I beg to move,
That this House
has considered forced live organ extraction.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and to open this debate. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have found time to attend this morning, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. This issue is very topical, and something that I, along with other hon. Members, have followed for some time, and we are pleased to participate. I thank members of the audience who have come to listen to our proceedings, in particular Becky James, who I thank for everything she did to provide me with important information. Many others also contributed, including Rob Gray, who is in the audience, and I thank him for his help in putting this speech together. I also thank Amro, who works for me on the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, because this issue is regularly brought to my attention.
Finally, I thank the Minister for being here—he is always responsive. He knows that we are fond of him as a Minister, but we are also fond of his responses, which are always excellent and sum up the points made. I thank him in advance for summing up the debate. He knows that I am impressed by his tireless efforts, and we very much looking forward to hearing his response.
Two days ago, the UN marked the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. Its purpose was to honour the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations, and to promote the importance of the right to truth and justice. How fitting that we should be gathered here today to seek the truth about one of the most concerning human rights violations imaginable—forced live organ extraction. Fiona Bruce is also here. When preparing for this debate, we discussed these issues and decided that that would be the most appropriate title.
For years, human rights organisations have reported that the Chinese Government are complicit in forcibly removing the organs of religious prisoners of conscience to supply organs on demand for China’s vast and lucrative transplant industry. That horrifying practice is so terrible that it is hard to believe. A major world power—a permanent member of the UN Security Council no less—is treating human beings like commodities, like cattle, because they profess the wrong faith. Can any of us even begin to imagine living in a world where Government officials could stroll in, round up all the Christians in the Chamber—with respect, that probably includes most people here—and take their organs to supply to anyone who needs them? That is totally unacceptable.
When it comes to the extraction of organs, is it an age thing? Does it affect older people, or children? Do the organs have to come from more mature people, or are children included?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Today I wish to highlight forced live organ extraction from prisoners of conscience, including Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and those who have been in jail for some time. It is hard to encapsulate the vastness of what is taking place and the numbers involved. This level of cruelty is almost impossible to comprehend, and as much as we would all like the allegations against the Chinese Government to be unfounded, an extensive and growing body of evidence suggests otherwise.
One of the principal pieces of evidence—I am sure the Minister is familiar with it—is the work of former Canadian Cabinet Minister, David Kilgour. Alongside international human rights lawyer David Matas, and investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann—he has also been a good friend and helped us along the way—Kilgour conducted an investigation that indicates that somewhere between 40,000 and 90,000 more transplants have taken place in China than official figures claim. It is quite unbelievable.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual commitment to encouraging debate, and I have been listening to his good speech. Is he drawn to the comparisons and the fact that we have seen this before? People were herded into camps; they were experimented on and had their organs harvested. People were persecuted for their faith, and we know where that ended, because millions of people died as a result of the holocaust. If we look at history, we see that there were opportunities for Governments to intervene and act, but they did not. Are we now at the point where we, as the western world, should say, “This must stop”?
As usual, the hon. Gentleman is diligent in speaking about the causes he pursues. This issue is very important. Under the Chinese Government, the Falun Gong are being re-educated and persecuted for their faith. Does he agree that between 70 million and 100 million people are affected by such actions and—this returns to the point raised by Andrew Griffiths—perhaps we are in a way going down the road that led to the second world war. We found out after that war what took place in Germany.
The hon. Gentleman and I are often in debates together—sometimes I intervene on him, or he intervenes on me, and it is pleasing to hear his comments. He reinforced the point made by Andrew Griffiths.
The investigation by David Kilgour is far from our only source of evidence. There are testimonies from prisoners, confessions from Chinese medical professionals, and impossibly short waiting list times for transplants—I could go on and on. Some of that evidence was supplied by the China tribunal, which is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. The focus is on the allegations, and on what evidence has been submitted, investigated and documented. For example, there are discrepancies in explaining the source of the organs for the claimed number of transplants, which suggests an undisclosed source. Wider concerns link religious persecution and mass imprisonment with the threat of live organ extraction in China. That includes the Falun Gong, Christians, and the Uyghur Muslims. Case studies from the China tribunal give examples of Chinese prisoners facing torture, or undergoing forced DNA, blood and organ scanning tests. There is also the Chinese law relating to forced organ removal from executed prisoners, which led to an international response from Governments and subsequent legislation. All those things are mentioned in the inquiry by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, and they clearly underline the issues.
I agree, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for attending this morning. I know he is attending a Select Committee later, but he contributed early to this debate, which I appreciate.
All that evidence has been reviewed by many different organisations across the world including parliamentary bodies, or Parliaments themselves, in Italy, Spain, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Ireland, the Czech Republic and the United States, as well as non-parliamentary bodies such as the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission— the hon. Member for Congleton is involved with that—and the China tribunal. I am here because of my interest in human rights, and because I wish, as we all do, to stand up for people across the world who are being persecuted because of their faith, or because they have no faith.
It would be much easier politically—and it would make it easier to sleep at night—to remain sceptical in the face of the evidence and be reluctant to accept it, and to push for absolute certainty before reaching any definitive conclusions, yet despite that natural inclination, all those bodies, on examining the evidence, could not help but arrive at the view that forced organ extraction is taking place in China. Indeed, the ongoing China tribunal, which is being led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, went as far as saying, in an interim judgment, that
“the tribunal members, are all certain, unanimously, beyond reasonable doubt, that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time, involving a very substantial number of victims...by state organised or approved organisations or individuals”.
The evidence must be remarkably convincing to have drawn such a strong statement from an esteemed body of impartial investigators. Indeed, it is so convincing that several countries have passed or introduced legislation to make travelling to China for organ transplants illegal.
I carry an organ donation card. We have a different system in Northern Ireland. I am glad that legislation is coming through for change here at Westminster. I totally support that and I would be pleased to know that my organs might save a life if I were to pass. That would be good. However, where else in the world other than China is it possible to get an organ almost on demand?
The UK still claims that, because the World Health Organisation has declared China’s transplant system ethical, all the evidence can be ignored. How has the WHO arrived at such a different conclusion? Has it assessed all the same evidence? If not, why? If it has, why has it not produced an explanation of why the evidence is unsatisfactory? What investigations has it carried out? Has it been to military and prison hospitals in China? Has it asked to go to them? Has it been free to examine those hospitals independently, or were its representatives taken on show tours by Chinese authorities? My principal request of the Minister today is that he formally write to the WHO and ask it to assess all the evidence and, if it deems that it is not accurate and does not reflect the situation, to produce a report to demonstrate clearly why that is so. Surely that would not be too burdensome for the WHO if it has already collected the evidence to show that there is nothing suspicious about China’s transplant system.
It is worth noting that there will be further public hearings of the China tribunal on 6 and
That brings to me one of my key points. The allegations have been around for years. If there is no truth to them, have not the Chinese Government had ample time to prove that they are false? They have not done so. Would it not be a simple thing for them just to open their doors and allow the world in to investigate? They have not done that. The WHO itself has said it has concerns the transparency of China’s transplant system. What reason could there be for secrecy about the programme if it is clearly and demonstrably operating in line with international standards? Surely if the WHO has evaluated the system, it is a simple matter to point to the evidence that shows that there are no problems. Perhaps there is a perfectly genuine, straightforward reason why it is possible to get a kidney in two weeks in Beijing, as opposed to two years in the United Kingdom. Surely that in itself tells a story. Does it not raise a question in people’s minds? Perhaps not, but we should honestly ask how it is possible. It seems that China has an organ transplant system that is the envy of the entire world. What possible reason could there be for hiding it?
Moreover, should not the Chinese Government want to stop the allegations? If the UK were for years to be incorrectly accused of killing religious minority groups to provide the rest of the population with organs, and if countries the world over were passing legislation against us, we would be doing everything in our power to present the evidence showing that the allegations were false, yet for some reason China has been utterly unable or unwilling to do so.
Why should that be? One might argue that China would not want to dignify the rumours with a response because they are so ludicrous. That might be the logic. However, the Chinese Government have already admitted to taking organs from executed prisoners without their consent in the past. There is an evidential basis, and it is hardly as if the allegations are so beyond the realm of possibility that they are not worth responding to, yet the Chinese Government continue to claim that their transplant system is ethical, while maintaining its shroud of secrecy, and the UK Government continue to accept the claim at face value despite all evidence to the contrary. I refer the Minister again to the evidence available through the forum of the inquiry led by Sir Geoffrey Nice.
What we are talking about in this debate is organ harvesting—crimes against humanity, and a regime that is responsible for the greatest mass incarceration of a religious group since the Nazis in the second world war, as the hon. Member for Burton said in his intervention. I am afraid that simply to accept the Chinese Government’s flimsy narrative because it is convenient is a total and utter abdication of our responsibility to all those who have suffered at the hands of tyrannical regimes. How will history judge us? The hon. Gentleman is right: now is the time to draw the line and stop live organ transplantation, and transplantation without permission of the people whose organs are removed. We say “Never again”, but we do not, with our next breath, do something to make that brave declaration reality and ask the tough questions—although we are trying to do so in the Chamber today. We would rather bury our heads in the sand than deal with the harsh light of the truth that radiates all around us. The evidence has been gathered, presented, analysed and judged countless times by countless different institutions. It has repeatedly been found to be wholly credible and convincing. Meanwhile, the Chinese Government have offered nothing substantial by way of rebuttal, despite the fact that it would be easy to do so if they were telling the truth. The absence of comment from them reinforces what I am saying.
I ask the Minister, therefore, to act on the findings of the China tribunal and to take appropriate action, including potentially following in the footsteps of many other countries and banning organ tourism to China from the UK. Over the years I have put down a number of questions. It is wrong that people should travel from here to China for what is almost a live organ on demand to suit themselves. It is hard to take in what that means —it leaves one incredulous. It means someone can sit in London or in Newtownards and order an organ to be provided on demand. Within a month they can have the operation. We need to control that, structurally, as other countries have, not simply because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is necessary to protect UK citizens from unwittingly playing a role in the horrifying suffering of religious or belief groups in China.
If, however, the Government are not willing to do that, I ask the Minister at the very least to be a friend to the Chinese Government and ask them and the WHO to engage with the China tribunal process in their own interests. Will he ask them to present clear evidence that shows that the Chinese transplant system is ethical, and that makes all the sceptical investigators, human rights organisations and legislatures feel very silly indeed? Perhaps there is some issue I am not seeing, but I simply cannot fathom why that would be a controversial or difficult request. It seems to be logical and sensible and absolutely what we should be doing morally. If China is operating an ethical transplant system, it should be jumping for joy to have opportunities to present the proof, or at least to relay it to the Minister to present to the House. If the Chinese Government are doing nothing wrong, there is absolutely no reason that the issue should be a sensitive one, or even require private diplomacy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Although much of what we are rightly talking about concerns external pressure on the Chinese authorities to do what is right in the face of mounting evidence, does he agree that internal pressure could well be added to that? If the tens of thousands of Chinese tourists who come here and the Chinese students who study in further education colleges in the United Kingdom became aware of the extent of the problem, they could add to the pressure when they returned to the Chinese mainland. We know how Chinese authorities respond to internal pressure, but it would add to the external pressure and hopefully bring a satisfactory conclusion.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his salient and appropriate words.
“China’s totalitarian approach of exerting absolute control over its citizens often causes widespread criticism and concern while leaving many serious unanswered questions. Many of the linked concerns stem from the climate of religious intolerance that prevails throughout China. This has also been documented as being a key element of the campaigns currently being inflicted on multiple faiths and ethnic groups. These campaigns would, under most analyses, be described as bearing the hallmarks of genocidal intent.”
That is the seriousness of what we are saying here today. The report continues:
“The growing evidence of forced organ extraction in China, and the expert analysis of China’s transplant system is hard to refute or ignore. As, too, is the gravity of the threat of live forced organ extraction faced by prisoners of conscience in China. This is demonstrated by the China Tribunal making the unusual decision to issue an Interim Judgement.”
I referred to that earlier, and it is impossible to think otherwise. Sir Geoffrey Nice says:
“We should all, perhaps, reflect on how the oxygen of publicity given to the allegations made and supported to the extent they are by our interim judgment, may allow the real oxygen of life to continue life itself in some who might otherwise be killed. Such a conceivable outcome—slight as a probability, arguably remote but certainly possible—makes it not only appropriate for us to record our present certainty about the…forced organ harvesting practices but a duty publicly to do so. Doing so now may possibly save innocents from harm.”
In conclusion, when we add all those things together, they confirm why this debate is so important and express the viewpoint of Westminster Hall, our Minister and how we all collectively think. Let us give the Chinese Government a chance to clear its name proudly and publicly, and, if it should refuse that opportunity, let us not simply shrug our shoulders and move on, as others have said. We need to do something now.
Let us question this reluctance from China. Let us finally accept what all the evidence is telling us: that when it comes to organ transplants in China something is deeply, horrifyingly, morally not right. I put the issue before Westminster Hall for consideration and I look forward to contributions from right hon. and hon. Members; in particular, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I start by commending Jim Shannon for his impassioned, stirring and challenging speech. This is not the first time he has addressed the House on this issue and, sadly, I am sure it will not be the last. This is not the first time that I have addressed the issue of forced live organ extraction in China in this House, but again, it is unlikely to be the last; nor is it the first time that I have expressed my disappointment at the lack of attention to this issue from the UK Government—I say that with all courtesy to one of the most attentive and courteous Ministers in this place. It is also likely that it will not be the last time I express my disappointment at the lack of attention from the international community to an issue that cries out for such action.
Later on in my speech, I will be so bold as to suggest some specific action that could be taken to address a serious human rights concern, a crime against humanity and, if the information we are hearing is correct, potentially nothing less than a 21st century genocide, as my hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths implied in his strong intervention. Surely, at the very least, it demands further investigation at both UK Government and United Nations level.
Over the years, as we have heard, substantial research has been done on the issue of forced live organ extraction from prisoners of conscience in China. I have attended many meetings in this House, including with the Minister’s predecessor, and listened to the accounts of that research in countless meetings in Committee Rooms as well as in debates in this Chamber. The sheer numbers alleged are absolutely staggering.
As long ago as 2016 the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which I have the privilege of chairing, produced a report on this issue. We called it then:
“A form of genocide cloaked in modern medical scrubs”,
quoting Ethan Gutmann, to whom I pay tribute for his persistent work on this subject. We also quoted the first-hand testimony to us of Dr Enver Tohti, formerly a doctor in China, who gave evidence to our commission personally of having been forced to remove an organ from a live prisoner. He subsequently fled China and now lives in London, driving a London bus.
In this place, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission showed the horrifying film “The Bleeding Edge”, starring the brave actress Anastasia Lin. If the Minister and his officials have not seen that film, I urge them to do so. It showed in graphic detail a young Falun Gong woman being taken from prison and held down, screaming and without anaesthetic, while operators began the act of removing her organs. Let us make no mistake: once this lethal act is committed, the victim faces certain death. Indeed, that is how the film ends. It is a far cry from the voluntary organ donation we are used to in this country. That is why I do not use the term harvesting; as the hon. Member for Strangford has said, that is far too gentle a word for an utterly sinister act.
Yet, time and again, our Government give the same response to concerns expressed by Members of this House and of the other place on the issue of alleged forced live organ extraction in China. Just a few days ago, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon quoted the same response given in this Chamber in October 2016 when he said, in reply to concerns expressed by Lord Alton in a written parliamentary question on the issue:
“Although I do not doubt the need to maintain close scrutiny of organ transplant practices in China, we believe that the evidence base is not sufficiently strong to substantiate claims about the systematic harvesting of organs from minority groups. Indeed, based on all the evidence available to us, we cannot conclude that this practice of ‘organ harvesting’
is definitely happening in China.”
That answer is simply not good enough.
Over the years, as we heard from the hon. Member for Strangford, more research has been done on this issue. Most recently, as we have also heard, in December 2018, a people’s tribunal, the independent tribunal into forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China, was set up. Should not the very fact that that is being led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC—a world-renowned lawyer and professor of law with decades of relevant experience who, among other things, led the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević at the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia—show that this issue merits time and attention at the most senior level of Government?
The tribunal has done its work. It has conducted days of hearings, it has heard evidence from some 30 witnesses and it is showing again and again that the evidence produced in the 2016 report by David Kilgour, David Matas and Ethan Gutmann, which I believe is 700 pages long and is entitled: “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update”, must be looked into at Government level. In his recent oral evidence to the tribunal, Dr Matas emphasised that although there are problems with establishing exact data, sufficient concern has been raised for this issue to be investigated at the most senior level, both by Governments and the UN.
The estimates in the report are so wildly different from the Chinese Government’s that they merit investigation. China’s central Government suggest that there are approximately 10,000 organ transplantations per year, but the research suggests that it may be as high as 60,000 to 100,000. In one hearing, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission heard of the size of the hospitals constructed to undertake these operations, pointing to a far greater number taking place than the Chinese Government’s official figures indicate.
We see hospitals on industrial scales; that is the magnitude of what the hon. Lady refers to. Those outside listening must grasp what we are looking at—industrial-scale organ removals from living people.
That is a graphic description. Anyone who has seen an indication of these buildings has to be concerned about the scale of what is going on, and about the number of people disappearing. What is happening to those people?
Indications suggest that prisoners of conscience routinely have their blood type and DNA assessed, so that they can be made available for this tragic and sinister practice of forced organ removal. Indications suggest that specific groups are being targeted, such as prisoners of conscience and people of certain faiths, including Falun Gong, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and House Christians. This is religious persecution and a crime against humanity —the crime of crimes.
Witnesses have testified to the China tribunal that they have seen Falun Gong practitioners examined by doctors while other prisoners are not, then often disappearing from the prison without a trace. One witness, a Falun Gong practitioner herself, suggested that she was subject to the same thorough medical examinations as others but was diagnosed with a heart condition, so did not face the same fate. Presumably, because of her heart condition, she was deemed to be unfit to become an organ donor.
The hon. Lady is outlining in very graphic terms the extent of some of the problems. Does she agree that, for issues such as this, a huge amount of emphasis and onus rests on bodies regarded as reputable and reliable, such as the World Health Organisation? A considerable degree of responsibility rests on bodies such as those to respond to this emphatically, and to do their homework and research to ensure that they give a more accurate picture.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I raised that very point in a meeting with the Minister in Portcullis House. That must have been well over a year ago, yet nothing has been done to raise it with the WHO, as far as I am aware.
The China tribunal published an interim judgment confirming that it had identified several human rights violations, including breaches of the right to life under article 3 of the universal declaration of human rights, the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest under article 9 and the right to be free from torture under article 5.
My hon. Friend has such a passion for human rights. She is a real asset to this place, and I am privileged to intervene on her. When we hear about the selection of people to go through this process of forced organ harvesting, I am reminded yet again of the death camps. We hear about the WHO saying that the evidence does not demonstrate these kind of practices, which is reminiscent of the Red Cross turning up to the Nazi death camps and giving them a clean bill of health. We talk about the industrial nature of this practice, and that same industrial nature of the death camps meant that the Nazis could be so efficient in their hideous operation. Does she agree that all the evidence points to that taking place, and that we must do more to definitely prove it, and to take action?
My hon. Friend is right. We condemn holocaust deniers absolutely. With all that is being done to raise concerns about this issue now, surely something must be done. To carry on—potentially—denying it is insufficient, inadequate and irresponsible. Let me reiterate: we are discussing the forced removal of organs in China, frequently from prisoners of conscience, which ultimately results in the death of the individuals subjected to this practice—a practice that amounts to manslaughter or, more probably in most cases, murder.
The speed with which organs can apparently be matched to those who request them, often from the west, is so swift—perhaps a couple of weeks. Matches in this country might take months, years or might never happen. There seems to be no other explanation than that organs are being removed to order. For donors to be available at such short notice seems virtually incredible.
The hon. Member for Strangford is right: organ tourism, as it has been called, has been banned by several countries, including Italy, Spain, Israel and Taiwan, and the Canadian Senate has approved similar legislation. We must do the same. It would send out a strong message of concern on the part of the UK Government. No evidence is needed for our Government to do so, if they are concerned about pointing to official evidence.
Far more Members in the House are concerned about this issue than will have the opportunity to speak today. Early-day motion 2138, which calls on the UK Government to ban organ tourism from this country, has been signed by 38 Members as of yesterday. That is a very high number to sign an early-day motion.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it may be an idea for the hon. Member for Strangford, herself and others to seek a Backbench Business debate on the issue, so as to better inform our colleagues? While 38 have signed that early-day motion, I am sure that, if the facts are laid before more Members, more will support our taking action.
Indeed, I very much hope that, as a result of this debate, more and more Members will be concerned. It staggers me that so many people are silent in the face of such concerns. Is it because, putting it bluntly, contrary to contemporary mass atrocities, such as Daesh atrocities against religious minorities in Syria or Iraq, or military atrocities against religious minorities in Burma—now Myanmar—we do not have what might be called a smoking gun?
In the case of the Daesh genocide, we continue to find new mass graves. We hear from those tortured and raped; we hear from abused survivors. In the case of the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, we hear from people forcibly displaced to Bangladesh about the abuse that they suffered at the hands of the Burmese army. That is how we obtain the evidence to inform our actions to address such atrocities. But in the case of killing or murder by way of forced organ removal from prisoners of conscience in China, there are no such victims to tell their stories. That is because no one survives. It is almost a perfect crime.
Should that prevent us from speaking out? It should not. The continuing expressions of concern over several years should at least trigger red flags and stir the UK Government to, at a minimum, engage in a dialogue with the Chinese Government to inquire about those reports. Let me respectfully suggest that if the endeavours at dialogue fail, our Ministers should call for an independent UN inquiry. Surely, in all humanity, the time has come for that.
Should the challenge of the lack of evidence of mass graves faced by anyone trying to explore the truth prevent us from doing so? Should it prevent the UK Government from using their very considerable international influence to do so? Interestingly, I was at a meeting just last night with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who said that we underestimate in this country the respect with which our Government are regarded internationally—across the world.
Will we once again hear the phrase “never again” spoken with regret when eventually the truth comes out about this issue, as it surely will one day? It is not the case that nothing can be done. Our Government could inquire about the numbers of organ removals and their sources, as we have heard. They could reduce demand by banning organ tourism. If it becomes clear that the majority of organs do come from prisoners of conscience or Falun Gong practitioners, that in itself should sound alarm bells. If the Chinese Government do not want to co-operate with such inquiries, the international community must be engaged. This is not a case of a few voluntary organ transplants; it is a case of alleged mass killings through forced organ removal, of religious persecution, of grave allegations of crimes against humanity. It cries out to be addressed. Those who fail to do so will one day be held to account.
One step that the UK Government could take would be to proactively ensure that the UN investigate the alleged crimes properly. That could be achieved by way of a UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing, first, a UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in China and, secondly, a commission of inquiry to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in China.
If I may, I will be so impertinent as to read from two draft resolutions. I am sure that they are highly imperfect. I would be delighted if the Minister were willing to discuss them with me at some point after the debate and perhaps with others concerned about this issue. Let me explain what I mean. The draft resolution to establish a UN special rapporteur states:
“The Human Rights Council, Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other human rights instruments, Reaffirming that all States Members of the United Nations have the obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms…Expresses its deep concern about continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the People’s Republic of China…Notes with regret that the authorities of the People’s Republic of China have not created the necessary conditions to permit the international community, including the United Nations system, to examine these reports in an independent manner and calls upon the Government”— of China—
“to address these reports and concerns in an open and constructive manner, including…By providing all pertinent information concerning the above mentioned issues and removing restrictions on access to the country by the international community”.
There is much more detail in the draft.
I will just quote briefly from the second proposed resolution, to establish a commission of inquiry. It states that the
“Human Rights Council, Alarmed by” reports of
“the precarious humanitarian situation in the country”— the People’s Republic of China—
“especially of religious groups persecuted because of their religion or belief, Reaffirming that it is the responsibility of the Government of the People’s Republic of China to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population, including by ensuring the right to freedom of religion or belief for all…Decides to establish, for a period of one year, a commission of inquiry comprising three members, one of whom should be the Special Rapporteur”.
As I have stated, the special rapporteur would be established by the previous resolution. The second resolution states that the Human Rights Council
“Further decides that the commission of inquiry will investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the People’s Republic of China, including…violations of…freedom of religion or belief, and enforced disappearances, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity”.
Will the Minister agree to meet me and others concerned about this issue to discuss what we have raised today? I believe that they are among the gravest concerns that have been raised in this House in recent times. Will the Minister agree that at the very least these issues merit further investigation by the UK Government and by the international community through the UN?
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I thank Jim Shannon for securing it and for the detailed and powerful speech that he delivered this morning.
I found it very difficult to learn about these graphic practices in China. I am simply appalled and disgusted by them. Credible research from multiple organisations, including the British Medical Journal, suggests that many thousands of people are being killed for their organs, particularly people in minority groups and most notably practitioners of Falun Gong—a peaceful, meditative practice—although Tibetans, Uyghurs and, potentially, House Christians have also been targeted for political reasons.
The allegations that Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uyghurs have been victims of this horrific practice are well documented and strong. The international community has strongly condemned organ harvesting in China, and action needs to be taken to end this abhorrent and unethical practice. The UN special rapporteurs on torture and on freedom of religion or belief have both requested that the Chinese Government explain the sources of the organs and that they allow them to investigate. There has been no response.
I understand that the Chinese ambassador to the UK and prominent doctors in China who are involved in transplantation were invited repeatedly to give evidence, but they have not responded. That is deeply worrying. There needs to be need accountability for these blatant human rights abuses.
My primary concern is that people’s organs are being harvested because of those individuals’ beliefs. The sheer discrepancy between the official transplant figures from the Chinese Government and the number of transplants reported by hospitals is alarming. Although the Chinese Government say that 10,000 transplants occur each year, hospital data shows that between 60,000 and 100,000 organs are transplanted each year. Clearly, something does not add up.
Medical ethics are simply being put aside. An unregulated system exists in which organs are being delivered not to the most deserving recipients, but to the highest bidders. Furthermore, with the current situation of religious persecution and mass imprisonment of Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is clear that an independent investigation is required. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s comments on that. I strongly advise the Government to follow in the footsteps of the European Parliament and the US Congress, both of which have called for an independent investigation. Several countries have already taken legislative action to prevent their citizens from taking part in transplant tourism.
Will the Minister provide urgent assurance that the British Government will step up their efforts to hold the Chinese Government to account for these blatant human rights violations? Will the Minister also urge the Government to condemn publicly and in the strongest possible terms any form of live forced organ extraction, and call for an end to the practice? The world’s silence on this barbaric issue must end.
I am pleased to participate in this important debate, and I extend my warm thanks to Jim Shannon for securing it. He set out a comprehensive and convincing case, as did other hon. Members, concerning forced live organ donation in China. We have heard from several hon. Members about the allegations of forced live organ extraction from prisoners in China. We have heard, for at least the past decade, about the alleged victims being members of religious and ethnic minorities.
Forced organ removal is when people are killed so that an organ can be removed—with the recipients being, apparently, wealthy Chinese people or transplant tourists who travel to China and pay substantial sums to receive transplants. The waiting times for such transplants are short, and it seems that vital organs can even be booked in advance. As the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, the China tribunal, which has investigated this, has issued an interim judgment stating that it is
“sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims.”
We also heard that from the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). That is absolutely horrific and an affront to all that is decent. Quite frankly, it is the sort of thing that one would expect to read about in a science-fiction novel.
Around 2006, a report was published giving credence to the claims that the Chinese authorities were indeed removing organs from executed members of the Falun Gong. At that time, the Chinese authorities acknowledged that organs had been taken from executed prisoners, but only with their consent. However, the European Parliament disputed China’s official version of events and passed a motion condemning the state sanctioning of organ removal from non-consenting prisoners of conscience, including from large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs. The figure for transplants—we will probably never know the true figure—is somewhere between 40,000 and 90,000, as the hon. Member for Strangford set out.
Given that that first report was published in 2006, does my hon. Friend agree that the UK is 13 years overdue in calling for an inter-governmental investigation into Chinese practices?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She tempts me to skip to that point in my remarks, but I will get there in due course. Her point is well made, and it has been made several times around the Chamber.
This barbaric, inhumane practice must end. As my hon. Friend said, the international community, including the UK—I hope that the UK will lead the international community on this, but I will settle for the UK being included—must leave China in no doubt about how repugnant this practice is to any country that has any sense of decency or places any value on the dignity of human life. There can be no equivocation, no excuses and no turning of blind eyes.
As the hon. Member for Strangford has pointed out, people are being treated like cattle. He gave us a comprehensive account of how utterly unspeakable the practice is. We find ourselves in a bizarre situation in which the World Health Organisation has declared organ transplants in China to be ethical, claiming that there is no cause for suspicion. I urge the Minister, as other hon. Members have done, to query and pursue that as a matter of urgency, since it seems to fly in the face of a considerable amount of evidence from the China tribunal, Geoffrey Nice QC and others. A number of hon. Members have expressed alarm at the World Health Organisation’s assessment, and I think that such a ruling undermines the organisation.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Congleton, Italy, Spain, Israel and Taiwan have introduced laws banning their citizens from participating in organ tourism, with Canada working towards adopting similar legislation. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what plans are in place to introduce similar legislation in the UK. Given that the UK has signed the Council of Europe convention against trafficking in human organs, forbidding the intentional removal of human organs from living or deceased donors, it is quite a small leap for the UK to forbid its citizens from engaging in organ tourism. Perhaps the Minister can explain what the Government are doing to take that small but extremely important leap. As the hon. Member for Congleton informed us, the UK Government and the UN must do more about the vast industrial scale of this horror and what can only be categorised as crimes against humanity.
The fact that Falun Gong practitioners are targeted in this way in China goes to the heart of the matter, as the hon. Member for Strangford has articulated, because an attack on freedom of religion is an attack on all freedoms. The right of all people to worship their God in peace, however they perceive their God, is a fundamental right. The threatening of that right endangers the very basis of freedom, in the widest sense, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton pointed out.
In June last year, the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief produced a report, which found a signal lack of understanding and misperception of religion and belief among decision makers working within the UK asylum system. We need to understand religious persecution better and deal with it in an appropriately sensitive way. Decision makers in the UK asylum system need to have the appropriate training to ensure that they make the correct decisions, which are literally a matter of life and death to applicants seeking asylum.
There is no doubt that China exerts absolute and cruel control over its citizens, and that is something about which the international community is, and ought to be, exercised. The targeting of multiple faiths and ethnic groups has been characterised by some as the hallmark of genocidal intent, as Andrew Griffiths, who is no longer in his place, indicated. There are loud echoes of the evils of history.
The UK Government need to step up to their international and moral responsibilities, as does the international community. No one could fail to be moved and horrified by the evidence and the stories of forced live organ extraction. It is an outrage, and we must not be afraid to say so. International institutions and Governments around the globe must bring to bear as much pressure as possible on China. That is our duty, and it is what decency demands of us.
If any nation treats any of its people in such a cruel and despicable way, we need to stand with other free and democratic states and condemn it using the harshest and most unequivocal language that we can articulate. I look forward to the Minister telling us what influence and pressure his Government have exerted, and will continue to exert, on China in the light of this debate. I also ask the Minister what the UK Government will do to encourage greater action from the international community on this barbarism.
There is no doubt that China is an important and influential international player, but no state should be allowed to engage in such horrific human rights abuses simply because it is influential. We have an international duty to uphold human rights and values however we can. We can do more to effect change. It is time for the international community to do so, and the UK must play its part.
Before I call the Minister, I should acknowledge that I had prior advice from Helen Goodman, who has just arrived, of a domestic emergency that prevented her attendance earlier. She has had a member of staff making notes throughout and I am sure that if she has notes for the Minister or for those who have called the debate she will deal with that afterwards. I call the Minister.
I am very sorry that I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I congratulate Jim Shannon for raising this important issue about which we are all extremely concerned. It overlaps with a debate we had a few months ago about situation of the Uyghur people and the camps that they are in. That is where some of these activities are thought to be going on.
I have been concerned about the subject for some time. I think I first asked a parliamentary question about it in 2006, so it is a long-standing issue. As I was not able to be in the debate, I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford and we look forward to hearing from the Minister about what he is going to do.
This is a serious issue, so I do not want to be too light-hearted, but it is great to be able to congratulate Jim Shannon for securing the debate and for his birthday yesterday. There is also a birthday girl in the Chamber today: my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce. I am sure there was a misprint in The Times about the age.
There is clearly something in the water that gives these late March babies an interest in human rights. Both those hon. Members and others have raised major concerns about live organ extraction going back many years. I commend their characteristic dedication and welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position. Patricia Gibson put on pressure when she said that we need to do more about the situation. We can work together with officials. I will set out the position, which I suspect may not be entirely satisfactory in the eyes of some of those who have contributed. As Minister, my commitment is to try and raise the profile of the issue internationally—not necessarily ramp up the pressure—because only when we work internationally can we make a genuine impact on the broader ethics of organ harvesting, as well as on the specifics about what we do with the WHO and other United Nations-related organisations.
In her brief contribution, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland referred to broader Government concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang province, in north west China, and about wider reports about restrictions on freedom of religion and belief. Many Members will be aware about the Government’s extensive concerns about the situation in Xinjiang, which I discussed and debated with Members in this Chamber as recently as
We also have substantial evidence of incidences of persecution of other religious minorities, including Christians, a range of Muslims from different sects, Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners. They all face persecution and interference in their places of worship, their religious teaching and their customs. The UK Government are deeply concerned by the situation. In the last year no fewer than three different Ministers, including myself, have raised our concerns about human rights directly with our Chinese counterparts when visiting Beijing or at various international and public forums. At this month’s session of the UN Human Rights Council our Minister for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad, raised our concerns about Xinjiang in his opening address. The UK also raised the issue in our national statement and we co-sponsored a side event focusing on human rights in Xinjiang.
On the specific issue of Chinese state-sanctioned or state-sponsored organ harvesting, Members outlined concerns about the sheer number of transplants taking place in China, which far exceeds the publicly reported supply of organs available. Some have suggested that the reason for that must be Chinese state-sponsored and sanctioned organ harvesting. Others have alluded to reports that the supposed donors are held extrajudicially and murdered on demand to supply organs to wealthy Chinese and foreign patients. If true—we have to recognise that there has to be evidence—these practices would be truly horrifying. We need to properly and fully investigate such reports and allegations, and establish the facts.
It is certainly the case that China’s organ transplant policy and system is far from transparent, as we would understand it in this part of the world. We are also aware of the cultural sensitivities in China regarding voluntary organ donation, and that the number of registered donors is low.
I congratulate Jim Shannon for bringing the debate. Does the Minister agree that the UK has a duty to update legislation—specifically the Human Tissue Act 2004—so that we can prevent UK citizens from travelling to China and participating in forced live organ donation, whether knowingly or not? The Minister has raised the issue of the doubts over what is happening. While those doubts exist, surely we must be doing more here to prevent people travelling to China.
I will come to the hon. Lady’s points later in my speech—there is a specific passage about that. We recognise that there are international comparators, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton, which I would like to explore. I do not want to commit further than that, as I suspect it may be a Home Office or public health matter. My hon. Friend and the hon. Lady have made very serious point about ethics, and I will come to them.
It would appear that, in the past, a significant proportion of organs were routinely taken from executed prisoners without prior consent. China committed to stopping this practice from January 2015. While this was an important and positive step, there are still fundamental ethical questions about the ability of condemned prisoners in China to give free and valid consent. Indeed, China’s use of the death penalty is itself a subject of great concern, not least because there is no transparency about the number of executions it carries out. Many NGOs assess that China executes more people than the rest of the world combined, but no accurate figures are available. We advocate against the use of the death penalty worldwide in all circumstances, including in China and a number of other countries, including close allies. We do not just condemn the practice, but advocate against it.
Members today have outlined concerns that organs are not only being taken from executed death row prisoners, but also from prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners, as well as other religious and ethnic minorities. Concerns have been raised that sometimes organs are removed while the victim is still alive, and without anaesthetic.
There is a growing body of research, much of which is very worrying. As the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned in his speech, one key source is the written analysis by David Kilgour, David Matas and Ethan Gutmann. My officials have studied their latest report carefully and consider it to be an important source of new information about China’s organ transplant system. It points out that it is extremely difficult to verify the number of organ transplants conducted in China each year, and to verify the sources of those organs. The report rightly questions the lack of transparency in China’s organ transplant system, but acknowledges the lack of incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing. The authors make it clear that they have no smoking gun, or smoking scalpel, to prove their allegations, so they are forced to rely on assumptions and less-than-rigorous research techniques. Some of those assumptions, particularly the statistical assumptions, came up in hon. Members’ contributions, but they are still assumptions. We have to work on the basis of rigorous evidence—obviously, we are trying to develop as big a body of that as we can. Those research techniques include having to infer the scale of the organ transplant system from hospital promotional material and media reports, rather than properly corroborated data sources.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Along with that evidence, which many hon. Members referred to in their contributions, is he aware of the report of the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which referred to a clear evidential base? That might help the Minister when it comes to gauging and bringing together all the information. It recognises the outcome of the China tribunal in the investigations it has carried out. That wealth of evidence across the world—at home, as the Minister has referred to, and in the United States—cannot be ignored.
I am now aware of that report and I will try to learn more in our future discussions.
The Kilgour, Matas and Gutmann report was used at the recent tribunal organised by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, which was chaired by the eminent lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice, as has been said, and which my officials attended. Additional evidence considered by the tribunal was due to be published online earlier in the year. We are still waiting for it to be uploaded, but we are aware of the provisional findings, parts of which have been quoted extensively by hon. Members. We await with great interest the full publication.
From all the available credible evidence, it appears that China has not fully implemented its organ transplant commitments of January 2015. However, the World Health Organisation takes the view that, from its observations, China is putting in place a system of donation and transplantation that it regards as ethical and voluntary, and that allocates organs in a fair, transparent and traceable way in keeping with international norms and principles. The World Health Organisation shares that view with several of the world’s leading experts on organ donation and transplantation.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of the WHO, the UN and international pressure. The WHO does not have a mandate or role to act as an inspector of whether new policies are being adhered to in China or any other country, but we will make it aware of the debate, of the new evidence and of the sources to which I have referred, as well as providing a copy of Hansard to illustrate the concerns that have been expressed. We also note with interest the work done by the tribunal, and the information generated so far. We do not want to duplicate that work, so we are keen to utilise the evidence when it is finally published.
The hon. Member for Congleton asked whether we could call on the UN to undertake an inquiry or push for a rapporteur on the specific issue. We are working closely with international partners in the UN Human Rights Council, and will continue to do so, on a range of human rights issues in China. That work has previously included calling on China to implement the recommendations regarding Xinjiang from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and to allow the UN unrestricted access to monitor that implementation. Xinjiang is obviously a priority, but I appreciate that this is a separate issue, for which an increasingly important body of evidence is being amassed. I hope that, by working closely with the international community within the UN again, we can make genuine progress.
Will that include liaising with the American roving ambassador for religion or belief who, in the last week, has expressed concern about human rights issues in China in strong terms?
I shall be delighted. I suspect my colleague, Lord Ahmad, will do that, but it makes a lot of sense, not least given our relationship in the United Nations.
We shall continue to scrutinise the situation carefully, and we welcome all new evidence. At present, however, our assessment is that there is not a strong enough evidential base to substantiate the claim, which has come up today, that systematic state-sponsored or sanctioned organ harvesting is taking place in China.
Helen Goodman, who was unfortunately unable to be present at the start of the debate, referred to the previous debate about the Uyghurs. I understand that there is an evidential base: some 15 million Uyghurs have had DNA blood tests for the compatibility of their tissue for organ transplant; nine crematoriums have been constructed in Xinjiang province, the first of which hired 50 security guards; and there is a dedicated organ transplant lane at a Uyghur airport. They are just some of the stories, but if they are not evidence of what is taking place, what would be?
There is evidence for deep concern, as has been demonstrated in the debate, but we believe that we are some way away from the notion of it being evidence that it is state sanctioned. However, I am well aware that the issue is now being looked at by a number of interested parties, to which I and the hon. Gentleman have referred. As I have said, we will work within the international community on the issue, which I think will raise the attention of many countries that have deep concerns about such matters.
The hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for North Ayrshire and Arran raised the separate but related issue of British citizens travelling to China for medical treatment—so-called organ tourism. We do not collect data on that are not really able to do so, but we believe that relatively few people in the UK choose to travel to China for that purpose. As it stands, the British Government cannot prevent those individuals from travelling—I am sure hon. Members recognise that it would be difficult to police that and understand whether people had gone for that purpose—but it is important that we make them aware that other countries may have poorer medical and ethical safeguards than the UK, and that travelling abroad for treatments, including organ transplants, carries fundamental risks.
There is a broader issue about the sheer ethics of what we might call a free market in transplanted organs. This debate is an important staging post, although we have had debates in Parliament before. Health is one of the few attributes that some of the poorest people in the world have, and we find the notion that the rich world can take advantage of that an even bigger ethical concern. Travelling abroad, whether to China or elsewhere, is something that we want to work on with other countries. Where manageable legislation is in place that seems to be operating effectively, we should take it seriously.
I will come back to hon. Members with some thoughts about whether we feel legislation is practicable and can be introduced. I recognise hon. Members deep concerns, which reflect deeper ethical concerns about the notion of there being a free market for organs, and about the large-scale travel of British citizens to take advantage of that terrible harvest, although I do not think there is any evidence.
I understand the Minister’s point about the difficulty of preventing people from travelling. I ask him—in his remarks a moment ago, he hinted at this—to consider that we pass a law preventing people from travelling for this reason and from being organ tourists. That would put our moral position on the map and set a marker, which is very important.
As the Minister says, we can look at what countries such as Italy, Taiwan, Israel and others have done and what measures they have in place to prevent their citizens from becoming organ tourists. Ethically, it is very important that we introduce such measures and it cannot be beyond the wit of any UK Government to put them in place.
I do not want to make any great commitment on this—I recognise that it another Government Department may well have responsibility. We do not just want to put laws in place. We want to ensure they are effective. The worst of all worlds is to have legislation that is essentially bypassed in a straightforward way. Rather than making a commitment now that I end up having to backtrack on, I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I say that, given the depth of concern reflected by all Members, we will go back and try to look at things, particularly international comparators, to see how we can craft legislation that will be effective in the way that all of us would desire.
I conclude by taking this opportunity to reassure all hon. Members that, contrary to suggestions, our trading and economic relationship with China does not prevent us from having very frank discussions with the Chinese authorities, and nor does it affect our judgment on this increasingly important issue. We shall continue to engage with China on a full range of issues, including human rights. I outlined earlier the UK’s recent actions in the UN Human Rights Council and our vocal condemnation of the abuses perpetrated in Xinjiang. We shall continue to promote universal freedoms and human rights, and to raise serious and well-founded concerns with China at the highest levels.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I know that so much else that is going on crowds out interest elsewhere. It is great to see so many people in the Public Gallery, obviously recognising that these issues are close to the hearts of many representatives. Although it is perhaps understandable that much of the press coverage focuses on Brexit-related issues, a terrific amount of other work goes on. Many hon. Members—Back-Benchers and Front-Benchers alike—focus on that work.
As a Foreign Office Minister, I try to do my level best to keep working hard. I am afraid that a few conversations abroad obviously have a Brexit flavour to them, but there is also a sense that there is other important work to be done. Last week, I had two days away at the OECD in Paris, doing some very good work to stand up for the rules-based international order, and to work in relation to anti-corruption and integrity matters together with a number of other countries from across the world.
It is rather important that all of us utilise our energies in any way we can to address the important issues raised today, which I know we will come back to. I hope Members will work closely with the Government—with the Foreign Office and other Departments—to try to ensure that the terrible scourge of involuntary organ harvesting is, before too long, firmly in the past.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions, which were very significant and helpful. I am particularly thankful to the Minister for his response. I never doubted that it would be honest, truthful and helpful, and I appreciate it. I understand the issues as we try to move forward, but I gently suggest to him that we need to use every avenue of opportunity we can to persuade China to stop what has been referred to as the industrial-scale removal of live organs.
Members have referred to the religious, ethnic and other groups across the whole of China that are affected: Falun Gong; Christians and House Christians; Uyghur Muslims; Tibetan Buddhists; and prisoners who are doing time for their crimes, but none the less should not have their organs removed.
My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce was very helpful in her contribution, as indeed were all Members. It was said that there is no victim to tell their story except for the person who found that they had a heart defect and therefore were unsuitable for a heart transplant. There is some of the evidential base.
Patricia Gibson, who spoke for the Scottish National party, suggested that this was like something out of a science fiction novel. It is not. It is worse than that—it is real life, or in this case real death.
We are all deeply indebted to you, Ms Moon, for chairing the debate. I am grateful to hon. Members who have taken part, and to the audience who have attended today—a significant number of people are here.
We are here for one purpose. We want to see change, we want to see accountability and we want to see the removal of live organs for transplant stopped. We want China to grasp the urgency of the issue. The Minister referred to murder on demand, which we can never sanction. We urge the Chinese Government to realise that and draw back.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered forced live organ extraction.