Forced Organ Harvesting as an Act of Genocide in the Campaign to Eradicate Falun Gong
Updated: Jul 20
By Giulia Dellaferrera
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice originating in China, based on ancient Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, which it associates with exercises related to traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts, called qigong. Falun Gong practitioners are guided by the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance. In China, this practice has been able to fill the ideological vacuum left by the fall of communism in the post-Mao era and it counts tens of millions of members worldwide nowadays. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has begun accusing Falun Gong practitioners of establishing a sectarian cult following a non-violent demonstration against the government on late April 1999, in response to the detention of some practitioners on abusive grounds (p.41). The CCP chiefs were alarmed by this event, which represented “the largest systematic gathering since the 1989 Tiananmen student movement” (p.22). The growing network of practitioners was perceived to have subversive potential.
Former President of the People's Republic of China, Jiang Zemin, called for a repressive and systematic campaign for eradication of Falun Gong, named “dou zheng” (to purge or violently suppress) (p.41). The CCP persecutes Falun Gong at the extra-judicial level by setting up the Central Leading Group on Preventing and Dealing with Cults, also known as Office 610. In addition, state-controlled media are used against Falun Gong, in what has been called “the most extreme campaign of unmitigated hatred” by Clive Ansley, a renowned lawyer and advising professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University. Persecution by authorities has also taken the form of arbitrary arrests and detentions, during which Falun Gong practitioners are often tortured if they refuse to denounce their beliefs (pp.161-169). According to a report of the United Nations, two-thirds of torture victims in China in 2005 were Falun Gong practitioners (42).
Falun Gong are subjected to the forced removal of organs - extracting organs, including essential organs, without consent, often resulting in death. Some former prisoners testify of Falun Gong practitioners who disappeared from internment camps without leaving any trace of their stay (181). Furthermore, they are compulsorily subjected to medical examinations and blood tests (p.7), the results of which they are not informed of. The same procedures generally are not applied to detainees other than Falun Gong and those sentenced to death. The inferences are confirmed by the 300% growth in transplants between 1999 (the year the campaign against Falun Gong started) and 2004 (when a public donation program was still absent), accompanied by an exponential expansion of facilities dedicated to this type of operation (p.15), which is in sharp contrast to the considerably smaller increase in other countries.
Forced organ harvesting has been described as a means for a cold genocide, also called genocide by attrition, which is defined as a slow process of annihilation that can take place through subtle forms of structural violence that destroy the group through gradual measures (p.19).
Indeed, organ harvesting is likely to cause death, it inflicts severe bodily and mental harm to the victims and it constitutes conditions of life that contribute to the physical destruction of the targeted group. Such conduct, therefore, complements the material element of the crime of genocide, as described by the (a), (b), and (c) of art. II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG). This has recently been confirmed by a ruling issued by an independent tribunal composed of experts, which was established in London to ascertain the forced removal of organs from prisoners of conscience in China. With reference to this practice, the panel stated that it had no doubt that “physical acts have been carried out that are indicative of the crime of genocide” (471).
Besides, the specific intent which qualifies this crime can be proved in the present case, that is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Firstly, even though Falun Gong practitioners have refrained from describing their creed as a religion (p.21), the Akayesu Trial Chamber has given a functional definition of a religious group as “one whose members share the same religion, denomination or mode of worship” (515). Accordingly, in cases advanced before Western Courts, the persecution of Falun Gong is presented as religious. Secondly, it can be demonstrated that Falun Gong practitioners are targeted because of their belonging to a precise group. It is well established in the case law of the ad hoc Tribunals that this specific intent can be inferred from circumstantial evidence (93). The use of derogatory language toward Falun Gong practitioners (p.52), the wide range of torture methods inflicted on them, the methodical way of planning their internment and the forced removal of their organs, and the systematic manner of targeting only Falun Gong prisoners constitute such evidence. Thus, the “eradication campaign” of Falun Gong is actually a genocide campaign, of which forced organ harvesting is a powerful tool.
The Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China has highlighted as a priority the need “to ‘force’ facts on to a court with jurisdiction because once facts as serious as those alleged and accepted here do reach a proper court, a proper court will find a way to act” (469). There remain, however, all the drawbacks associated with referring the matter to an international court, since China is not a party to the Rome Statute and has made a reservation to art. IX of the UNCG, which gives competence to the International Court of Justice for disputes concerning the interpretation, application, and fulfillment of the Convention. For this reason, the Tribunal has indicated an alternative in the creation of a mandate for a Special Rapporteur to investigate organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China, who could report to the UN Human Rights Council on the commission of international crimes, including the crime of genocide (488).
Giulia Dellaferrera is a Legal Associate at Genocide Watch
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch.