Backgrounder: Independent Tribunal on Organ Harvesting in China

By McKenna Ross

After months of collecting documentary evidence and holding hearings, an independent people’s tribunal recently concluded that the Chinese government is likely guilty of harvesting the organs of Falun Gong and Uighur Muslim prisoners, minorities that are repeatedly targeted by the Chinese government. Based on their reporting, Falun Gong is a spiritual group that was banned in 1999 as an “evil cult” and which has been subject to a war of propaganda by the Chinese government after several public protests in the late 1990s. They are a group with no history of violence but are ranked as the most active cult in China by the Chinese government. Uighur Muslims are also thought of as violent and are blamed for radicalization and terrorist activities.

According to the tribunal and broad-based international reporting, individuals from both groups are frequently sent to reeducation camps and if they do not give up their practices can be arrested, or worse. The tribunal also claims that if these individuals are killed, their organs are taken and sold. Specifically, the tribunal states that: “Fulan Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply.”

The tribunal also collected evidence from a man that harvested organs from imprisoned, living people on the orders of the government. Dr. Enver Tothi testified in the tribunal that he had “removed the liver and both kidneys” of a man that had been shot in the chest instead of the head in order to “keep his heart beating.” While imprisoned, members of both groups reported being subject to medical examinations, presumably to test the health of their organs. It is also suspicious that transplants can be scheduled in China, which indicates that medical professionals are aware when a potential organ donor will either choose to donate or will pass away. 

Indeed, Chinese hospitals boast organ wait times of only a few weeks, while patients in the United States can wait hundreds of days. Common transplants are kidneys, hearts, livers, and corneas, and finding a donor of a matching blood type and size takes very little time. As a consequence, medical tourism is a major problem in China. Tourists come from countries like the United States and Canada in order to have easy access to organs. The statistics for organ transplants in China are much higher than average, estimated to be anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 transplants per year. In contrast, America performs about 35,000 transplants per year.

The Chinese government currently denies any occurrence of organ harvesting. They say that organ transplants can only be done voluntarily and that the Chinese medical community follows the rules set forth by the World Health Organization regarding organ transplants, but statistics around wait times, the fact that transplants are scheduled, and the sheer amount of transplants per year suggest that the organs are still coming from illegal sources.

The Chinese government also says they are closing the reeducation camps for Uighur Muslims. Reporters have found the opposite to be true. Instead of closing down, the camps seem to be expanding, though security is too tight for any real information and statistics to be found. 

The independent tribunal has expressed that they cannot determine if the Chinese government is guilty of acts of genocide against members of the Falun Gong and Uighur Muslims, but argue that genocide is a reasonable term based on the specific targeting of these minorities. However, China wields significant economic power, which means that other countries are unlikely to even acknowledge the organ harvesting, let alone declare a genocide in China. This leaves the targeted minorities victims of crimes that will not be acknowledged, and with little hope of international justice.

Photo courtesy of Nivent2007 (WikiMedia Commons).

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