LONDON—An independent peoples’ tribunal is examining evidence claiming to show that the Chinese state is targeting innocent prisoners of conscience and forcibly carving out their internal organs for transplants and profit.
Three days of public hearings began on Dec. 8 in the heart of London’s legal district, in which witnesses from across the globe gave their testimonies on the disturbing practice of forced organ harvesting.
Chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the people’s tribunal will, in his words, be looking at the evidence of forced organ harvesting in China afresh—with no assumptions.
Further hearings are scheduled to take place early next year, followed by a report of the findings.
Emotional and Painful
The atmosphere during the Dec. 8 hearing in Holborn was serious, and for some, emotional, and painful.
Among the witnesses who testified to Sir Geoffrey and a panel of six experts, were three Chinese refugees who said they fled from persecution in China. All refugees spoke separately of being detained in China for their faith in Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that has been brutally suppressed in China for over 19 years.
Torture methods described by the refugees included electrocution, sexual harassment, forced feeding, and starvation.
But they all spoke of having physical examinations, too. Feng Hollis, who was arrested in 2005, said that at the time she wondered why she was given a medical test after being tortured in prison.
In a press briefing before the hearings, Susie Hughes, executive director of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), said an increase in transplant activity in China coincided with the repression of Falun Gong.
“During the 2000s, analysis of various sources of emerging evidence led to the conclusion that people who practiced Falun Gong were being killed to provide the organs fuelling China’s transplant boom,” she said.
Research from human rights lawyer David Matas, a witness on Dec. 8, has found that the number of transplants from voluntary donors and death-row prisoners is far from the total number of transplants taking place in China.
Main Supply of Organs Linked to Falun Gong
Investigations by Matas, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ethan Gutmann, and former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour indicate that the main supply of harvested organs comes from adherents of Falun Gong, while Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and some house Christians also have been victimized.
The trio’s 2016 report (pdf) examined the public records of 712 hospitals in China that carry out liver and kidney transplants and found that the real number of organ transplantations in China is many times higher than the “official statistics” of 10,000 to 20,000 per year.
“The purpose of this [tribunal] is to let the public know what has happened to the victims,” said Hamid Sabi, legal counsel to the tribunal. “In this particular case, how terrible it is for them to be exposed to this sort of torture and eventually pillage of their organs through the most horrible way.”
Pioneered by Lord Russell in his tribunal examining war crimes in Vietnam, people’s tribunals are often set up by victims of a serious crime, when international bodies are not willing to investigate the issue.
While it does not have legal authority, it does serve as an evidence-based record and can place pressure on international organisations as well as raise public awareness.
One of the main challenges in collecting evidence is that the victim usually dies in the process of forced organ harvesting and his or her corpse is then cremated. Additionally, the witnesses to the crime, the doctor and other medical professionals, are usually the perpetrators, and therefore unlikely to come forward.
“It’s dispiriting to see the number of doctors involved. This, of course, was the Nazi experience. There was a lot of medical abuse in the Nazi period,” said Matas in an interview after giving his evidence.