Chinese State’s Reply to UN Organ Harvesting Concerns Slammed

Surgeons performing organ harvesting.
Organ transplantation regulations in China have been intensely scrutinized and debated in recent years. As the country strives to establish a robust framework for organ transplantation, concerns, and doubts persist regarding the effectiveness and ethical implications of these regulations. (Image: via Pixabay)

In mid-June, a joint correspondence issued by nine United Nations special rapporteurs and human rights working groups raised alarm over reports of forced organ harvesting in China.

The UN human rights experts said they were extremely alarmed by reports of alleged organ harvesting targeting minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians, in detention in China.

“Forced organ harvesting in China appears to be targeting specific ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities held in detention, often without being explained the reasons for arrest or given arrest warrants, at different locations,” the special rapporteurs said in a statement.

“We are deeply concerned by reports of discriminatory treatment of the prisoners or detainees based on their ethnicity and religion or belief,” they said.

“According to the allegations received, the most common organs removed from the prisoners are reportedly hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and, less commonly, parts of livers. This form of trafficking with a medical nature allegedly involves health sector professionals, including surgeons, anesthetists and other medical specialists.”

The UN correspondence sent to the Chinese regime included Uyghur testimonies demonstrating a concerning parallel to the numerous accounts of forced organ examinations detailed by Falun Gong practitioners over the past 20 years. It also raised the alarm that Uyghurs are now also being targeted as a major source of organs by the Chinese state.

As part of their statement, the special rapporteurs called upon the Chinese regime to respond to the allegations and to allow independent monitoring by international human rights mechanisms.

In response, the evidence-based concerns raised by the special rapporteurs were dismissed as “fabricated” and “defamatory” by China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), via its diplomats to the United Nations in Geneva.

Within their statement, the Chinese regime described witness testimonies as coming from “actors” who were “dishonestly drawing the attention of international public opinion to themselves” and being “doomed to failure.”

The CCP’s response to forced organ harvesting roundly condemned

The CCP’s response to the claims of forced organ harvesting has been in turn condemned by several rights groups including the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), and China Aid Association (CA) who recently released a joint statement.

The groups said the Chinese regime’s response to the UN correspondence on human organ harvesting allegations is “inadequate and misleading,” leaving many “outstanding questions related to state-sponsored organ trafficking in China.”

Professor Wendy Rogers, chair of the International Advisory Committee of ETAC, said the Chinese regime’s response to the “very reasonable questions” posed by the UN joint communication “are yet more smoke and mirrors”.

“In response to detailed and credible accounts of wrongful detention and medical testing, China offers blanket denials not supported by the available evidence. In response to questions about transparency in the procurement of organs, China cites systems that have been shown to falsify data on organ transplants,” Professor Rogers said.

“In response to questions about the persecution of minorities, China makes clearly false claims about equal treatment of all citizens, which directly contradict the state’s observed actions in Xinjiang,” she said.

“China cannot substantiate its claims of an ethical organ transplant system. Instead, it resorts to bluster, insults, and lies. It is time for the international community to stand together against the horrors of the Chinese system of forced organ harvesting.”

Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong raise awareness about forced organ harvesting in mainland China.
Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong raise awareness about forced organ harvesting in mainland China. (Image: Cory Doctorow via Flickr)

‘Coercive examinations’

Given the scale and severity of organ harvesting in China, the initial reactions to the Chinese state’s response from the ETAC, VOC, and CA should be covered as fully as possible.

The groups said that the UN special rapporteurs requested information “on the legal grounds for the performance of medical examinations on prisoners or detainees particularly on the basis of their ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics such as Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians.”

They pointed out that the response from the Chinese regime cited State Council orders and public security guidelines to claim that these medical tests were for the health of the detainee being examined and that they have the right to be apprised of the nature of the examination and its outcome.

Yet, as the groups pointed out, in the cases cited by the special rapporteurs, the witnesses make clear that the purpose of the examination was not for their own health. “The examinations were coercive, were focused specifically on organ function, were shrouded in secrecy, were unexplained, and took place in the context of incarceration based on religious and/or ethnic identity,” said the groups.

“For example, Ms. Gulbakhar Jalilova reports being made to wear a black hood and taken to an unknown location for the examination. She reports being subjected to blood tests, ultrasounds, and regular chest x-rays. She reports that when she asked about the purpose of the examinations, she was told to be quiet and not ask questions. Mr. Omir Bekali made similar allegations: blood tests, ultrasounds of the abdominal and thoracic organs, all while handcuffed with a black hood over his head. He does not report being apprised of the purpose of the examination.”

A photo taken from social media believed to be of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims being held in a reeducation camp somewhere in Xinjiang.
A photo taken from social media believed to be of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims being held in a reeducation camp somewhere in Xinjiang. (Image: supplied)

The groups said that these medical examinations are consistent with the kind of examinations needed to assess organ function, but they are not consistent with standard examinations for the general health of the prisoner, which would in any case not be conducted on a regular basis as these were.

They added that the Chinese regime’s response provides no new data that would suggest the purpose of these examinations was anything other than an assessment of organ function, required prior to organ removal.

The group’s statement further said that the UN special rapporteurs requested information on measures “adopted to guarantee the need for donation and transplantation activities to be transparent and open to scrutiny, while protecting the personal anonymity and privacy of donors and recipients.”

They said the Chinese regime’s response contains nothing on these measures while adding that recent research indicates that voluntary transplant activities in China are not in fact transparent. When scrutinized, it instead appears that the Chinese state has falsified its official transplant statistics, the statement said while referencing research published in 2019 by three men including Jacob Lavee, an Associate Professor of Surgery at the Faculty of Medicine of the Tel Aviv University.

The groups mentioned in their statement that the special rapporteurs requested information on “how data is collected to prevent abuse of transplantation systems, such as registries of donors, waiting lists of recipients numbers of transplantations, donor consent and monitoring compliance.”

The Chinese regime’s response, the groups said, again cites general policies, but does not contain specific information explaining how these protocols are upheld and does not provide the special rapporteurs access to verify their claims. “As noted, recent research shows that official registry data appears to have been falsified to promote state narratives of reform,” the groups said.

The statement pointed out that the UN correspondence to the Chinese regime is the most high-profile statement made by an international body that challenges Chinese authorities on organ harvesting evidence since the China Tribunal declared the Chinese regime a “criminal state” guilty of Crimes Against Humanity against Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs in March 2020.

The London-based China Tribunal was an independent international people’s tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, which assessed all available evidence regarding forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China.

The tribunal held public hearings where over 50 witnesses testified. Huge volumes of written evidence were analyzed, including research showing the deliberate falsification of China’s public organ donation data that helped the CCP to cover up the killing of innocent people, primarily peaceful Falun Gong practitioners, to support a lucrative trade in human organs.

The judgment’s findings, released last year, prompted worldwide media attention over an atrocity that first came to light in 2006 following claims that imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs in north-eastern China.

Audience listening to the China Tribunal.
The China Tribunal found that organ harvesting has been carried out for years throughout China on a significant scale. (Image: via Justin Palmer)

Further reaction to CCP’s response

Commenting on the Chinese regime’s reaction Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, president of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and former permanent representative for the United States to the Office of the United Nations, said the regime is being deceitful.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s blatant lies in response to the questions raised by the UN special rapporteurs on state-sponsored forced organ harvesting is shameful but not surprising. Research conducted by VOC experts has demonstrated how the CCP has falsified official statistics on organ transplantation,” Mr. Bremberg said.  

“When China’s initial claim that all donations were sourced from voluntary civilian donors proved untenable, they revised their narrative claiming that organs were sourced from death row inmates. I commend the UN special rapporteurs for submitting these questions to China and urge member states to end their complacency based on the CCP’s completely inadequate response. 

“It is up to member states, including the United States, to decide if the special rapporteurs’ work is ignored, or to finally act to demand accountability for China’s horrific practice of harvesting the organs of prisoners of conscience.”

Dr. Bob Fu, the president and founder of the China Aid Association, stated that the Chinese regime has continued to show a blatant disregard for the evidence revealing an organized system of forced organ harvesting.

“Falsified documents and accusations against credible witnesses are desperate tactics used by a government attempting to cover up the truth,” Dr. Fu said. “It can no longer be overlooked by the world. The evidence points to an inhumane campaign targeting the organs of ethnic and religious minority groups is clear,” he said.

“It is our obligation to stand against transplant abuse through multilateral cooperation at every level. Another day without action is another day of the continuation of this horrific system.”

Susie Hughes, the executive director of ETAC, the human rights charity that initiated the China Tribunal, said that Chinese officials have again failed to provide official statistics on transplantations, waiting times for organ allocation, or sources for organs, as requested by UN experts in 2006, 2007, and now 2021.

“How long will the international community tolerate this lack of transparency and absolute disregard for the value of human life?” she asked. “It’s time for a global boycott of China’s transplantation sector until innocent minority groups are released and ethical transplant practices are demonstrated by the Chinese state.”

Watch this video about the China Tribunal and its findings:

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  • Rory Karsten

    Rory Karsten is the penname used for a journalist working and traveling in Asia. He has been writing about the region for ten plus years with a focus on China and human rights.