Unethical Organ Harvesting in China: Discussion

I remind witnesses, members and those in the gallery to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference even on silent mode with the recording equipment in the committee rooms. From time to time members leave their telephones on and they cause interference, so I appeal to everyone to ensure they are switched off completely.

The main item for discussion today is a presentation on unethical organ harvesting in China by Ms Dongxue Dai, Mr. David Matas, Mr. Ethan Gutmann, Mr. Declan Lyons and Mr. Zek Halu. On behalf of the committee I welcome them all. I also welcome those in the Gallery. Members of the delegation were in contact with the committee some time ago, after which we met and arranged for them to come before the committee today. They attended a conference in DCU in recent days and we are delighted they are here to make a presentation. The presentation will last approximately ten minutes after which we will have a question and answer session. Committee members are very interested in this subject, which is of grave concern to everyone. I am sure we will have a very constructive and informative debate this afternoon on the question of forced organ harvesting. I understand presentations will be made by Mr. David Matas and Mr. Ethan Gutmann. A DVD and publication will be available to members after the meeting.

Before I invite the witnesses to make their presentations, I advise them they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of utterances at the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease making remarks on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their remarks. They are directed that only comments on the subject matters of the meeting are to be made and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible they should not criticise or make charges against a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, a person outside the Houses or an official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Ms Dongxue Dai

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting us. The presentations will be made by speakers who have experience of investigating organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, whom I will introduce.

I will then pass over to them to discuss their investigations.

Mr. David Matas is an international human rights lawyer living in Winnipeg, Canada. Since 2006, he has been handling an allegation made by a woman called Ann whose husband removed the corneas of more than 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners while living in China. In the end, they could no longer take this pressure and they went into exile in Canada. Mr. Matas started to investigate with Mr. David Kilgour, who unfortunately is unable to be present.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann started an investigation by interviewing many Falun Gong practitioners who had been persecuted in labour camps and prisons in China. He did this in parallel with Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour's work without knowing it. He will inform the committee of his conclusions. He found similar results. It is not a coincidence. Mr. Zek Halu will offer a number of Mr. Kilgour's suggestions, as he has been present at a number of Mr. Kilgour's recent talks.

I am a Falun Gong practitioner and, since 1996, have been on the street campaigning and contacting people, perhaps all of the committee members, via e-mail. I may have e-mail bombed people. My purpose as a Falun Gong practitioner is to explain the benefits of this practice. I want to help people in China who cannot enjoy the rights and freedom that I have here.

Mr. David Matas

I have been involved in investigating whether Falun Gong practitioners have been killed for their organs. Mr. Kilgour and I have written two reports and a book on the subject. I co-edited a second book with Dr. Torsten Trey in which Mr. Gutmann wrote an essay. There is a great deal of material.

I will say a few words about some of the evidence that led us to our conclusion. We had investigators make telephone calls to Chinese hospitals and pretend to be relatives of patients in need of transplants. The hospitals were asked whether they had organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale on the basis that the Falun Gong exercise regime meant a Falun Gong practitioner and his or her organs would be healthy. We got admissions on tape, in transcriptions and translated from throughout China that the hospitals had Falun Gong organs for sale.

When we spoke with people who got out of prison and out of China, both Falun Gong and non-Falun Gong, they told us that Falun Gong practitioners were systematically blood tested and had their organs examined while the non-Falun Gong were not. This examination was not for any health benefit, as they were being tortured to recant. Such an examination is necessary for organ transplants, as blood types must be compatible.

We spoke with patients who went to China for transplants. They told us of secrecy and heavy military involvement. Transplants were handled quickly on order. They booked their trips far in advance and received heart, liver, kidney or lung transplants within a few days. Except in the case of kidney transplants, which a person can survive, this meant that people were being killed on order for their organs.

Another form of evidence that we considered was the numbers. After the US, China leads the world in terms of transplant volumes. Until recently, however, it did not have an organ donation system. Its current system only produces tiny numbers. From where were the organs coming? Eventually, the Chinese admitted that they were coming from prisoners who had been sentenced to death and executed, but they will not say how many people are sentenced to death and executed in China. In light of the facts that there is no national organ distribution system, people must be executed within seven days of their sentencing and the high rate of hepatitis in prisons, approximately 100,000 people would need to be sentenced to death and executed every year to supply the volume of transplants being performed. This is plainly not the case. It is not even close. Even the largest estimates put the figure at 5,000 or 6,000 executions per year. There is no plausible explanation for the sources of organs that can explain the discrepancy between volumes.

A fifth factor was the extreme cover-up in which the Chinese Government was involved. Not only has it never disclosed death penalty statistics, but it started destroying data as soon as we cited them. For example, when we started citing the aggregate volumes on the liver transplant registry, the Chinese Government took those data down. We started quoting hospital websites' advertisements about the prices of their organs, their speed and the money they were making on organs. The Government took those data down. We quoted Chinese doctors, but the Chinese Government put out video tapes denying what we had quoted them as saying even though their materials were still posted on Chinese websites.

This cover-up highlights a phenomenon. Whatever one thinks of our study, it does not fall to us to explain the sources of Chinese organs, but to the Chinese Government. This is the international standard of accountability, transparency and traceability. The Chinese Government does not conform to it.

The sixth and final reason for reaching our conclusion that I will mention at this meeting - our written materials contain many more reasons - is the absence of precautions that should be in place to prevent these types of abuse. The precautions were not present in China or anywhere else in the world. Transplant tourism was practically possible and not legally blocked. When we started our work, it was not even blocked by ethical standards. Mr. Kilgour and I, joined recently by Mr. Gutmann and others, have been urging parliamentarians and policy makers around the world to put in place mechanisms to prevent this sort of abuse from happening.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

I thank the committee for inviting me to participate in this profoundly important hearing. Beginning in 2006, I began conducting comprehensive interviews with medical professionals, Chinese law enforcement personnel and more than 50 refugees from the Laogai system, that is, black jails, labour camps, detention centres, mental hospitals and so forth, to piece together my research on how mass harvesting from prisoners of conscience evolved in China. Most of my research is available and I am happy to supply references.

I will provide a short timeline. The organ harvesting of prisoners began in the 1980s. In 1994, we have evidence that the first live organ harvests were performed on the execution grounds at Xinjiang in north-west China. Following the Ghulja massacre in 1997, we have evidence that the first political prisoners, specifically ethnically Muslim Uighur activists, were harvested on behalf of high-ranking Chinese cadres. In 1999, Chinese state security launched its largest action of scale since the Cultural Revolution, namely, the eradication of Falun Gong. By 2001, Chinese military hospitals were unambiguously targeting select Falun Gong prisoners for organ harvesting. By 2005, overall transplant numbers and the refugees with whom I have spoken suggest that the number of Falun Gong being harvested increased dramatically. In early 2006, the Epoch Times, basically a newspaper largely comprising Falun Gong practitioners, revealed the first charges of organ harvesting of Falun Gong. This was followed that summer by the distribution of the Kilgour-Matas report. In 2012, Wang Lijun attempted to defect at the US consulate in Chengdu. Two weeks later, information surfaced that he had overseen thousands of organ transplants while his boss, Bo Xilai, ran the shop in Liaoning province.

For some, Bo Xilai was the heir apparent for China.

Six weeks after the crisis started, the Chinese state declared an end to organ harvesting in death row prisoners - not prisoners of conscience - over a five year timeframe. No mention was made of prisoners of conscience and that issue was scrupulously avoided. More importantly, any attempt at third-party verification of this phasing out was rejected. I cannot supply a death count for house Christians, although we know they were examined for their organs. I also cannot supply a number for the Uighurs or the Tibetans, busloads of whom were taken in for unusual medical examinations while in detention. I estimate that 65,000 Falun Gong were murdered for their organs from 2000 to 2008.

What does this have to do with Ireland? China is the organ repository of last resort and in spite of Ireland's sterling human rights record, it is not an exception. People come from all over the world to pick up these organs. My policy recommendation is simple enough. In Australia, the New South Wales legislature is currently discussing the criminalisation of organ tourism; although it is not stated in the Bill, if a person goes to China and comes back with a new organ, that person will be incarcerated. Until the Chinese authorities provide full accounting of what I consider to be a crime against humanity, that is precisely the model I believe Ireland should follow.

Is there any evidence of organ tourism out of Ireland to China?

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

That is one of the big unanswered questions and I will not pretend to have an answer to it.

What about the UK?

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

One of our significant failings is that we are constantly approached by graduate students who claim they want to do something in this area and, although we have asked them to examine organ tourism from the UK, we have got nowhere.

Mr. David Matas

Perhaps I could add something to that. The problem we face is not just preventing this practice but also finding out about it, as there is no compulsory reporting. There is not even a voluntary reporting system. Some of the legislative reforms introduced around the world, such as in France or Israel, require compulsory reporting. We know there is transplant tourism out of the British Isles because people are disappearing from the waiting lists without having died. There is no official information on where these people have gone or where they got organs. One can cross a border to get a transplant and it is not necessarily an abuse; whether it is an abuse depends on whether the person is complicit in organ sourcing when the source does not consent or where the organ is being bought. There is an information vacuum that is part of the lawlessness in the area.

I remind members to put questions rather than making long statements so there can be some interaction between members and witnesses.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions, which give a clear picture of the frightening and completely unacceptable practice that exists. In the written contribution there is mention of a proposed human tissue Bill and other legislation in this country. That Bill would require consent for organ sourcing. What practical effect or benefit would that have in dealing with this issue?

The witnesses obviously wish to create as much awareness as possible of these terrible procedures being performed on so many people. Have they engaged with committees in the European Parliament, the political groupings or the Council of Europe? We are a very small state and the European Parliament, its committees and political groups are the representatives of 28 member states, so it is in a much better position to put forward a case. There is a regular dialogue between the EU and China on human rights issues. Have the witnesses had the opportunity to participate in those fora?

Mr. David Matas

The question was raised of how consent for organ sourcing would help. The sources of organs in China do not consent and, for example, the Falun Gong members are not asked to donate their organs. They are not even being told they are to be killed for their organs. Nevertheless, these people are executed through organ extraction. That claim comes from my research and Mr. Gutmann has similar findings for Uighurs. Even the consent of prisoners sentence to death is not meaningful because of the environment, and those in the transplantation profession argue that organs should not be sourced from prisoners sentenced to death.

There are a number of different initiatives going ahead in Ireland, with one being the human tissue Bill. It was proposed in 2009. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013 is also dealing with the issue. The European Union (Quality and Safety of Human Organs intended for Transplantation) Regulations 2012 were also passed last year. All three deal with this issue but none deals with the matter in the extra-territorial context. In Irish legislation, the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 penalises participation in female genital mutilation done abroad if the person is Irish and returns to this State after the crime. That is the sort of legislation Ireland needs in dealing with transplant abuse and lack of consent abroad. These are both horrendous practices and could be treated in the same manner in terms of legislation.

I have been to the European Parliament a couple of times and I have visited the European Commission. Most recently, I attended the European Parliament in December last year and I said to those people what I am saying to the members now about extra-territorial legislation. The response was that the European Parliament does not legislate but rather recommends to member states, and if something is to be done we must go to the member states. Some months ago a policy paper emerged from the Italian bioethics council, which is part of the Italian Government, and it analysed the problem from a European perspective. It indicated that this is a problem both in Italy and across Europe.

There are different ways of dealing with this. There was mention of dialogue between Europe and China, the last instance of which was in June. We met representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday and spoke about that dialogue. There are many instances of such dialogue and, frankly, they are not very useful. They may be useful in showing concern but they are not useful in moving China's policy. This is not just a China problem but it is a global issue. It would be wonderful if we could end this abuse in China but it is certainly within our power to end complicity with the abuse in our own countries. We should be focusing on that.

When it comes to transplant tourism, China is not necessarily hostile. After our report emerged, the country changed policy in order to give priority to locals. That does not solve the problem of sourcing but it means that we are not coming up against China in trying to combat transplant tourism.

I will ask about practical action or what Ireland can do to stop this practice. There is a proposal to call on the UN to stop forced organ harvesting in China.

Later in the presentation it was mentioned that other countries had passed legislation. A handful of countries are represented here. How successful has legislation been in stopping organ harvesting? Can we learn lessons, particularly about weaknesses in the law? It has been mentioned that people have disappeared from the organ donation list. Has that situation formed part of the legislation or is it separate? The key component seems to be tracking people who travel abroad for the service.

The delegation mentioned the Chinese Government's stance and a Chinese Minister was quoted. Has China pulled back, to some extent, from blatant organ harvesting? Does the delegation believe that the way forward is to lobby different parliaments?

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

Mr. Matas can speak on the legislative efforts better than I can. To some extent the Chinese Government, or at least the Chinese medical establishment, appears to be offering the West a deal that it will end the practice over some kind of timeframe, but that depends on how the West behaves. It could be fast or slow. In other words, it could be between three and five years or one and two years. Various statements have been made and it depends on whether we ask rude questions.

Another part of the deal is that there will be no verification and no mention of the prisoners of conscience problem. That is done and it is finished, if it happened. Their view is that it never happened. The West is expected to accept that the party has certain taboos and lines that it cannot cross. It is not even clear that if we do not mention the prisoners of conscience problem we will have reform. How can one reform something when one has not reached the root of the problem or acknowledged it as a possibility? We do not know that it would affect the prisoners of conscience problem.

I must say that Mr. Matas and I - I do not want to put words in his mouth - are here today for the prisoners of conscience, not because we are concerned about prisoners, rapists and murderers filling out the proper forms. I have outlined the deal and the West can either accept the offer in exactly the way the Chinese want or with reservations. The way to signal that we are accepting it with reservations is to stop and do what Israel has done. Israel has been the only country to stop all organ tourism. Ending organ tourism makes the statement that no one can get an organ from China until we know, in explicit detail, where organs are sourced. Five years down the line that may be true and, if so, it will be an historical point. I have outlined my recommendation.

Mr. David Matas

Deputy Crowe asked whether legislative proposals had been successful. Different countries have produced a number of legislative proposals but the only enacted legislation that we advocate is Israel's legislation, which has been very successful. Before a report came out, Israel funded people to go to China for transplants and not just aftercare and transportation. Israel paid Chinese hospitals costs from its health bill. After a report came out, Israel shut down organ tourism completely, legislated against it, criminalised it, required reporting and penalised brokerage. Its policy completely flip-flopped, from virtually everyone who needed a transplant in Israel going to China to nobody travelling. Now there are no cases of people from Israel travelling to China for transplants. The initiative has not stopped the killing of Falun Gong members for their organs but has stopped complicity by countries abroad, or at least by Israel. The policy sends an important message.

I thank the Chairman for facilitating the meeting. I have worked with Ms Dongxue Dai for many years and I know some of the witnesses. I find the evidence compelling and chilling. The numbers and forensic analysis clearly demonstrate that a massive crime against humanity has been perpetrated.

Can the delegation forward relevant legislation used in other places such as Israel and Australia to the committee? We might be able to produce a similar model. I tabled a motion but it is fairly weak and is couched in quite diplomatic terms. I hope the evidence today will unite all of my colleagues behind the cause and thus avoid the necessity of a vote. My Sinn Féin colleagues added their names to my motion but they have been omitted for various reasons. Perhaps it was my fault.

We got the answer to the question of why we do not stop it immediately. It is because the Chinese have acknowledged it is happening. Mr. Matas used the chilling phrase "these people are executed through organ extraction." I presume that means that organs are removed while people are still alive and they die as a result of the process. In recent weeks I have learned that I will require a liver transplant but I would not wish, in any sense, for this kind of thing. Most decent people would prefer not to get an organ from this source and take the consequences. That would certainly be my view. I would not accept an organ obtained in this way.

I agree with the delegation that organ harvesting should be criminalised in the same way as child trafficking for sex abuse purposes. Harvesting is mass murder and echoes what the Nazis did during the Holocaust.

Finally, I deeply regret the tone of the briefing note from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which was overwhelmingly concerned with trade. It also referred to the "autonomous" region of Tibet. Can the Chairman contact the Department to ask when this massive seismic shift in Ireland's attitude and in relations between Tibet and Ireland and China and Ireland took place? That policy never went through Parliament and nobody was consulted. This committee was never consulted. I remember a former distinguished Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Commissioner, Mr. Michael O'Kennedy, protesting loudly that such a move was done behind the Parliament's back by the civil servants. I wish to register my protest at this disgraceful weakening of our attitude towards Tibet, particularly in light of the fact that we now have evidence that Tibetans have also been targeted.

Does the delegation wish to comment on the Senator's suggestion?

Mr. David Matas

I am happy to pass on the legislation even though only one country has enacted it. The legislation was originally in Hebrew but it has been translated into English. Proposals have been drafted in Belgium, France, Australia and Canada.

I wish to draw the committee's attention again to genital mutilation. Ireland has its own legislation on genital mutilation, which deals with extra-territoriality, and one could transfer its clauses.

I have tabled amendments.

Mr. David Matas

I appreciate the Senator's comments about the inhumanity of this process, but it is closely connected to the persecution of Falun Gong. The reason the system can treat Falun Gong so inhumanely is due to the dehumanisation, depersonalisation and marginalisation of the organisation.

The Senator can ask a supplementary question.

One of my questions was not answered. Mr. Matas used the phrase "executed through organ extraction." Does that mean that the people are killed by the process of having an organ or organs removed?

Mr. David Matas

Indeed. Mr. Ethan Gutmann talked about Mr. Wang Lijun, a policeman who was heavily involved in experimentation that allowed people be kept alive during organ extraction because it kept organs fresh. Mr. Gutmann will comment.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

One of the people who was meant to attend but could not is Dr. Enver Tohti, a Uighur surgeon from the same region. In 1995 his supervisor asked him if he wanted to do something interesting and he said yes. Dr. Tothi was then asked to put a surgical team together. They were all driven to an execution ground that was specifically used for political prisoners. I have never used that as evidence because we just know that it was the same location. Prisoners were shot and one of the men, who had long hair - not like mine - was picked out. Dr. Tohti was told to work on the man. He was still alive, his heart was beating and blood pulsed out while the doctor cut him open.

He repressed the memory for years and it came out in Westminster when we were having a small parliamentary briefing. There is no question that this has been occurring. The man would have died anyway as he had been shot in a non-lethal way in the side of the chest. It was enough to send the body into an extreme form of shock in which the body is less likely to lurch and churn while someone is cutting it.

People such as Wang Lijun perfected the method and went much further. A fair amount of science has been put into this and I would not venture to say whether it is painful. I will not get into it because I do not think it is about that. The point is there is no way to sentence Falun Gong to death in China. There is no legal apparatus to do so unless they do something very wrong. The record of the Falun Gong is completely non-violent. Some Uighurs occasionally put a bomb somewhere and occasionally get sentenced to death but they are disappearing at a high rate. This has become a method to silence the population. I do not like to make direct comparisons to the Nazis. It is a bit like the Inquisition. People disappear and never show up again. Falun Gong are particularly vulnerable because many practitioners refused to give their names and provinces when arrested in order to avoid trouble for their families and so that their families were not taken in for questioning and did not lose their jobs. These were the very first victims and there were thousands of them. They have literally disappeared off the face of the earth.

Does Mr. Gutmann have any reason to believe Western drug research companies have any association with this practice in China? Is there any evidence companies we may be familiar with in this country have involvement in the manufacturing of drugs, having drawn information from some of the organs harvested in this way? Is there any knowledge of practices of Western drug companies associated with this dreadful practice?

Mr. David Matas

There is a chapter on that written by Arne Schwarz. All major pharmaceutical companies were testing anti-rejection drugs in China. Arne Schwarz is a researcher in Switzerland, where the headquarters of many of these firms are based, and he began a campaign against it. Roche received a Public Eye award as the major corporate culprit of the year in Switzerland because of this abuse. Amnesty International in Switzerland put out a call against this abuse, the testing of anti-rejection drugs in China. Novartis responded to the Amnesty call and suspended all anti-rejection drug tests in China. Pfizer developed a very good policy. Isotechnika Pharma in Canada announced it would carry out trials in China and, because it is a Canadian firm, I kicked up a fuss and it backed down. What pharmaceutical companies do in respect of trials is public information and is on the Internet. They advertise trials, what is going on and what they have done. There is a long history of involvement in China but now there is nothing.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

I do not know the resolution of this matter but TFP Ryder Healthcare is a company members may be somewhat familiar with. It is a UK architectural firm and it had a plan to build a medical complex, which it called a medical city, in Dalian, which is the epicentre of Falun Gong harvesting. Everybody who gets out of a refugee camp is aware of the reputation of Dalian. He was operating not very far away from that in the same province. The company planning to build a medical city proposed an organ transplant centre. I do not know how it came to be a proposal but it was put out there and no fuss was raised. The business of testing transplant patients in China is a real problem. One does not know if it is someone with a Falun Gong organ or a prisoner's organ. The person certainly does not have a family organ because there are almost no donations. What are the figures on family donations?

Mr. David Matas

There are a couple of hundred.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

It is either coming from a prisoner or a prisoner of conscience. The argument in medical ethics is that it is not humane not to test the drugs. The argument must be made that the companies have to do it the expensive way and do it in the West. That is my position. It is much cheaper to do it in China and China would like to take over this area as it considers the pharmaceutical industry a pillar industry and an area of expansion. China would like to have its own FDA making all kinds of drugs available to the world. This is one of the most important pressure points on China. This information has got the Government worried. Wang Lijun went over there when there was a breach of discipline and he revealed some of this stuff. It put the Government in a sensitive position, to the point where I cannot imagine the Chinese Government coming out and doing its usual rebuttal if Australia, Ireland and Edinburgh move on this. The latter are talking about moving on this point and passing a law on organ tourism.

It is good to see the witnesses back before the committee. We are talking about organ harvesting, but that is only one of the human rights abuses suffered by Falun Gong practitioners. One of the newspapers referred to the Confucius Institute, suggesting that there is a need to check whether the Confucius Institute for Ireland in UCD has a hiring policy that discriminates against practitioners of Falun Gong in the same way as the institute in the university in America had. I do not know if it has that policy, but it is worth checking. If it does, we can take a further step.

How does one know if someone comes back with a new transplant? I agree with the principle behind it but I am working wondering about the practicalities. There have been significant visits between Ireland and China, including one by the Minister for Health. It would be good to know if there was any discussion on this point when he visited China.

That is something we can ask the Department of Health.

Mr. David Matas

It is not that hard to know. One does not just walk away after getting a transplant. One must take medication - anti-rejection drugs - for the rest of one's life.

I meant at the point of re-entry to the country of origin.

Mr. David Matas

We can ask the person at the point of entry. The Americans do that, not for their own nationals, but for visitors. In applying for a visa, one of the questions is whether the person has participated in organ transplant abuse. People would presumably not admit to that, but at least it is a way of tracing the matter. There could be a reaction afterwards. People need continuing treatment with anti-rejection drugs. A doctor will always know and, if there is a compulsory or voluntary reporting system, the system will know. In small countries, transplants tend to be centralised in a few places, which will know.

It is the same for all of the Confucius institutes. Hiring is not done locally at the university but in China by the Hanban Institute. This sends people over and insists that Falun Gong cannot be practised when people start working, or while working, there. Otherwise, they lose their jobs. It is quite consistent. I was the lawyer acting for the complainant in the case involving McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.. The university carried out its own investigation, going to China and saying that it was against their policies and that it would like them to change. The response was "No", so the institute was kicked out. If UCD asked the same questions, it would get the same answers.

I thank the witnesses. I have been briefed by them on a previous occasion. Each time I hear statistics, I think that if even a fraction of them are correct it is a frightening scenario.

That 65,000 people were murdered for their organs is mind-boggling, to say the least. The delegates are representing the Falun Gong. However, my human rights stance is that prisoners have rights, whether they be Falun Gong, Christians, ordinary decent criminals, Uighurs or members of other minority groups in China. I know a little about China because I have been there a couple of times. It is becoming more sophisticated, westernised and free. Notwithstanding the censorship, there is still an amazing amount of freedom of communication over the Internet. A man from the United States of America has done a runner with information on American surveillance. If there are thousands of people working on projects such as this, someone will eventually spill the beans. What amazes me is that, given the openness that is developing in China, there has not been greater evidence from Chinese people or that it has not been used by Taiwan for political purposes against the mainland. Do the delegates accept that Chinese citizens have become more rights-conscious and that this debate should be taking place in China, given the freedom of access to the Internet, as opposed to the delegates coming to Ireland to convince us that these abuses are taking place?

In the West we carry donor cards. The words "organ tourism" were mentioned. The delegates will be aware that we use organs from England. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and other hospitals network internationally to provide organs, of which a country is in short supply. We would like the Chinese to use the gift of life donor system. As a westerner looking at China, the second most powerful economy in the world, and watching it blossom economically and otherwise, I wonder why people there not able to communicate all of this information in their own society.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

A failed Western politician, Mr. John Edwards, said there were two Chinas. There is the China we see and in which I have operated as I lived in Beijing for years. We mentioned freedom of the Internet and so forth. In July 2009 all of Xinjiang was cut off from the Internet for nine months. It is a massive area of the country and the impact on business was unbelievable. It is a very different picture in different provinces and places. In many cases, we are almost talking about a series of different nations. A rights consciousness has grown as Chinese people become more sophisticated every day. Having some money in their pockets helps a lot. It is also true the self-suppression or self-censorship promoted by the Chinese Government is incredibly successful. Certain issues are not touched on at all and this is one of them. Having said that, after Bo Xilai was arrested and while the leadership crisis was in full swing, an interesting thing happened. For one night only the words "live harvest" were searchable on Baidu, the Chinese Google. One was able to read anything and lots of people did. The people who could speak English read a lot of American congressional testimony. That was some kind of stunt being pulled by one faction against another, probably asking, "How far do you want to go with this?" or "Do you want to drive the Communist Party down?" or "What is the deal?" China is still a very controlled state. Of course, the NSA is looking at many things and there is surveillance ongoing all over the world. The difference here is that the surveillance has massive consequences for those who slip up. Falun Gong was an extremely powerful and strong movement and surprisingly adept at surveying. From the Chinese perspective, it became a toxic acid which had to be destroyed. They could not even be released from prison. That has been a problem throughout.

I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak, as I am not a member of the committee. I apologise for my late arrival, but I was at another meeting. I have been kept up to date on this issue by a constituent from Cashel. I have one question, which may have been covered. What specific steps are the delegates asking the committee and the Government to take on this issue?

Mr. David Matas

A number of things could be done. A revolution would be helpful, as would calling for an independent investigation through the United Nations, as has been done in many petitions. Asking the Americans to release what Wang Lijun told them when he was at the Chengdu Institute would be helpful. I mention also extraterritorial legislation, drug exports, the Confucius Institute and emigration controls. There are a number of ways to approach the problem. What is important is not necessarily choosing one over another but choosing something to show one is aware of the problem and trying to come to grips with it, even if it is just to take the matter to the European Union to try to get it, as a group, to deal with it. I think Brussels is looking for some leadership on the periphery before it gets started on it.

I have appeared before the Scottish and UK Parliaments. The United Kingdom is looking to Ireland and Scotland. Members may say Ireland is a small country and ask what it can do. From the other perspective, the larger countries consider a smaller country has more freedom of action and is less likely to suffer repercussions. Ireland may seem small in relation to China, but China has the same attitude to Ireland and, therefore, it is not that concerned about what Ireland does. We can give the committee a list of things to do, but it does not have to work through everything on the list. However, it should do something.

As a person who has visited China on several occasions over a long period, I have witnessed the progress which has taken place there towards openness. However, the field of human rights is still a very murky one. In the presentation reference is made to a very barbaric practice.

When the Taoiseach was due to go to China, I wrote to ask him to raise the issue of the Falun Gong because we could raise issues with Governments without necessarily changing our good relationships with them. At times we are a little too cautious. That applies not only to the Government but, unfortunately, to all governments. However, this issue is totally different.

It is good that the delegates are appearing before an arm of government today - that is, an Oireachtas committee. I hope it will not finish here and that the message will go to decision-makers in China that this dialogue is taking place.

I note that the witnesses have an international network as well. Have they found any breakdown in the reticence of governments or government agencies to engage with what is possibly one of the most serious cases of human rights abuse one could chronicle at this time? What type of status do they have as they engage with some of these agencies? It seems to me that there is goodwill regarding what they are saying to us. However, there also needs to be urgency about it. The longer we procrastinate on this, the more innocent people will die. Do the witnesses have international connections they can use to promote the case they are making here today?

I would like to add to that. Obviously, this issue has been discussed at the US Congress, including in the Senate. A good colleague of mine, Chris Smith, has raised it with the Chinese authorities on many occasions. Has it been raised at a higher level? Did the previous Secretary of State raise the issue at a high level during her visits to China? What is the official line from the Health Ministry in China on organ harvesting?

Mr. David Matas

I have been asked a number of questions. Senator Ó Murchú asked whether there has been any breakdown in reticence. I should say that the issue automatically comes up because of the universal periodic review of the UN Human Rights Council, which takes place every three years. China's review will take place on 22 October next. Ireland, as a current member of that council, and every other country will have an opportunity to raise this issue publicly on that occasion. Three years ago, Canada was the only country to raise the Falun Gong issue. Many countries raised peripheral or related issues such as freedom of religion, death penalty statistics and re-education through labour camps. One should take advantage of the many ways of dealing with the issue. The UN has dealt with it through the rapporteur on torture and religious intolerance and the committee on torture. I think that is helpful. The US State Department, through its country reports, dealt with it for the first time this year after the Wang Lijun defection. It has certainly taken that step. I have been working on this issue for seven years since our report first came out. This is my second appearance before a committee of the Irish Parliament. I do not know if any of the members who are here now were in attendance the last time I came here, which was in 2007. It is great to be back, even if the people have changed. Over the years, I have found that there is an increasing willingness to do things on this issue, and to confront China about it, as people become more familiar with the issue.

The response of the Chinese Government when it comes to Falun Gong is as bad as it always was. I accept and endorse what Mr. Gutmann has said about the existence of two Chinas. As I see it, the two Chinas are the State and the party. We all see the state apparatus, but we do not see the party, which is really running the show. Every state function has a party instructor who instructs the state functionary. All of that is done behind closed doors. The party does not issue edicts. It has a propaganda campaign against the Falun Gong. The apparatus known as the 610 Office is running the persecution. It is done behind closed doors. It is not a public function. The West may not even see what is going on and what the Communist Party is doing. If we are used to understanding China, we can see the after-effects of what happens. Over the years, Huang Jiefu, who was the deputy minister of health and is now in charge of a special organ transplant institution in China, has become the front person on organ harvesting. When we first did our report, the initial position of the Government of China was that all organs were coming from donations, even though there was no donation system. Huang Jiefu is a little more sophisticated than that. He acknowledges, and he has got the whole system to acknowledge, that pretty much everything is coming from prisoners. He is not prepared to admit that it is coming from prisoners of conscience. Until recently, he would say nothing when he was asked about Falun Gong. The questions have become so persistent that he has finally denied it, for obvious political reasons.

The official Chinese line is to admit that organs are being sourced from prisoners, to accept that sourcing organs from prisoners is wrong and to say that it will stop doing so if it is given some time. As Mr. Gutmann has said, the little bargain they want to strike is "forget about what we have done in the past and help us get to where we should be in the future". As a human rights advocate, I appreciate the comment that was made about international institutions. I would say that human rights do not belong to international institutions or governments - they belong to individuals everywhere around the world. The way to ensure human rights are respected is for people around the world who have such rights to assert them rather than relying on institutions or governments to do so. I am not strategically or temperamentally inclined to avoid confrontation with China. If one is so inclined, one can still find ways of pursuing this issue - for example, by saying "Okay, we will help you stop sourcing organs from prisoners," or "Okay, we agree that Chinese people should be a priority and we will stop transplant tourism". Both of those approaches are in line with the Chinese agenda. There are different ways of pursuing this matter. It would be a better world if China were to stop sourcing organs from prisoners, but like Mr. Gutmann I do not accept that it would be enough. They have to acknowledge what has happened and they have to punish the wrongdoers. I would not be happy with the ending of the sourcing of organs from prisoners alone, but it is certainly something worth pushing for. China would agree with that.

Mr. Ethan Gutmann

Can I add a quick statement on the question of what movement is being made in America? The State Department has mentioned this for the first time. It seems to have happened in response to the information that Wang Lijun brought with him to the Chengdu consulate in the middle of the night. It is also true that 106 Congressmen signed a "Dear Colleague" letter that was sent to the State Department. The letter, which was quite explicit, asked for any information on whether Wang Lijun might have been involved in live organ harvesting, probably from practitioners of Falun Gong. A few years ago, I would have said the State Department would never move on that. Now I do not know how it will respond. Things have shifted - I cannot quite explain why - and there is now much more passion about this issue in Congress. For example, Voice of America, which is congressionally funded, started reporting on organ harvesting for the first time this year. It had never done that before. According to most experts, China is entering a period of 3% growth. Its recession came much later than all the other recessions. It may be the case that people think they have some leverage in this regard that they did not have before now.

I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive answers to members' questions. As they will have seen, we are really interested in this issue. We regard it as a very serious issue. I thank Senator Norris for his keen interest in this area. We will follow up on what has been said now by considering Senator Norris's motion. The witnesses might like to stay here for that part of the meeting. The motion I have received from Senator Norris has been supported by Deputies Eric Byrne, Maureen O'Sullivan and Brendan Smith. Members will note that the motion has been revised slightly since the original motion was submitted here. The word "forced" has been added to the last line of the Senator's motion. I am sure the Senator has no objection to that. Would the Senator like to comment briefly? I might suggest that we could add something to the motion, with Senator Norris's permission, to make reference to this country's membership of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Yes, I would welcome that. It is a very valuable suggestion. I should also say that I have no difficulty in accepting Deputy Eric Byrne's amendment. I do not propose to say anything else because the evidence is so clear that I would be very surprised if any of my colleagues were to vote against this motion. It would be a great joy to me if it were possible for this motion to go through unanimously without a vote.

Will Senator Norris move the revised motion?

I move:

That the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade notes -

- that the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations (UN) on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has issued two reports detailing allegations of organ harvesting in China;

- that the UN and the Council of Europe are planning to introduce a new binding international treaty to prevent trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and have already issued protocols containing appropriate measures to combat the trafficking of human beings for organ removal;

- and calls on the Government to actively support UN and Council of Europe initiatives, including at the Human Rights Council, to oppose the practice of forced organ harvesting in China.

I strongly support the motion. The presentation made by our visitors makes it imperative that we strongly support this. I hope there will be an opportunity at the UN periodic review scheduled for October to provide further strength and support for this campaign. What we heard today and what we have been reading about is an appalling abuse of human rights. Every right-minded Member of our Parliament strongly supports the motion put forward by Senator Norris and I compliment and applaud him on putting it forward.

I do not know if a formal seconder is required, but I second the motion. I thank Senator Norris for allowing the word "forced" to be added to the motion, because it is the practice in some places for governments to harvest organs for transplant for medical purposes. Therefore, it is important to say we are against forced harvesting. Now that we have lobbied so intensively and successfully for a human rights Commissioner, it is important we now use his services in pursuing support for the motion.

I presume this motion will now go to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

When it is agreed, it goes to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I now call on Senator Clune, who is a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

I thank Senator Norris for putting forward the motion and I am glad there is unanimous support for it. I thank the witnesses for briefing us on this issue. I recall that they briefed the committee previously, although I was not a member of the committee at the time. I have been aware of the issue and it was very enlightening to hear the witnesses' contributions and get documentation on the issue. I look forward to further developments in this area.

I hope it is an issue the Senator will follow closely on the Council of Europe.

I certainly will. As the only member of this committee who is also on the Council of Europe it is important I highlight the issue there also.

The idea of harvesting people's organs is like a story from science fiction. The idea that any human being would contemplate this type of policy is the ultimate horror. I agreed initially to the motion proposed by Senator Norris and I have no problem supporting this.

When we discussed another human rights violation, the Magnitsky case, we talked about inviting the Russian ambassador to the committee. Is this a case in which we would have good reason to invite the Chinese ambassador to the committee to discuss the issue? If this motion is passed, we should certainly inform China officially of our concerns.

We can send a copy of the motion to the Chinese embassy. The ambassador is indisposed currently, but we can forward the motion agreed at this meeting. I propose that we forward the motion to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and to the Chinese embassy. Is this agreed?

Could it also be forwarded to the Department of Health, because it is an issue that may arise at European Union level also?

We can do that.

Question put and agreed to.

I thank the witnesses sincerely for attending the committee and highlighting this important human rights issue. We had a full attendance of members and some non-members of the committee, such as Senator Ó Murchú and Deputy Healy, who have taken a keen interest in this area, also attended. This is our remit and forum and we have had a constructive and interesting debate. Now that we are aware of what is happening, the committee will raise these issues in any discussions with Chinese politicians. I thank the witnesses.

Mr. David Matas

Thank you.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.45 p.m. and adjourned at 4.25 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 July 2013.