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An in-depth debate at the British Parliament explores the issue of organ harvesting. China is accused of “crimes against humanity, on an industrial scale.”

Ruth Ingram

Table of contents: China Asked “Though Questions”Practices “Similar to Nazi Holocaust”Government: Deep Concern, But Still Not Enough Evidence

China Asked “Though Questions”

UK government ministers were urged this week to revisit the evidence of alleged organ harvesting in China; to ban “transplant tourism” and to press for an international enquiry on the scandal.

Jim Shannon opening the debate
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Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, opening the debate

Tabling a debate in the UK parliament, entitled Forced Live Organ Extraction in China, Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist politician and MP for Strangford, urged the government to stop abdicating its responsibilities and begin to ask “tough questions of China” concerning its practice of extracting organs from prisoners of conscience. “We can sit in London and order an organ on demand and have the operation within a month,” he said. “It’s wrong that people should travel from here and unwittingly play a role in the suffering of religious groups in China.”

Citing Italy, Spain, Israel, and Taiwan as having already made the trips illegal, and Canada which is currently putting a law into place, he said that these countries had taken the findings of the ongoing Independent China Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting seriously. He asked, why the UK could not follow in their footsteps?

“The fact of the matter is that evidence (for forced organ extraction in China) has been gathered, presented, analyzed and judged, countless times and by countless institutions, and to be found wholly credible and convincing,” he said. “We’re talking about organ harvesting. Crimes against humanity, on an industrial scale.”

Referring to Beijing’s detention of an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other prisoners  of conscience in so-called “transformation through education camps,” he added, “We’re talking about a regime that currently is responsible for the greatest mass incarceration of a religious group since the Nazis during the second World War.”

Besides advocating legislation on health tourism, he urged an international response to the strong evidence coming to light concerning the enforced removal of organs from live prisoners of conscience. He enjoined the UK government not to simply accept “the Chinese government’s flimsy denial” that it has stopped the practice of removing organs from executed prisoners, which he said would be “an utter betrayal to all those who have suffered under tyrannical regimes.” He added, “we who in one breath say ‘never again’ but then do nothing to make that brave declaration a reality,” should dare to ask the “tough questions,” rather than “burying our heads in the sand from the harsh light of the truth that radiates all around us.”

He asked, “how will history judge us?” adding that now was the time to “draw the line and stop live organ transplantation without the permission of those whose organs are being removed.”

He said that even if the British government was not ready to make organ tourism illegal, at least it should urge Beijing to engage with the China Tribunal process and clear its name if it has nothing to hide. “Why is this so controversial or difficult,” he asked. “If China is doing nothing wrong there’s no reason it should be a sensitive issue.”

Practices “Similar to Nazi Holocaust”

Andrew Griffiths, MP for Burton in flagging up China’s current climate of religious intolerance in general reminded the house that what was happening was nothing new.  He said the events happening in China evoked the Nazi holocaust.  “People were herded into camps; they were experimented on and had their organs harvested. People were persecuted for their faith, and we know where that ended, because millions of people died as a result of the holocaust. If we look at history, we see that there were opportunities for Governments to intervene and act, but they did not. Are we not now at the point where we, as the western world, should say, ‘This must stop’?”

Andrew Griffiths MP for Burton
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Andrew Griffiths, MP for Burton

Conservative MP for Congleton, Fiona Bruce, who is chairperson of her Party’s Human Right’s Commission, was dismayed that twice, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on freedom of religion and belief, had maintained that the evidence was not sufficient. She continued to press for further investigation at both UK Government and United Nations level, because of the “staggering numbers” that are involved. She said that his response was just “not good enough.”

She said that back in 2016, the Conservative Party’s commission had called the organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience, “a form of genocide cloaked in modern medical scrubs.” She said it was “a far cry from the voluntary organ donation we are used to in this country,” and described the practices in China as an “utterly sinister act.”

Fiona Bruce MP for Congleton
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Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton

Referring to the December 2018 independent tribunal into forced organ harvesting held in London, she asked whether the very fact that it had been chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the deputy prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milošević at the Hague, showed that “this issue merits time and attention at the most senior level of Government.” She pointed to a recent 700 page update of the evidence produced in 2016, by David Kilgour, David Matas and Ethan Gutmann, in “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update,” and urged that this new material be examined. “In his recent oral evidence to the tribunal, Dr Matas emphasised that although there are problems with establishing exact data, sufficient concern has been raised for this issue to be investigated at the most senior level, both by Governments and the UN,” she stressed.

Fiona Bruce making her speech
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Fiona Bruce, making her speech, with a crowded gallery at the back of the chamber

Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, called for the “barbaric and inhumane” practice to end. “People are being treated like cattle.” She found it “bizarre” that the World Health Organization has declared organ transplants in China to be ethical, claiming that there is no cause for suspicion. Despite official Beijing figures of 10,000 a year, about “the figure for transplants,” she said, “we will probably never know the true figure—is somewhere between 40,000 and 90,000.” She urged the Foreign Office Minister Mark Field present at the debate to “query and pursue that as a matter of urgency,” because it flew in the face of a “considerable amount of evidence from the China Tribunal.” She added that a number of MP’s had “expressed alarm at the World Health Organization’s assessment,” and she felt “that such a ruling undermines the organization.”

“The international community, including the UK, must leave China in no doubt about how repugnant this practice is to any country that has any sense of decency or places any value on the dignity of human life. There can be no equivocation, no excuses and no turning of blind eyes,” she stressed. “There is no doubt that China is an important and influential international player, but no state should be allowed to engage in such horrific human rights abuses simply because it is influential. We have an international duty to uphold human rights and values however we can.”

Government: Deep Concern, But Still Not Enough Evidence

Responding on behalf of the UK government, Mark Field, Minister of State for the Foreign Office (Asia and the Pacific), reassured the House that the government’s concern was even wider than the issue of organ harvesting and stretched to disquiet over the situation for Uyghurs in Xinjiang and unease over increasing restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in China as a whole. He said that the British government was “deeply concerned” about persecution of religious minorities including Christians, a range of Muslims from different sects, Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners who all face persecution and interference in their places of worship, their religious teaching and their customs. The UK government had co-sponsored a side event on Xinjiang at the recent UNHRC meeting,  and Lord Ahmad had raised Britain’s concerns in his opening address.

But when it came to the question of proof of organ harvesting, Mr Field continued to maintain that the actual evidence was lacking. If the allegations were true, he said, “these practices would be truly horrifying.” But he continued, “We need to properly and fully investigate such reports and allegations, and establish the facts.” Quoting the  Kilgour, Matas and Gutmann report update, he admitted, “There is a growing body of research, much of which is very worrying.” Referring to the report’s conclusions he said it questioned the lack of transparency in China’s organ transplant system, but acknowledged the lack of incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing.

Mark Field Minister of State for the Foreign
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Mark Field Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Asia and Pacific)

“The authors make it clear that they have no smoking gun, or smoking scalpel, to prove their allegations, so they are forced to rely on assumptions and less-than-rigorous research techniques,” he said, adding that evidence was needed and that his government was trying to develop as big a body of that as they could. He denied Britain’s trading relationship with China would have any bearing on its engagement with Beijing over human rights or its judgement over this “increasingly important issue.” “We shall continue to engage with China on a full range of issues, including human rights,” he said firmly. After being reminded by Jim Shannon that the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China, had referred to a clear evidential base and could not be ignored, Mr Field undertook to review the available evidence, but re-iterated it would be difficult to change the mind of the WHO without proof.

“The World Health Organization takes the view that, from its observations, China is putting in place a system of donation and transplantation that it regards as ethical and voluntary, and that allocates organs in a fair, transparent and traceable way in keeping with international norms and principles. The World Health Organization shares that view with several of the world’s leading experts on organ donation and transplantation,” he said, but added that his ministry would make it aware of the debate, of the new evidence and of the new sources of information.

“There is evidence for deep concern, as has been demonstrated in the debate,” he said, “but we believe that we are some way away from the notion of it being evidence that it is state sanctioned.” He added, “however, I am well aware that the issue is now being looked at by a number of interested parties, to which I and the hon. Gentleman have referred. As I have said, we will work within the international community on the issue, which I think will raise the attention of many countries that have deep concerns about such matters.”

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Author: Ruth Ingram

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