Alleged Organ Harvesting: Discussion with Irish Falun Dafa Association.

We will move to No. 2 on our agenda, a meeting with Mr. Gerald O'Connor of the Irish Falun Dafa association and Mr. David Matas on the latter's co-revised report with Mr. David Kilgour, entitled Bloody Harvest, regarding the allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China. I welcome our guests to Leinster House and am sure that they will update the sub-committee on the issue raised at the presentation given to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 23 November 2006 by Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour. As I am advised that the latter was denied a visa to enter China to conduct his inquiries, I presume his work was difficult to undertake.

A copy of the updated report was circulated to members last week and a copy of the appendices has been circulated. We welcome the opportunity to hear from Mr. O'Connor, with whom I have spoken a number of times, and Mr. Matas. I draw to their attention the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. Do both gentlemen wish to speak?

Mr. Matas and I will speak for approximately five minutes each.

At the conclusion of those contributions, the committee will pose some questions.

I thank the Chairman and committee members for holding this hearing and inviting the Falun Dafa Association of Ireland to present.

Lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been called the conscience of Chinese lawyers and China's Ministry of Justice rated him one of that country's top ten lawyers in 2001. He is not a Falun Gong practitioner, but he is under arrest for defending human rights in China, particularly in respect of his three open letters to Chinese Government leaders calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong.

In his letter dated late 2005, Mr. Gao wrote:

Among the true accounts of unbelievable brutality, among the records of the government's inhuman torture of its own people, the immoral acts that shocked my soul the most were the lewd yet routine practice of attacking women's genitals by 6-10 Office staff and the police. Almost every woman's genitals and breasts or every man's genitals have been sexually assaulted during the persecution in a most vulgar fashion.

He cited two accounts. To quote:

Ms Wang Lijun was tortured in the small metal cage three times. Inmates tied many knots on a thick rope and pulled it back and forth in a sawing motion across her vagina. Her entire lower body swelled up. The head police then ordered inmates to jab her swollen vagina with the thorny end of a broken mop stick. This torture caused Ms. Wang's vagina to bleed profusely. Her abdomen and vagina were so swollen that she could not pull up her pants, or sit, or urinate ... Mr. Liu Haibo was stripped of all his clothes and forced to kneel down. Police pushed the longest electric baton they could find into his bottom and gave his organs electric shocks. Liu died immediately on the site.

These are only two accounts of the numerous atrocities suffered by Falun Gong practitioners daily in China during the past seven years. The majority of the brutal cases remain unreported. Revealing such information constitutes the severe crime of leaking state secrets.

By official Government estimates, there were more than 70 million people practising Falun Gong by 1999. The regime formulated a policy against Falun Gong practitioners, namely, to defame their reputation, bankrupt them financially, eliminate them physically and count the death of Falun Gong practitioners as suicide. Communist China regards Falun Gong as its No. 1 enemy and has utilised the cruellest means imaginable against its practitioners. More than 100 means of torture have been documented.

According to a 2001 Australian Broadcasting Corporation report, Falun Gong practitioners make up close to half the number of Chinese people being held in labour camps, a process that requires no legal or judicial ruling. In March 2006, UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak reported that torture remained widespread in China and Falun Gong practitioners represented 66% of all the alleged torture cases.

Author Jennifer Zeng confirms that she has acquired classified information showing that by the end of April 2001, less than two years since the persecution began, there had been approximately 830,000 arrests of Falun Gong practitioners in Beijing alone, but the persecution spans all of China. While more than 3,000 deaths have been verified, the real number is unknown and believed to be much higher.

Recently, Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas concluded in their independent investigative report that there has been and continues to be large-scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners by the Government of China and its agencies in numerous parts of the country.

The widespread killing of Falun Gong practitioners for profit to provide organs for transplant is so shocking that it represents a new form of evil on this planet. The report stated that the policy of repression of Falun Gong practitioners means that they are imprisoned without rights at the disposition of corrupt authorities. The incitement to hatred against Falun Gong practitioners and their dehumanisation mean that they can be butchered and killed without qualms by those who buy into the official hate propaganda. During the meeting with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs last November, the Chairman, Dr. Woods, referred this important topic for investigation to the Sub-Committee on Human Rights. He said there was a need for an independent investigation in referring this matter to the sub-committee, which could give more time to it.

Since the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999 Irish politicians have played a crucial role in helping to rescue individuals who have connections with Ireland, namely, Mr. Zhao Ming, a student at Trinity College Dublin, and Mr. Feng Liu, a student at Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education. Mr. Feng owes a special thanks to this committee whose intervention in 2004, when it sent an urgent message to the Taoiseach, to raise the issue of his release during the visit of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, helped to secure his freedom.

During Mr. Feng's testimony to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in November, he stated that he received unusual medical examinations during detention, which he believes might be connected to organ harvesting. To date only one independent investigation has taken place into claims of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners. Its conclusion was that the practice was taking place. The Chinese Government has attacked the credibility of the authors and the report. If a second investigation is implemented and arrives at the same conclusion, it will be impossible for the Chinese Government to deny. If there is any further assistance we can give to the investigation, please let me know.

I now want to introduce Mr. David Matas, who recently released the report of an updated investigation and would like to present his findings. He will suggest ways he feels this sub-committee might further investigate the issue of organ harvesting.

Mr. David Matas

I wish to say something about what Mr. David Kilgour and I have done and suggest what this sub-committee might be able to do.

Mr. Kilgour and I are independent human rights activists and investigators in Canada. I am a lawyer in private practice, doing immigration and refugee law in Winnipeg. Mr. Kilgour is a former MP and a former member of the Government of Canada. We were asked to carry out an investigation into allegations of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China. We were asked to do the investigation by a Washington-based NGO called the Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong in China.

We are not Falun Gong practitioners and had no views on these allegations when we were asked to investigate them. The coalition did not ask us to form any particular conclusion. We were not paid for this — we did this work as volunteers. We came to the conclusion that the allegations were true. It was a difficult area for us to assess because the victims are dead and their bodies cremated. The perpetrators are unlikely to confess and there are no witnesses since the crime occurs in a closed operating theatre. The actual room is subsequently cleaned up. It is an antiseptic operating room, so there is no evidence at the scene of the crime. Hospital records are not available to us.

As was stated in the introduction we were denied entry to China. Indeed, the person who invited us to come, Mr. Gao Zhisheng, who Mr. O'Connor mentioned, was arrested and tortured after the invitation. He has since been released, but was sentenced. He is a lawyer and has been disbarred. It has been a problematic allegation for us to deal with. We chased down whatever evidence was available to us, including what we believed might disprove the allegation as well as evidence that might prove it. We had some 33 evidentiary trails and we found that the evidence that might disprove the allegation went nowhere while all those trails that could prove it gave us some evidence. Our full report is available on the Internet and I gather that it has been circulated to the sub-committee.

Obviously, I do not have time to go through all the evidentiary trails we went through, but I shall mention a couple. One is the fact that we had callers phoning China who pretended to be customers or their relatives, asking about prices, availability, waiting times and sources. They asked point blank whether there were organs of Falun Gong practitioners available. The reason they asked that is that Falun Gong is an exercise regime and its practitioners have a reputation for being healthy as a result. Therefore, their organs would be healthy and so would be a prized source. We got a number of admissions from various hospitals across China to the effect that they had Falun Gong practitioner organs. Not every hospital made such an admission, but many did and we produced a small map in our report indicating where these admissions came from. They were located across China.

After our initial report we made further calls and obtained subsequent admissions that we have included in our second report. We have tapes, transcripts and translations of those calls. We have the tapes from the moment the caller picked up the phone to the time he or she put it down. We have telephone records of those calls. Those tapes, transcripts and translations are available for anybody to look at, if he or she wants to. Other independent investigators have looked at them and no one has questioned their authenticity. That is one piece of evidence.

Another piece of evidence is blood-testing. We have not met any Falun Gong practitioners who have been organ harvested and got out of the Chinese system. However, we have met many Falun Gong practitioners who were simply detained because of what they were and have since got out of the system, mostly on the basis of recantations after torture. They uniformly tell us they have undergone blood testing, have had their organs examined and tested and that prisoners sitting beside them in prison, who were there for other crimes or reasons, have not been tested in that way. I have heard this from practitioners I have met around the world who have not talked to each other. They do not even volunteer the information and are actually more concerned about telling of their torture and do not really see the significance of the blood testing. They tended to just shrug this off until we told them about it. There is no doubt this is happening and that is another indicator. There are some 33 indicators such as that which led us to believe this practice is happening. It is the accumulation of all of these indicators that has led us to the conclusion we formed.

In terms of what this sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs could do, I know it has an investigative and reporting capability. I have done some research and seen that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has produced reports on Uganda, Ethiopia, Israel and Palestine. Simply in terms of geographic balance, it might make sense to produce a report on China. I know parliamentarians can visit abroad and I would encourage Members of the Oireachtas to go to China. We were not able to get into China, but perhaps members of the committee might get in. I know Mr. Edward Macmillan Scott, who is Vice President of the European Parliament went into China and made some investigations about this issue. Unfortunately, the person he interviewed who told him about this, was subsequently arrested on leaving the interview and is still in jail. We refer to this fact in our report.

If members of the committee go to China and make investigations, they would have to get certain guarantees. The UN special rapporteur on torture went into China and got some guarantees which were not respected. He refers to this in his report. I have met with him since and he has put some queries to the Government of China about this practice, which it has not answered satisfactorily, in so far as I can tell. It is, of course, useful to support him in his efforts to probe into this matter.

The market in China for organ transplants reflects both supply and demand. The supply is Chinese but the demand is mostly foreign. There are a number of ways in which this committee can carry out investigative work without even going to China, simply by dealing with the demand. One such method is to speak to practitioners in Ireland who have been victimised, to find out what has happened to them. They have stories to tell about blood testing and about people they saw in prison who have disappeared.

I refer to the practitioners who have identified themselves and to whom we refer in our report. Committee members can talk to those who perform transplants here and ask what ethics they use not only in making referrals for transplant tourism but in contact with Chinese professionals involved in the transplant business. There should be no such contact because the Chinese transplant industry is completely tainted. The extent to which the source of organs harvested in China is prisoners who are Falun Gong practitioners is the subject of debate, referred to in our report. There is no doubt that the individuals concerned are all prisoners; the debate centres on which category of prisoners they are. The Chinese Government states they are almost all prisoners who have been sentenced to death, but even that assertion is highly problematic and the numbers do not bear this out. That is another possible avenue of investigation.

There are potential Irish customers for organs. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has said he is not aware of anybody who has travelled from Ireland to China for a transplant, but he would not necessarily be the source from which to obtain the information, rather it would be the doctors who perform the transplants. They would know.

There is the question of after-care following a transplant. Will the Government fund this? There is the question of the extra-territorial nature of the offence. It is an offence in Ireland to engage in such a practice but, to my knowledge, if somebody engages in it abroad, it is not an offence. It should be.

There is the vilification of the Falun Gong which is an object of incitement to hatred not only in China but also elsewhere around the world. Two documents entitled Deceiving the Public and Ruining Lives and the Lessons and Price of an Evil Cult are being circulated in Ireland by the Chinese embassy. These amount to incitement to hatred, a violation of Irish standards and an abuse of China's diplomatic privileges in Ireland. This should be a matter of legitimate concern for the committee. There is much it could do to address the issue and I invite its members to do so.

In our report we tried to avoid anything in terms of evidence that was not independently verifiable. This is true of every statement of fact included. I mentioned the transcripts. If the members of the committee are interested, they can check them on the Internet, talk to witnesses or listen to the tapes. I invite them to do so.

Apart from our investigation, only one other independent investigation has been carried out. It was conducted by Kurt Allison at the University of Minnesota who came to the same conclusion. The more people who investigate this issue and come to their own conclusions, the more impact it will have. David Kilgour and I are not an NGO; we are just two people. It would add immeasurably to the weight of our conclusions if other groups examined the issue and came to their own conclusions. I invite members of the committee to do so.

I understand Deputy Murphy has to leave the meeting shortly. If she wishes to put any questions, I invite her to do so now.

No, I will stay for a while.

I welcome Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Matas.The report makes for spine-chilling reading. Even a cursory glance raises enormous questions. I presume that what we are talking about will be examined in the context of broader human rights issues in China which I visited once a number a years ago. I do not pretend that I saw everything; we were well guided during our two week visit.

A variety of recommendations are made in the report. The committee will have to pursue much of what the representatives recommended, particularly in regard to how we can bring the influence of the report and its recommendations to bear on medical practitioners here. Perhaps the representatives could advise us on that issue. I do not know whether we could invite representatives of the medical profession before the committee to establish if there is any evidence of collaboration between, say, the pharmaceutical companies, transplant organisations and medical practitioners in this evil practice. I would be open to advice on how we could further investigate the matter, particularly in the light of the suggestion in the documentation we received that it will be difficult to secure independent verification of some of the claims made in the report. I do not doubt them, but if we are to provide assistance for the representatives and those suffering under the particular regime, we need to go to other observers, other NGOs which are in a position to provide verification of the claims made.

What has been the response of the Chinese Government at provincial or federal level to these claims, although I suspect I know the answer to this question? During my visit to China I found that one often got different pictures of the economic or human rights position depending on with which level of government one interacted. Did the representatives get a sense of difference in the overall position espoused by the Chinese Government and is there any difference in the position espoused at provincial level?

We must continue to pursue the right of practitioners of Falun Gong and Falun Dafa to practice in China. How we can we counter the views of the Chinese Government, as propagated in the books we have seen, copies of which some of us might have been given, to which the representatives referred?

The representatives made some interesting recommendations in regard to organ harvesting which I would have thought, with some further work, could be made binding. They raise questions, rightly, about the EU-China dialogue and whether that is an area in which Ireland, as a member state of the European Union, might have a certain moral authority to advocate that this practice should cease.

In the lead up to the Olympic Games there will be a great deal of spinning, to put it mildly, about how a new human rights regime might be prevalent in China, yet we find that the level of infringement of the rights of the media, the imprisonment of individuals without trial, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment seems to be on the increase. In that context, we will be up against it in pursuing the issue. However, we could make a worthwhile report, even allowing for the fact that we do not have much time left in this Dáil to do so. Nevertheless, we could make useful recommendations. Perhaps this is an issue we might be able to present by way of a preliminary report to the Heads of State and Government at the next EU summit. It is likely there will be one under the aegis of the Government around June. Perhaps this is something on which we could work in the short term.

I understand Falun Gong practitioners have difficulties in China, but Mr. Matas said they are persecuted all over the world.

Mr. Matas

I said the Chinese are circulating these materials all over the world.

I am sorry. I thought he said that other regimes were involved.

Mr. Matas

No. There is a problem in Singapore, but that is the only country which has a problem. It is related to Singapore's ties with China.

I apologise for being late. I had a meeting with the Moroccan ambassador that could not be postponed. I appreciate the opportunity to receive this report and to hear the points that have been made. On the last occasion I was here, there was a presentation by Mr. David Kilgour and I made some comments on the status of the report. I was trying to be fair in suggesting that it was very much based on circumstantial evidence. I also suggested that one could not require a test of proof that would be incapable of being delivered. This further report addresses the issue and points to the same difficulties of establishing an empirical test on the extent of the abuses to which I referred. Even if that is so, the previous report and this one are deeply disturbing. Following the last presentation, we sought to ask the representative of the People's Republic of China to make a comment on the allegations, but that invitation was not accepted.

It might be useful to break our response into different sections when following on from this presentation. There are four clear areas that suggest themselves. Deputy Carey alluded to one of them, namely, the ethical practice of pharmaceutical companies. The ethics fall in both ways. To have a global prohibition on the transfer of anti-rejection drugs would be a very severe measure. On the other hand, the onus is on the pharmaceutical companies not just to seek to discover and to know the end use of their drugs. The second area is the general nature of medical practice, in which we might be able to initiate an inquiry.

When one considers the dialogue between the EU and China and the general discussion of human rights within that dialogue, it is becoming clearer that the more general the discourse, the less useful it is. My own position is that I have long gone past the point of rejecting concepts of sovereignty when they are used as a shield to prosecute the vindication of human rights. It is a non-argument. It is an argument that strikes at the very core of the discourse of human rights. If a person signs up to an international instrument and to guarantee such as the universal declaration of human rights, it is an act of sovereignty to make the signature. It is also an acceptance of the obligation that is involved. To revisit sovereignty and use it as a shield from the vindication of human rights is an abuse of sovereignty. I have had the experience of asking difficult questions about other matters in Beijing and in Lhasa. It caused great discomfiture at the time, but it was necessary.

We will need to follow on from a number of these recommendations to try to establish a basis on which we can put an end to this practice. It will require a great deal of subtlety. To say we can visit a site after the event is a real difficulty, because we need to be able to construct a process of verification that is unannounced. Can that be done? The issue of organ abuse must be followed tactically as a separate issue to the more general issue of Falun Gong. I am not saying one is more important than the other. I simply say that if we are to get past the points that are in this report through some process of international verification, then it is a bigger issue. If European foreign ministers enter a dialogue and report from such meetings that they have raised the issue of religion and freedom of expression, then the statements become so general as to become not very meaningful. If we want to make progress within a human rights discourse, we need to be specific about a number of the issues. I suggest we try different approaches to follow the issues of organ abuse. I am not saying it is irrelevant that they are Falun Gong practitioners, but at a different level one must prosecute the general issue of intolerance.

The visit is welcome because it means we can stay with this issue. The last visit had quite a heated exchange at the general meeting, but we are all still left with the issues. It is very important that we follow them up. In our report to the general committee, we should think about these suggestions of a multifaceted approach.

I was here when Mr. Kilgour was before the committee and I also remember the debate being a bit heated at times. If a subsequent report was to be compiled, would Mr. Matas have suggestions on how it should be approached? The difficulty of proving a negative jumps out immediately, but what about the people who are the recipients of the organs? Is there merit in the approach of taking the trail from another side?

I have met several Falun Gong practitioners and I am in dialogue with them from time to time. There is an element of frustration involved when looking for the solution to this serious issue. Have the witnesses been in dialogue with other NGOs, other international organisations or other parliamentarians? Could a combined effort be made towards further study? We are probably looking for a means to a solution and I would welcome any advice they could provide.

Mr. Matas and Mr. O'Connor have now heard the initial comments of committee members. At a minimum, we are gravely concerned about the issues they have raised today and at the previous meeting of the full committee. We must recognise that it is difficult to verify or prove extensively the allegations made. Notwithstanding that difficulty, the allegations are of grave concern to us.

Due to our parliamentary timetable and the forthcoming election, it is difficult to say whether this committee, as constituted, will last for weeks or months. At the maximum we have a few months. Therefore, what we can do on this issue is limited. Our visitors have indicated they would like us to report further on the broader issue of China and human rights and even visit China. They have heard the suggestions of our colleagues, including that of Deputy Carey, that we should produce an interim report.

Perhaps, in response to the queries raised, Mr. Matas and Mr. O'Connor will indicate how the committee, within its limited timeframe, can be of most use in dealing with this important issue. We will not have six or 12 months to deal with the issue, only a maximum of three months. How do both of them feel we could use that timeframe to address the issues further? They are aware that following the meeting last November the committee corresponded with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. It also communicated with the Chinese ambassador and received a brief and curt response.

We will attempt to proceed further on these concerns. As a human rights sub-committee, we must take the contents of the report with absolute seriousness and investigate it to the maximum extent possible. There are, however, time constraints on us.

Mr. Matas

Committee members have certainly given me much to respond to in the few minutes left to do so. I appreciate the comments and suggestions made and the committee's willingness to move forward on the issue. I know Deputy Murphy raised a question with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I saw it on the record and appreciate her doing that. It is an indication of the seriousness the committee has shown on the issue.

I will try to address the questions and comments raised. Deputy Carey asked about the Chinese response. The Chinese authorities have responded in different ways around the world and have responded formally to our report in statements. We have responded to those statements and this response is in the appendix to our report and is available on the Internet where committee members are welcome to read it.

In brief, our conclusion was that the Chinese response was unresponsive. Basically, the response attacked the Falun Gong. This reaction is part of the problem and not an answer to our concerns. The Chinese authorities also attacked us personally, which does not convince us and, hopefully, will not convince the committee. They did not deal with the merits of the factual basis for our concerns.

One of the reasons we came to the conclusion in our revised report that our original conclusions were right was that the Chinese Government, with all the resources and information at its disposal, did not produce anything factually to contradict our report. That in itself is something that leads us to believe the conclusions in our written report were right. Putting that aside, our rapporteur on torture has been trying to get the Chinese Government to engage the issue on its merits and substance, rather than just slinging out insults and creating obstructions. It is a general problem with China that human rights dialogue tends to be unproductive, not just in this area. Nonetheless, it is worth pursuing dialogue.

In terms of different responses from the provinces or hospitals, we have been dealing directly with hospitals and their responses are part of our evidence and support. We get reports of admissions at local levels which are denied at national level. The Chinese Government says publicly in reply to our report that what we say is happening is illegal and therefore cannot be happening, yet the deputy Minister of Health made a public statement in the media that the law is not being applied, but should be. There are, indeed, different statements from officials at different levels. Obviously, we are hampered in pursuing that as we are not able to go to China.

I accept the committee only has a short timeframe to deal with information and it may be difficult to get to the bottom of the matter. However, at the level at which the committee can do something, it may not be necessary for it to come to any conclusions on the report, although I would welcome it doing so. No matter what the committee's conclusions about the allegations, it is incontestable that the precautions that should be put in place to prevent this sort of practice from happening are not in place in China, Ireland or anywhere else. Our global system does not prevent this practice from happening. It should not be necessary to show there is torture to put in place precautions to prevent it nor should it be necessary to show there are arbitrary executions to put in place precautions to prevent those executions. These practices are reprehensible no matter whether we can prove they are happening in a particular place and time. One can say the same about organ harvesting. In terms of the short period of time available, that is something the committee could easily do.

Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of a travel advisory in her parliamentary question. In reply, the Minister said "No" to a travel advisory, but said he would urge extreme caution to anyone considering travelling to China for transplant surgery. If he is prepared to say that publicly, why can he not say it on a website in a travel advisory. He could put his own words on a website. Something as simple as that might be useful.

Pharmaceutical companies may say that banning all anti-rejection drugs is drastic, but the point is not that drugs are being banned from going to China or that transplant surgery in China is being banned. The point is to ban the drugs where we do not know there is consent. The onus of establishing consent should be on the pharmaceutical companies, the patients going to China and on the doctors referring to China. It should not be a system where we turn a blind eye and it is okay unless we know there is no consent. This is the problem with proving a negative.

In terms of further research, seeking consent is an obvious way of getting further information. If we ask the Chinese authorities whether there is consent, they will say "Yes, everybody consents". However, where is the evidence of that consent? I have never seen any. No doctor or patient I have talked to has ever seen any such consent which makes one wonder whether there are even consent forms. What is the system for generating consents? It would be useful to follow that avenue.

I agree the EU-China dialogue should be as specific as possible. I would add, however, that this is an issue that should not just be relegated to the dialogue. This was the problem we had in Canada. We had a China-Canada dialogue and that sort of ended human rights concerns. I suggest the Irish Government should bring human rights concerns about China to the UN human rights consul, to the UN General Assembly and to bilateral contacts with China.

The Olympic Games represent a particular opportunity to raise the issue. Dealing with the Chinese Government is always difficult, but if nothing is done in the context of the build up to the Olympics, China gets the message that everything is okay. The Chinese authorities can say to themselves that if they are able to do it even in the context of the Olympics, it is not a concern to the international community. We should not let China be able to say that.

The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is a separate issue. Some issues are incontestable. One can contest the allegation but not the source of organ harvesting in China, which is from prisoners, whatever the combination of prisoners. The issue may be which prisoners this practice is performed on but there is no issue with the source of the practice being prisoners, as there is no other source there except for a few hundred people where family consents are given.

Another incontestable is that Falun Gong practitioners are persecuted. One can argue as to whether it takes this form but there is no doubt they are persecuted. Every effort should be made to stop that persecution and to cease the practice of organ harvesting from all prisoners. Obviously organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners is wrong but organ harvesting from prisoners sentenced to death is also wrong because there is no meaningful consent given when people are sentenced to death. I am not aware of any other country where the death penalty exists that allows organ harvesting from prisoners sentenced to death. It is not allowed in the United States because it is acknowledged that such consent is not meaningful. That aspect should be addressed.

The third incontestable is that the necessary precautionary measures are not in place to prevent these practices from happening. If the committee is working within a short timeframe and time does not permit it to follow through a complete investigation of all the avenues that might be explored, I would gravitate towards these incontestables and try to address them not only in regard to China but in regard to what is going on here.

I have met transplant professionals in many countries and generally they are hostile to and concerned about this practice. They consider it an abuse of their profession and the technology they have developed. Members of the committee would find that these professionals are concerned and co-operative, as are the members, in trying to come to grips with this practice. However, in spite of their concerns, they have not done everything they could do. Their ethical practices could be developed more strongly. I met a member of the ethics committee of the Transplantation Society, which is its international arm, and it has developed a statement on contact with China and Chinese transplant professionals, but it does not go far enough. That could be developed locally in terms of ethics. The society is still developing an ethical statement on transplant tourism and one should be developed locally. A reporting system needs to be put in place — to my knowledge there is not one in place in Ireland — whereby people in the profession here could report cases of people they meet who have gone to China for transplant surgery. That information should be at least collated, consolidated and made available to the Government and to the health system.

The committee needs to examine the issue of funding. Is the Government funding transplants abroad? Is it funding the after-care of individuals who have had transplants abroad on their return to Ireland? As far as I can establish it is not funding transplant surgery abroad but it may well be funding the after-care of individuals on their return home having had transplant surgery abroad. It should not do so if individuals are travelling to China for transplant surgery. These are the types of avenues that could be usefully explored.

As the maxim states, I would not let the better be the enemy of the good. While much could be done to help promote this issue in the long term, there is much the committee could do even in the short term.

A question was asked about our contract with other NGOs, IGOs and governments. We have talked to many people. I have met representatives of Human Rights Watch in New York, Human Rights in China in New York and I have had much contact with various Amnesty International professionals, including Mark Allison, the Hong Kong researcher for Amnesty International. I have also met the UN special rapporteur on torture, many representatives of Governments and parliamentarians and each of them is trying to address and investigate this issue in their own way.

To a certain extent, people are stymied by the nature of the allegation and how to get to grips with it, where everything is happening behind closed doors, records are not available, victims have gone and the perpetrators will not confess. That is a methodological problem which everybody has to face and that will not change. It is simply the nature of the situation.

I have to commend the work of the UN special rapporteur on torture who has been pressing this issue. Ireland could help the UN special rapporteur on torture to try to get meaningful responses from the Government of China to the questions he has been asking and generally press this issue at every opportunity that presents.

Most of the questions were addressed to Mr. Matas but I wish to make a brief comment on the human rights dialogue. Every time we raise the issue as to whether the rights of Falun Gong practitioners are being abused in China, the response given is that the government is very concerned and that the matter will be taken up in the human rights dialogue. When the EU-China human rights dialogue was held in Ireland in 2004 I had a meeting subsequently with the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs who told me that every time they raised the issue of Falun Gong the Chinese would not talk to them. If every time we raise these issues with the Chinese we are told they are brought up in the human rights dialogue and during that dialogue the Chinese will not talk to us, then nothing is being achieved. It is a pointless exercise. I understand the Canadian Government carried out an analysis of its dialogue with China and as a result it paused or stopped the dialogue. I have its report on that and will forward it to the Chairman.

I thank Mr. O'Connor for that. If he has that correspondence, he might pass it on to the committee.

The general approach down the years of this committee, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government has been to maximise dialogue and to ensure our queries, concerns and points of view are strongly conveyed. We will contact once again the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, with whom we communicated following the meeting in November. We have an obligation to pass on once again to the Chinese Embassy the concerns of the representatives. I appreciate that its response possibly will be no different from the earlier response we received, but it is still important that this committee would ensure its concerns are noted and recorded by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy.

The representatives made a number of suggestions as to how we should pursue this issue. They interestingly pointed out that there is not only the organ harvesting issue but the broader issue of the ongoing persecution which they claim is being suffered by Falun Gong practitioners. That issue was raised at the committee on many occasions previously and we have always tried to respond as forcefully as possible and will do so again.

We will take on board in a serious manner what the representatives said and the issues they raised. We hope they appreciate that, given the timescale under which we are working, our level of response will be limited to a degree but that will not preclude us from taking up the issue as strongly and sincerely as possible. We will examine a range of options open to us. Deputy Carey suggested the preparation of an interim report, on which we will reflect. He highlighted three or four other areas through which this issue could be pursued, namely, through the EU, the China dialogue and the level of attention that will focus on China in the run up to the Olympic Games, to ensure the hard questions will continue to be asked and the serious issues continue to be raised.

All I can say as an interim response is that I assure the representatives that members of the committee take this report seriously and will respond as strongly as we possibly can. It is not a question of our simply saying good morning to them and then forgetting this issue. I guarantee we will not do that. We will respond as quickly as possible notwithstanding the time constraints under which we operate. I thank the representatives most sincerely for their presentation this morning and for their earlier presentation last November. We will continue to keep in touch with them as far as is possible and practicable in the next few months.

We have received correspondence on a number of issues with which we will deal in private session.

The sub-committee went into private session at 12.59 p.m. and adjourned at 1.05 p.m. sine die.