On June 17th, 2019, an independent tribunal met in London to discuss China’s thriving underground enterprise: organ trafficking. This tribunal, initiated by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, heard testimonies from former political prisoners, doctors, and other witnesses in order to gain an understanding of the true extent of these crimes. The conclusions were grim; not only has there been an ongoing practice of harvesting organs from people being held in Chinese labour camps over the last twenty years, but these actions fall within the definition of crimes against humanity, and could be described as genocide.
The victims of these horrific acts are mostly members of Falun Gong, a spiritual sect which utilises meditation practices and abides by virtues of truth, benevolence, and abstinence in order to gain enlightenment. Persecution and subsequent imprisonment of these individuals began in 1999, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deemed them to be a threat. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has also imprisoned other ethnic and religious minorities along with the Falun Gong including Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians, and it is suspected that these minority ethnic groups may have also been used as sources for organ harvesting.
According to witnesses who shared their experiences before the tribunal, prisoners would often undergo extensive medical testing while in captivity, presumably to determine their donor eligibility. Jennifer Zeng, a follower of Falun Gong who was imprisoned for nearly a year, attested to the medical testing that took place and told the tribunal that it was not uncommon for prisoners to suddenly disappear after these tests were conducted, never to be seen or heard from again. Other testimonies were not as subtle regarding the fate of certain prisoners and described instances where organs were forcibly taken from victims while they were still alive.
The PRC chalked these stories off as rumours, stating that they had stopped using the organs of prisoners for transplants in 2014 and that all transplants that have taken place since then have been conducted entirely on a voluntary basis. Despite this façade, the tribunal concluded that the possibility of there being enough voluntary donors to meet the vast demand for transplants in the country was highly unlikely. Indeed, the extremely short wait times for vital organ transplants in conjunction with the estimated 90,000 transplant operations that are carried out in China each year alludes to the existence of an undivulged source of organs being utilised for the majority of operations.
The tribunal’s final judgement was accompanied with a statement that called on the international community to help prevent the PRC’s 1.5 billion prisoners from being used to propagate this billion-dollar industry in the future and work to end organ trafficking in all of its forms. The European Union and its member-states can answer this call to action by initiating measures within their borders and by using their influential position to encourage change abroad.
Since the EU cannot ban organ transplant tourism altogether, it should at least ban organ transplant tourism to countries that do not comply with the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) Protocol. According to the TIP Protocol, China is a Tier 3 country, which means that it does not comply with international standards to combat human trafficking and is not currently making any significant efforts to do so. By banning transplant tourism to countries like China, the EU would help reduce the risk that organs received abroad were obtained by illegal and underground means.
In regard to China, the European Union must continue to encourage China’s compliance with international law. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) consistently, and blatantly, chooses to ignore international standards regarding human rights, as is exemplified by the use of ethnic and religious minority groups to fuel organ transplant trade. The PRC must also be urged to comply with their own standards, namely the Hangzhou Resolution, which outlines a five-point plan for the procurement and allocation of human organs. This resolution specifically states that this process must be “open and transparent” and that “the reliance of transplant centres on executed prisoners will cease”. As the ETAC tribunal concluded, these standards are not being followed. This is unacceptable. The meeting of the tribunal in London brought nearly twenty years of China’s human rights abuses and crimes against humanity to light. This shocking information must require a response from the international community, and the European Union must lead the charge in the fight to end organ trafficking in China and worldwide.