Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Amnesty: The Olympics countdown - failing to keep human rights promises

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Amnesty's latest report slammed Communist China for breaking Olympic promises. Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, said:

"Thousands of people are executed every year after unfair trials; people are tortured in prisons and thrown in jail just for peacefully standing up for human rights. And the authorities continue to harass and imprison journalists and internet users - hardly the 'complete media freedom' the government has spoken of. [It runs] counter to the most basic interpretation of the 'Olympic spirit'." (more)

Amnesty International Report: People’s Republic of China: The Olympics countdown – failing to keep human rights promises


21 September, 2006 - Some Chinese transplant surgeons appear to be uneasy about their involvement in organ extraction from death penalty prisoners. According to a recent media report published in April 2006, one (unnamed) Chinese surgeon stated:

"Once a court agrees, the doctors can go to the execution field, wait in a sterile van, and harvest the organ right after the execution. Such experiences are a severe moral and mental shock to many surgeons, because the prisoners do not usually die immediately after they are shot. But surgeons have to act quickly to get the organs due to freshness requirements.

To some extent, the doctors are part of the execution. That is too much for many young doctors to accept ... but if you want to do the transplants you have to face the reality."(10)

Organ transplants have become a highly profitable business, particularly since the commercialization of health care in China. There are serious concerns that the potential to profit from such transactions combined with apparently widespread corruption among police, courts and hospitals may lead to abusive practices. It may also provide an economic incentive to retain the death penalty.

On 28 March 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Health released new regulations on organ transplants which took effect on 1 July 2006.(11) They ban the buying and selling of organs and stress that organs may only be removed with the written consent of the donor. However, medical experts have criticized them for not addressing the crux of the problem. For example, Professor Chen Zhonghua, a transplantation specialist who reportedly helped to draft the regulations, has stated that they only offer guidance on transplants from live donors and fail to address key issues such as the source of organs.(12) It remains unclear how well the new regulations will be enforced. International medical standards state that organ transplants may only take place ‘voluntarily’ and with the ‘free and informed’ consent of the donor. Amnesty International considers that those faced with the trauma and anguish of imminent execution are not in a position to provide such consent. In addition, the secrecy surrounding the application of the death penalty in China makes it impossible to independently verify whether such consent was given.

This lack of transparency about the process of execution is mirrored by official secrecy over the exact number of people sentenced to death and executed every year in China. The Chinese government refuses to publish full national statistics on death sentences and executions. Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 1,770 people were executed and 3,900 people were sentenced to death during 2005, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. In March 2004, Chinese legislator Chen Zhonglin estimated the figure at around 10,000 executions per year. Earlier this year, Liu Renwen, a leading Chinese abolitionist and criminal law professor, estimated that around 8,000 people are executed per year based on information obtained from local officials and judges.(13)

No one who is sentenced to death in China receives a fair trial in line with international human rights standards. Failings include: lack of prompt access to lawyers, lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and failure to exclude evidence extracted through torture. A number of cases recently reported in the Chinese press reveal that innocent people had been put to death in China due to the widespread use of torture by the police to extract confessions: (more)

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