Sunday, May 11, 2008

Using the Olympics to end organ harvesting

by David Matas

How can the Olympic games in China be used to promote respect for human rights in China? David Kilgour and I concluded in a report we wrote titled "Bloody Harvest" that Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs. The organs were sold to foreign transplant tourists for huge sums.

The Falun Gong is an exercise regime with a spiritual foundation. It began in 1992 and grew by 1999 to a number greater than the membership of the Communist Party. The Party, out of ideological envy, banned the movement in 1999.

Our report had two versions, dated July 6, 2006 and January 31, 2007. Here are a few of our findings:

Falun Gong practitioners who protested the banning of Falun Gong, were arrested, in the hundreds of thousands. If they gave their names and recanted, they were released. If they did not give their names, they disappeared. If they gave their names and did not recant, they were tortured and threatened with death. If they recanted after the torture and threats, they were then released. If they still did not recant, they disappeared.

The sources in other countries of organs for transplants does not exist in China. There is no functioning organ donation system and a strong cultural aversion to donation. There is no law allowing for organ harvesting from the brain dead cardiac alive. There is a deep seated Chinese antipathy to harvesting organs from the brain dead cardiac alive. The only significant source in China of organs for transplants before the persecution of the Falun Gong was prisoners sentenced to death.

There is no national organ matching or distribution system in China, meaning that there is a tremendous amount of organ wastage.

The volume of organ transplants in China went up dramatically shortly after the persecution of the Falun Gong began. Yet, the numbers of those sentenced to death remained constant.

Falun Gong practitioners in prison, detention, and labour camps have been systematically blood tested. Other prisoners were not blood tested.

Hospitals throughout China advertised on their web sites organs for sale on short notice. The sale of organs for China became a billion dollar business. Organ sales became the leading money maker for many Chinese hospitals.

Our investigators called hospitals pretending to be relatives of patients needing transplants, asking the hospitals if they had Falun Gong organs for sale - Falun Gong because their exercise regime meant that their organs would be healthy. Throughout China, we got admissions on tape that the hospitals had Falun Gong organs for sale.

And there is much, much more.

In the Chinese transplant tourist market, demand is global and supply is local. Our report has had an impact both abroad and in China.

Abroad, publicity about our report led to a downturn in transplant tourist traffic to China. The Transplantation Society, an international organization of transplant professionals, came out with a new policy in November 2006 opposing interaction with Chinese transplant professionals who sourced organs from prisoners.

The Government of Taiwan in November 2007 announced that they would ban entry of organ brokers from China into Taiwan. Israel, which was funding transplants in China for its own citizens, has stopped the funding. The Israeli Parliament in March 2008 enacted legislation prohibiting international organ brokering.

The Government of China has reacted to our report in four different ways. One was simply trying to shut us up. Wherever we went, the Chinese consulate, if they knew about the event, would call up the local hosts urging cancellation, suggesting that hosting the event would be considered an unfriendly act towards China and that our event represented a security threat to the institution. But there is no security threat from the Falun Gong either inside or outside of China.

To me, it is appalling that independent institutions would accede to such a request, as some have, and engage in such a blatant interference with freedom of expression. As well, we are talking about a report which has survived the scrutiny of peer review and has not been challenged in any serious way. For those that are interested, the peer review to which I am referring is the work of University of Minnesota Associate Director of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine Kirk Allison, of British transplant surgeon Tom Treasure, and of Yale University thesis student Hao Wang. They have all independently from us and each other confirmed the conclusions of the Report and supported its accuracy. These independent investigations are to be found at <>.

There is no verified recorded instance of violence by Falun Gong practitioners anywhere at any time in their human rights protests. The Communist Party sees anyone who disagrees with their repression as posing a security threat to them. But a university surely should not share that view. The Falun Gong do not become a security threat simply because the Communist Party of China has decided to suppress them.

A second Chinese government reaction to our report was counter propaganda. Here is just one example. The Chinese Government has circulated a statement that the report David Kilgour and I 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."

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

The report is on the internet and is word searchable. Anyone who searches it can see that the words "probably", "possibly", "maybe" and the phrase "it is said" are not used in our report, not even once.

A third Chinese government reaction to our report was destruction of the evidence on which our report was based. Much of the evidence in our report comes from the Government of China itself, from hospital web sites and Chinese medical research. The Government of China has been systematically taking down or altering the sites on which we have relied.

We have electronically archived all our source material. Any one who wants to see what we saw can go to the links in our report and see our source material. However, this alteration and destruction of the original sources means that updating our report becomes difficult. We know what the situation was at the time the report was written. However, we know less about the situation today because the types of information we got yesterday are not available today.

The fourth Government of China reaction to our report was an attempt to change the facts on the ground. A new Chinese law on transplants in May 2007 prohibited the sale of organs. Similar laws had been passed at least twice before. But this law, unlike previous laws, appears to have had an effect. Foreign transplant tourism has been curtailed. We say this not because of what the Government of China says but because of the anecdotal evidence we have been getting from those outside China seeking transplants.

As well, the Chinese Medical Association signed an agreement in October 2007 with the World Medical Association to oppose the sourcing of organs for transplants from prisoners. The Government of China has distanced itself from the agreement claiming that the Chinese Medical Association is only an NGO. However, in China, there are no true NGOs, only GONGOs, government organized non-governmental organizations. The agreement may just be one more exercise in Chinese hypocrisy. But the least one can say is that, in the current climate, the Government of China has felt this hypocrisy to be necessary.

Even if we put to one side the larger human rights picture and focus only on organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners, problems remain. The number of organs sold in China to foreign transplant tourists has decreased with the new law. But transplantation in China has not ceased altogether.

Yet, the sources of organs in China are almost entirely disreputable. There still is no law in China allowing for organ harvesting from the brain dead cardiac alive. While in China, the existence of a law does not have the same existence as in a country which respects the rule of law, in this case the legal gap is a reflection of a cultural aversion.

There is still no organ donation scheme in China. The number of organ donations in China is tiny, statistically insignificant.

There is still no national organ distribution or transfer or sharing or matching system in China. As the result, the wastage of organs from those who are organ sources continues.

The only substantial source of organs for transplants in China remains prisoners. And there are only two prisoner pools which have been used for transplants - prisoners sentenced to death and Falun Gong practitioners.

It used to be that the death penalty could be approved only by regional courts. Since January 2007, it has to be approved by the Supreme Court. This shift in procedures has reduced substantially the pool of prisoners sentenced to death. This change requires increased reliance on the Falun Gong practitioner pool.

The decrease in transplant tourism could easily have been matched by an increase in transplants to patients within China. We found, before the new law came into force, when the Chinese focus was on the foreign market, that waiting times for foreign customers were much shorter than waiting times for Chinese nationals. Chinese nationals waiting for transplants were miffed by this preferential treatment to foreigners.

Finding out whether this shift to local patients occurred is harder than finding out about foreign traffic. Getting information about what is going on inside China when the witnesses remain inside China is necessarily more difficult than finding out what is going on in China when the witnesses have left China.

However, even if the sourcing of organs for transplants from Falun Gong practitioners were to cease immediately, or had ceased yesterday, that is not the end of the problem. The harvesting that did take place was a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity call out for redress. Perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice.

The persecution of the Falun Gong continues. Of that there can be no doubt. Repression of the Falun Gong is official Chinese policy. That policy has not changed.

To be specific then.

• China should have an organ donation system.

• China should have a national organ matching and sharing distribution system.

• China needs a law allowing for organ harvesting from the brain dead cardiac alive.

• Organ sourcing in China from prisoners should stop.

• Those involved in organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners should be brought to justice.

• The persecution of the Falun Gong should stop.

How do we connect all this to the Olympic games? There are I suggest two sets of strategies which need to be followed, the broad and the narrow.

The broad set of strategies is to use the Olympic games to put a spotlight on human rights violations China. The mere fact of the Games draws international attention to China. We need to take advantage of that spotlight to shine the light on human rights violations in China.

In April, 2001, Liu Jingmin, Vice President of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee stated "(b)y allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights." Liu Qi, mayor of Beijing also pledged that by hosting the games, social progress and economic development in China would move forward, as would China's human rights situation.

We can view those statements as promises. They were promises not kept. The human rights situation in China has deteriorated since the awarding of the Olympic Games, in part because of the awarding of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games have created a new venue for Chinese discrimination against its chosen victims which would not have existed had the Olympic Games not been awarded to China. The Olympic Games have given China a propaganda opportunity it would not have had without the Olympic Games.

We can also view these statements as predictions. As predictions, we can help make them come true by using the Olympic Games to promote the human rights agenda. This is something we must do as an antidote, as a counter to the Chinese government abuse of the Games to promote its own agenda. But we can go further.

There is no one way to do this. But one way or set of ways, is initiatives by the athletes themselves. I would not suggest that the athletes be barred from participation. But they should be given enough information to make their own choices. Here are some examples of what athletes of conscience have done.

British athlete Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, refused to compete in the 100 metre race in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris because the race was held on a Sunday. He changed events and ran instead the 400 metre race which was held on a Thursday. His refusal was commemorated in the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire."

There were a number of athletes from several countries, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who refused to compete in the 1936 Olympic games hosted by Nazi Germany in Berlin. American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze for the 200 metre race at the 1968 Mexico City games, raised each on the medal podium a black gloved fist in protest against human rights violations preceding the Games. Doug Lennox, a member of the Puerto Rico Olympic swimming team for the Beijing Olympics and a student at Princeton University, spoke against Chinese human rights violations at the Olympic human rights torch relay held at Princeton, April 22, 2008. Every one of these initiatives in my view was laudatory.

A second way to counter Chinese Olympics based propaganda is the human rights torch rally. The human rights torch tradition was started in 1936 with the Berlin Olympics. The Berlin Olympics was used to glorify and justify the Nazi hold on power. The current Olympics in general and the official torch relay are being used in the same way, to glorify the hold on power of the Communist Party of China. The human rights torch relay is a counter, the use of the Olympic flame to shine a light on human rights violations in China.

A third is disassociation. Stephen Spielberg has stopped cooperating with the Olympic Games. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he would not be going to the Olympic Games. George Bush should not go to the Olympic Games. Nor should any other leader of a state which stands for human rights.

The narrow strategy is to confront the human rights violations which are specific to the games. The allocation of the Olympics has led to the banning of a whole host of marginalized political, religious and spiritual groups. Falun Gong practitioners and many others can not compete in Olympic sports in China, can not coach or train Olympic athletes, can not even sit in the stands and watch the Games.

Chinese national police headquarters in Beijing sent out a directive about the Olympic Games in April 2007 to the police headquarters in each province, autonomous region, and to the police stations in municipalities directly under the Central Government. That directive, which has been leaked, requires that 43 categories of people "must be excluded from the Olympics Games and competitions". The 43 categories are organized into eleven umbrella groups. One of these eleven umbrella groups is "Falun Gong practitioners and practitioners of other harmful Qigong groups".

The exclusion from the Games is to be done secretly. The directive states,

"It is vital to keep this order and all associated activities secrets and not to assign it to others. It is of utmost importance to give the look of an easygoing environment to the outside, but in fact keep a firm handle on all activities ... No reason will be given to the public why anyone may not be allowed to be present at the event. Everything has to be kept confidential."

Because this document is leaked, the Government of China has not acknowledged it as an official document. But neither has it denied the validity of the document or rejected its existence.

According to an Associated Press report of November 8, 2007, Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media centre, in reacting to news stories of a Bible ban during the Olympics said texts and other items from major religious groups that are brought into China for personal use by athletes and visitors are permitted. Li also said religious services - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist - will be available to athletes in the Olympic Village. However, he said, the policies do not apply to Falun Gong. Li said

"Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China are forbidden. Foreigners who come to China must respect and abide by the laws of China."

Internal law is never a justification for violation of international standards. The fact that China has enacted a law discriminating against any one belief can not be a valid justification for excluding adherents of that belief from the Olympic Games.

I met in Lausanne in March 2008 with Christophe de Kepper, chief of staff to Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee and suggested to him their seeking an agreement between the International Olympic Committee and the Chinese host committee patterned after the recent agreement between the World Medical Association and the Chinese Medical Association on sourcing organs from prisoners. The previous agreement was suggested as a example not for its content so much as its form. The agreement I had proposed between the International and Chinese Olympics Committees would deal with non-discriminatory access to the Games, not organ harvesting.

The International Olympics Committee has been the focus of many requests because of the deplorable Chinese human rights record. Participating in such an agreement would allow the IOC to do something visible within its specific remit to promote human rights in China.

Attempts to link human rights to the Games have been criticised as political. Yet there is a difference between the two. Politics is a matter of opinion. No matter what your politics, there is another competing political position worth consideration.

Respect for human rights is not like that. There are not two tenable points of view, respect for human rights and rejection of human rights. Not even the Government of China stands in principle against respect for human rights. There is no debate about the need to promote respect for human rights.

The Communist Party of China has used the Olympic Games politically. Attempting in response to prevent the Olympic games from serving the political purpose the Government of China wants them to have is standing against the political use of the games, not engaging in politics.

It may be too late to change the 2001 decision to award the Games to China. But it is not too late to make China regret that this decision was made. The human rights and Olympics movement together need to send a message to tyrants that the awarding of the Games to their countries will not enhance their repression.

It is also said that the Olympics are for athletes and that human rights work should be done elsewhere. This argument ignores the Olympic principles, which are very much human rights principles. The Olympic movement is built upon the notion of a common humanity striving equally for athletic achievement.

Beyond that, there is the general nature of human rights. Each of us lives in our cocoon. Professionals work their professions. Tradespeople ply their trades. Athletes compete in their sports. But human rights overarches all of this. Human rights is not a specialty which engages only experts. It commits us all because of a common humanity we all share.

Killing innocents for their organs is a crime against humanity. That means it is a crime not just against the victims. It is a crime against all of us. When we do nothing about this crime, we do not just abandon the victims. We deny our own humanity. Silence in the face of crimes against humanity is complicity. Everyone engaged in the Olympics movement must do their part to end crimes against humanity in China. To fail to do that is to fail to be human.


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

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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