to our report. The documentary did not interview us nor any independent expert who had studied our report. It interviewed medical sources within China, having a transplant official recant a statement he made on a Chinese website which we cited, though the st atement was still sitting on the website at the time of the documentary, and having a doctor deny he made comments our researchers taped him as saying. The documentary is available at many Chinese government embassies and consulates.

In many countries we visited we engaged in a running battle with the local embassy, consulates and their front organizations to get our message across. I went to Israel to speak on May 30, 2007 at a symposium on organ transplants at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv. When I arrived in Israel on the Sunday before the event, I was told that the Chinese embassy had asked Israeli Foreign Affairs to cancel the event at which I was asked to speak.

The Foreign Affairs Assistant Deputy Minister Avi Nir and the Health Assistant Deputy Minister Boz Lev put the request to the Beilinson hosting hospital, which refused. Foreign Affairs and Health then asked the hospital to withdraw the invitation to me to speak even if the program continued. The hospital refused that too.

Foreign Affairs and Health then asked the hospital to withdraw the invitation to Roy Bar Ilan, a Falun Gong practitioner scheduled to be part of the closing panel. This the hospital did, even though the program, as advertised even on the day of the event included his name.

Once the Chinese embassy found out that the event was going ahead with me on the speaker's list, they sent down a spokesman to reply to my intervention. They distributed on every chair before the symposium a paper titled "Position Paper of Chinese Government on Allegations of So Called organ harvest" stating that the report we wrote on organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners contains:

    "verbal evidence without sources, unverifiable witnesses and huge amount of unconvincingly conclusive remarks based on words like "probably", "possibly", "maybe" and "it is said", etc. All these only call into question the truth of the report."

When the Chinese government puts words in quotation marks and asserts that they come from our work, there is a tendency to assume that these quotes are real. Yet, at no place in the two versions of our report, which are word searchable on the internet, do we link the words "probably", "possibly", "maybe" or the phrase "it is said" to our conclusions.

All one has to do to is to look at our work to see that every statement we make is independently verifiable. There is no verbal evidence without sources. Where we rely on witnesses we identify them and quote what they say.

The Chinese remarks, as is their wont, were mostly not about our report; they were rather a slanderous attack on the Falun Gong, having nothing to do with organ harvesting at all. These remarks manifest the very bigotry which led to the violation that they were denying.

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) announced that it was broadcasting in November 2007 a TV documentary by Peter Rowe on the persecution of the Falun Gong in China which featured our report. The Government of China phoned up the CBC (something the CBC admitted) and the CBC pulled the show. It was replaced with an old documentary on Pakistan because, so the CBC spokesman said, recent turmoil in Pakistan made the rebroadcast timely.

But, as it turned out, timeliness was not the concern. The CBC went back to the producer Peter Rowe and asked for changes. He initially balked and then made some. But the changes he made were not enough. The CBC made more changes on its own after the producer refused to cooperate any more and then broadcast its concocted product.

The CBC version of the documentary was broadcast November 20. Since the original version had already been aired, without notice in the middle of the night in Montreal a few days earlier, and became available on You Tube, it was possible to compare the two.

The deletions were hard evidence to substantiate the findings David Kilgour and I had made of the mass killings of Falun Gong. One item deleted was the playing of tapes of telephone admissions from hospitals in China acknowledging that they were selling Falun Gong organs. Chinese government denials remained.

The Chinese government establishes organizations abroad which are nominally independent from the government but in fact act as its agents. Many universities have Chinese student organizations which are tightly connected to the local Chinese embassy or consulate. The Chinese government uses threats of exit visa denials, cancellation of scholarships and intimidation of the family back home to get students abroad to spy on their classmates and bully the Falun Gong.

I was witness to the activities of these groups at Columbia and Princeton universities in the United States when I spoke there in April 2007. At Columbia, an organization titled the Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association posted a threat on its web site saying: "Anyone who offends China will be executed no matter how far away they are".

When I spoke at Columbia, university security showed up in full force. A group came to the talk with banners and red flags which security required them to leave outside. Security permitted the group to bring in placards which they held up during the talk. The placards said in Chinese and English that Falun Gong is an evil cult.

I had obtained the e-mail which the organizers had used to bring their colleagues out and for my talk proceeded to read through it and react to it. Not liking what they were hearing, the group left my talk and the room en masse in mid stream.

In Princeton, there was a similar protest. This time though the Chinese government supporters were allowed to bring in posters, which they held up at the back of the room.

The Chinese government gives grants for universities to establish Confucius institutes. These institutes are supposedly for Chinese studies. But once established, they become spy outlets for the Chinese government and leverage on the university to attempt to ban activity publicising persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong.

I was scheduled to speak April 5, 2008 at San Francisco State University, a university with a Confucius institute. The organizers of this event bought a display ad in the San Francisco Chronicle advertising the event, an ad the Chinese consulate in San Francisco could not miss. Shortly before the event, the University cancelled the venue, citing security concerns.

The organizers at the last minute rescheduled the event to a hotel, the Nikko Hotel. The University put up signs saying the event, not just the venue, had been cancelled. Fortunately the organizers placed helpers at the University to redirect people to the new venue.

When I was in Finland in September 2006 meeting with the Finnish parliamentary human rights committee, its chair informed me that the Chinese embassy had called, urging them not to meet with me. The chair replied that embassy officials were welcome to meet separately with the committee, but that the committee would nonetheless meet with me.

On a trip to Australia, in August 2006, David Kilgour spoke on our report at a forum in Melbourne hosted by Liberal Party member Victor Perton. The Melbourne Chinese consulate had sent a letter to all members of the Legislative Assembly asking them not to attend the forum.

In the course of arranging a visit I made in 2007 to Australia to speak at NGO events paralleling the APEC summit, I, along with the rest of a list serve I was on, received a virus. A technical expert traced back the virus to mainland China. The virus sender assumed the identity of one person on the list serve so that the message with the virus appeared to be coming from someone known to the list serve. Fortunately, the virus did not infect my computer because of the systems I use. Others were not so lucky.

I was scheduled to speak at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia August 4th, 2008. A volunteer on July 7th hired a theatre at the University. The volunteer explained what the booking was for and that organizers were not students. The person taking bookings was new and had everything cleared from superiors. The University said they would notify all their students and staff about the forum internally. The organizers were also allowed to put up posters around the campus promoting the event.

On 28 July, the booking volunteer received an e-mail advising that the venue was no longer available. Vice-Chancellor Robert Stable told the booking volunteer that a Committee had met and decided the event was political and that they don't allow political events from outside. No matter what was said, he said he didn't care and said that the decision was final.

Bond University has a large mainland Chinese population. It is a private university which relies heavily on tuition for income. It has an active student exchange program with three mainland Chinese universities: Soochow University in Jiangsu, Southwest University of Political Sciences and Law in Chongqing and Tsinghua University, in Beijing. Brisbane has a Chinese government consulate.

An alternative venue was arranged for the same date at Broadbeach, Gold Coast. The forum was connected through the internet to participants in China, over 150 in total. The local as well as the internet participants asked questions after the formal presentation was over. One of the internet participants identified himself as a Chinese government police official. This is the question, in translation, he asked me:

    "Are you afraid of death? You are brutally interfering in our Party's internal policies. Are you afraid of our revenge? Our revenge against you, we'll take revenge against you, are you not afraid of that?"

I mentioned earlier that I came to Melbourne August this year to participate in panel I had organized which formed part of a United Nations conference on global health. At the panel session, an ethnic Chinese male began systematically taking pictures of everyone in the audience. One of the panellists, a Sydney transplant professional, challenged the photographer, asking: Who are you? Who do you represent? Why are you taking the pictures? The photographer, without saying a word, packed up and left. Melbourne has a Chinese consulate.

On this trip, one of my hosts was shot. The Epoch Times hosted a public forum at which I spoke on Saturday morning 30 October at the Queensland Taiwan Centre in Sunnybank, Brisbane. The offices of the Epoch Times were the victim of a drive by shooting on the prior Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, no one was wounded, but the front plate glass window of the office has a prominent bullet hole and a spider web of cracks.

In education as elsewhere we must consider substance as well as form. So far, I have talked about the manner in which David Kilgour and I have communicated our work and the obstacles we faced. What does the substance of our work tell us about human rights education?

Education is not just teaching. It is also learning. The focus of this conference is neither China nor Falun Gong nor organ transplant abuse. It is rather human rights education. What have David Kilgour and I, through our work on the killing of Falun Gong for their organs, learned and communicated about human rights?

Superficially, the topic we have addressed is quite specific. It deals with a factual allegation. We have come to a conclusion about that allegation. What does that effort tell us about human rights more broadly?

One human rights lesson we have tried to learn is how to come to grips with an allegation of mass murder where there are no bodies, no crime scene to visit, no witnesses to interview, and no accessible records. The methodology we have developed we hope is instructive.

The atrocity we conclude took place intersects not just a broad range of communities of interest, but also a broad range of human rights standards. Focusing on the specific has given us and our audiences an entry into more general human rights issues - about the death penalty, religious intolerance, re-education through labour camps, organ transplant abuse, and the oppression of communism.

One can talk about any of these issues in the abstract. The specific issue we addressed, the killing of Falun Gong for their organs, had the advantage of giving us and our audiences a concrete handle on large and amorphous questions. It is often easier to deal with abstract issues through concrete examples and we have provided one.

Though our intent was specific and practical, to end an identified abuse, a consequence has been human rights education both for ourselves and our audiences in these larger issues. The larger issues are more than just background. Solve the general and the specific is also solved. End communist oppression, the re-education through labour camps, religious intolerance or organ transplant abuse, then the killing of Falun Gong for their organs would stop. In order to combat a specific abuse, we became advocates for respect of relevant general standards.

Are Falun Gong being killed for their organs? That was our conclusion and would be, I believe yours as well, if you took the time to read through our work and check our sources.

However, it is not necessary to agree with our conclusion to remedy the abuse. The abuse would go away if the Government of China respected general human rights principles - if the Government tolerated spiritual beliefs it could not control, if it closed down the re-education through labour camps, if it stopped sourcing organs from prisoners.

The Party/state denies that its hospitals are sourcing organs from Falun Gong prisoners but acknowledges it is sourcing organs from prisoners - prisoners sentenced to death and then executed. It further acknowledges that sourcing organs from prisoners is wrong and eventually will cease.

If Chinese hospitals were to stop sourcing organs from prisoners, they would have to stop sourcing organs from Falun Gong prisoners. The abuse would disappear without the need to resolve our disagreement with the Government of China whether Chinese hospitals are sourcing organs from Falun Gong prisoners.

If the Party/state were to stop killing Falun Gong practitioners for their organs but to continue to source organs from prisoners sentenced to death, to maintain the persecution of the Falun Gong, and to keep the re-education through labour camps operating, the atrocity we identified would cease; but the solution would be far from ideal. Pursuing the optimal solution has meant for us conducting a broad human rights campaign.

Neither David Kilgour nor I practice Falun Gong. We have never met or communicated with Falun Gong spiritual leader Li Hongzhi. Neither of us is ethnic Chinese. Nor do either of us have Chinese family members through marriage or adoption. We are sometimes asked why we go to so much trouble to combat the victimization of a group with which we have no personal connection.

There are at least two answers to that. One is the nature of repression. I applaud Gao Zhisheng a Chinese national in China who is not a Falun Gong practitioner but who has protested vigorously the persecution of Falun Gong. Yet, it is unrealistic to expect Chinese in China to show the courage Gao Zhisheng has shown. He has been beaten, tortured, disappeared, and his law office shut down as reprisals against his protests.

In a democracy, every government cares what its nationals think; if the nationals do not approve the government, they will defeat it at the next election. Democratic governments care a good deal less what foreigners think; foreigners have no votes and cannot change the governments.

In a tyranny, it is the opposite. Governments can easily disregard the attitudes of their nationals. If someone disagrees in too spirited a fashion, as Gao Zhisheng has done, he is just thrown in jail. Foreigners can not be abused that way. Tyrants depend on the international status of their positions, the tolerance of foreigners to give legitimacy to their oppression. The only realistic and the most effective opposition to tyranny is abroad.

David Kilgour who lives in Ottawa and I who live in Winnipeg may face some risk in standing up to the Government of China. But it is nothing like the risk that Gao Zhisheng has faced, that other nationals in China would face. We can challenge the Government of China from a position of relative safety.

We can, and felt we should, take advantage our far away perches which by comparison are so much more secure that those of Chinese nationals to challenge the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party. After Gao Zhisheng had given us such a shining example of courage, for us who are so much safer to do nothing out of fear for our safety would have been all too timid.

A second answer is the very nature of human rights. I am active in combating violations of human rights of Falun Gong practitioners, not in spite of the fact that I am neither a practitioner nor Chinese, but because I am neither a practitioner nor Chinese.

Standing up for human rights means breaking through barriers of language, culture, geography and religion to affirm the humanity common to us all. Crimes against humanity are crimes against us all because of the humanity we share. Combating violations inflicted on people with whom we have nothing in common except our humanity brings that common humanity home.

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