Parliament debates forced organ harvesting

Feb 4, 2022 | Parliament

House of Lords
4th February 2022

Today- on the day the Genocide Olympics opened in Beijing – I told Parliament that grievous human rights violations such as forced organ harvesting and Genocide in Xinjiang puts Beijing on a par with Hitler’s Olympics in 1936
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am raising my voice to speak in favour of Amendments 265 and 282. Following the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I hope that it demonstrates to the Minister that there is widespread concern from all parts of your Lordships’ House, especially in support of these amendments. It also gives me the chance to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the leadership that he has given on this issue. He has been dogged and focused, insisting that we ensure that this country never becomes complicit in one of the greatest crimes committed against humanity. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Penn—like others, I am pleased to see her back in her usual place. During the course of the earlier legislation, she was not only receptive in dealing with the issues that we raised, but organised meetings for us at the department with officials. I thought that the attitude that was shown at that time was exemplary and I am grateful to her. 

It disturbs me that, although the United Kingdom signed the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs, unlike 11 other European countries the United Kingdom has not ratified it. I would be grateful if the Minister, when he comes to reply, could say why we have not and whether we have any intentions of doing so. In addition, though, the signature of the United Kingdom has the following reservation:

“In accordance with the provisions of paragraph 3 of Article 10 and paragraph 1 of Article 30 of the Convention, the Government of the United Kingdom reserves the right not to apply the jurisdiction rules laid down in paragraph 1.d and e of Article 10 of the Convention.”

Given all that we now know and what has been said in your Lordships’ House this afternoon, I wonder whether we are going to persist with that reservation. The reservation means that the United Kingdom does not have to take legislative or other measures to establish jurisdiction over any offence established in accordance with the convention when the offence is committed by a UK national or a habitual resident of the United Kingdom, unless it is within our own territory. Therefore, in short, the reservation means that even if it were to be ratified, it would not prohibit citizens of the United Kingdom from partaking in unethical organ tourism. 

Let us not forget why the Human Tissue Act was created in the first place. Thousands of families, some in my former constituency in the city of Liverpool, had devastatingly found their deceased family members, including children, had had their body parts and organs removed and kept in National Health Service facilities without consent. The Liverpool Alder Hey scandal created a public outcry and it was our parliamentary duty to respond and take appropriate legislative action, as we did. 

Today, throughout China, forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience is taking place. What legislative action are we going to take concerning that? The predominant victims have been Falun Gong practitioners, the Buddhist spiritual meditation group that, at its peak in 1999, had an estimated 100 million adherents in China. The former CCP leader, Jiang Zemin, set up the 610 Office and gave the order to—his word—eradicate Falun Gong. It is believed by many experts that, while young Falun Gong organs gradually became less available over the years, the CCP—the Chinese Communist Party—began to also target Uighurs, as we have heard this afternoon, for forced organ harvesting, with the same torture methods, blood tests and organ scans happening in the Uighur camps as those in the Falun Gong camps. There are also some lines of evidence of Tibetans and Christians in China, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suffering the same fate. I should declare my interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs and as a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response. 

For those who had any doubts about China’s state-sanctioned organ harvesting, it is worth noting that as early as 1994 Human Rights Watch reported that

“it has become increasingly evident that executed prisoners are the principal source of supply of body organs for medical transplantation purposes in China”,

and that

“executions are even deliberately mishandled to ensure that the prisoners are not yet dead when their organs are removed.”

Dr Enver Tohti, a Uighur doctor whom I have personally met and taken statements from, described to me that he had been required to remove organs and ordered to “cut deep and work fast” on a victim who was still alive. The theft of organs has been described as an almost perfect crime, because no one survives. Just this week Dr Tohti was interviewed by the London Evening Standard, from which I quote:

“Driven well out of town, he recalls: ‘There was a small hut and two surgeons there waiting. They said, “wait here and come around when you hear gun shots”. Time passed and I started to hear the noise of people shouting, chanting, whistles blowing, trucks running, then gun shots, many rifles shooting at the same time. So, we got in the van and came around the mountain to find 10 corpses in prisoners’ clothes with shaved heads on the left side slope of the mountains.’ He was called away from the corpses to the body of another man in civilian clothes and was told ‘that is yours’, and ordered to remove the liver and kidneys. The man was not dead. ‘I had no choice but to harvest the organs,’ he said.”

It is extraordinary, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that on this day of all days, when what are now known as the “Genocide Games” are beginning in Beijing, we should be having this timely debate in your Lordships’ House. Not since 1936, when the Nazi games were held in Berlin and the world saw Hitler use the Olympics to promote his hideous ideology, and most Jewish German athletes were barred from taking part in the Games, have we seen the Olympic ideal so scandalously debased. 

However, forced organ harvesting is just one of many human rights abuses taking place in China. Other noble Lords have referred to Sir Geoffrey Nice’s Uyghur Tribunal, which met here in Westminster in Church House. I sat through many of its hearings and, during our recent debate on this Bill concerning genocide and the purchasing of equipment and medical supplies from places such as Xinjiang, I heard harrowing accounts from those who gave evidence to that tribunal. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC—the prosecutor in the Milosevic trials, who knows more about these issues than probably any other living person—and his panel came to the conclusion that what is happening in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has said, so has the House of Commons—and, indeed, so has our Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, who has said “it is a genocide”. 

Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered torture, rape and forced abortion and sterilisation by the CCP, but the crime does not end there. There is a further twist to this infamy. Anonymous plastinated corpses taken from Chinese prisons have been paraded, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, told us earlier, in a carnival of horrors at money-making exhibitions, a final sneering insult to these victims. In 2018, after the exhibition that the noble Lord referred to, I wrote to the Times, along with Professor Jo Martin, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, and 55 others. We said: 

“We believe that the legislation requires reform.”

However, I would go further—here, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who it is good to see in her place—and ask why on earth we allow these things at all. There should be a complete prohibition by law.

I conclude by returning to the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The Olympic charter states:

“Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

The irony of that is beyond belief. This simply should not be acceptable, at least to those corporations and companies that are sponsoring the Games in Beijing, such as Coca-Cola. The China Tribunal stated:

“Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the”

People’s Republic of China

“should now recognise that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.”

We must do more to stop these human rights abuses. I wholeheartedly support the amendments, which are not country-specific but would serve to close the loopholes in the Human Tissue Act so that the United Kingdom could do its part in preventing collaboration in these appalling crimes.

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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