HUMAN RIGHTS: by David KilgourNews Weekly
The Olympics and China's organ-harvesting shame
, June 7, 2008
China's grisly practice of harvesting the organs of executed Falun Gong practitioners was publicly exposed in 2006 in a ground-breaking international report co-authored by former Canadian government minister, David Kilgour. Early in May 2008, he addressed the Michigan Association of Nurse Anesthetists. This is an edited extract of his paper.When people understand the state of public health across China as a consequence of almost three decades of virtually "anything-goes" capitalism, they can better contextualise the independent (updated) report on organ-pillaging that David Matas and I did last year.
Permit me therefore to start with some indicators on health among the Chinese people today. The source is an article by Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley, titled "As China roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes" (New York Times
, August 26, 2007). URL: www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html
Among their observations are the following facts:
• Nearly half a billion Chinese lack access to safe drinking-water. Many factories and farms dump waste into surface water, with few legal or other consequences.
• The Ministry of Health in China itself admits that ambient air pollution alone causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. Coal provides about two-thirds of China's energy and it already burns more of it than Europe, Japan and the US combined. Only one per cent of the nation's city-dwellers are breathing air considered safe by the European Union.
• Parts of China's coastline are so polluted that large sections of it no longer sustain life.
• Multinational companies building manufacturing facilities in China are partners in degrading the natural environment by dumping waste in rivers and pumping smoke into the sky.
• Last spring, a World Bank study done with China's environmental agency concluded that outdoor air-pollution was already causing 350,000–400,000 preventable deaths a year, with indoor air-pollution contributing to the deaths of another 350,000 persons, for a total in the 750,000 range a year.
Kahn and Yardley conclude bluntly: "The government rarely uses market-oriented incentives to reduce pollution. Officials have rejected proposals to introduce surcharges on electricity and coal to reflect the true cost to the environment. The state still controls the price of fuel oil, including gasoline, subsidising the cost of driving....
"At least two leading environmental organisers have been prosecuted in recent weeks, and several others have received sharp warnings to tone down their criticism of local officials."
What is the present state of health-care delivery in China? My primary source here is Dr Peter Navarro's book The Coming China Wars
(New Jersey: FT Press, 2006). Navarro has a PhD in economics from Harvard and is a professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California.
He concludes that the once-vaunted public health system in China has effectively disintegrated: "There is a shortage of doctors and sick people are forced to pay for their health care upfront. Those lacking the means to pay are cast out of hospitals and left to die an often slow and painful death. A big part of the problem is the cost of medical insurance — $50 to $200 per year — in a country where the annual per-capita income for the vast majority of the population remains well below $1,000."
One of Mao Zedong's policy successes on assuming control in Beijing in 1949, notes Navarro, was his health-care system. Taxation funded the care of civil servants. Government-owned companies and rural co-operatives provided coverage for their employees, including retired ones. The achievements during the three decades it lasted included a large drop in infant mortality and more than doubling of life expectancy.
In the 1980s, virtually all of it was abandoned. De-collectivisation ended the co-operatives and the 90 per cent of the farmers covered earlier by health care dropped to 10 per cent. Some former government companies on being privatised cut health care for employees; others went bankrupt. The central government, between 1980 and 2004, cut funding for health care by more than half.
Under the new privatised model, doctors, hospitals and pharmacies were converted to "profit centres" and expected to finance their activities through patient fees. Navarro notes that, as a result, today the price of drugs not covered by price controls applying in hospitals can be 20 times higher than at the factory gate.
With this meltdown of the health-care systems, coupled with the ongoing totalitarian governance, I think you can better understand the context for organ-pillaging which began to occur once war had in effect been declared across China on the large Falun Gong community by the party-state in mid-summer, 1999.
David Matas, the international human rights lawyer, and I concluded, following our independent (and voluntary) investigation last year, that between 2001 and the present time the government of China and its agencies have murdered thousands of Falun Gong practitioners across the nation without any form of prior trial and then sold their vital organs for large sums of money, often to "organ tourists" from wealthy countries.
None of these deaths would be occurring if the Chinese people as a whole enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic worth and dignity of each one of them. Human lives generally in China appear to have no more value to those in power there than do the natural environment, work safety, health care for all, the lives of African residents in Darfur or monks and students in Tibet and Burma.
It is the lethal combination of totalitarian governance and "anything goes" capitalism that allows this new form of evil in the world to continue across China today.
The propaganda phase of the party-state's persecution began in mid-1999 against a then estimated 70-100 million Falun Gong practitioners. It demonised, vilified and dehumanised them in the party-controlled media at home and abroad. Many Chinese nationals and others outside China were thereby persuaded to think of the community as disruptive and, tragically, even somehow less than human.Menace
Ross Terrill, of Harvard University's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, puts it well in his book, The New Chinese Empire
(New York: Basic Books, 2003): "The Fearful State in Beijing had transformed Falun Gong from a harmless, health-promoting lifestyle choice of millions of mostly older Chinese into a menace to the 'stability and unity' of the Red Middle Kingdom.
"That loyal and quite senior members of the CCP, some in the army, police and air force, were among the Falun Gong membership did not undermine the imperative to stamp out a potential, if unwitting, philosophic challenge to the state."
My own experience with Falun Gong practitioners in more than 40 countries visited has been overwhelmingly positive. They really do attempt to live their core principles of "truth, compassion and forbearance". One wonders why is it that in only one of the 70 or so countries where practitioners live are they persecuted mercilessly? Their huge and growing popularity among the Chinese people during the 1990s was clearly one reason.
Virtually all independent observers agree that repression across China is increasing as the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics approach. National leaders planning to attend the Games, governments, media and corporate event sponsors should therefore indicate to their respective publics what they are doing to try to reverse this trend. Otherwise, they risk being tainted badly by what a Human Rights Watch spokesperson has suggested could become a "human rights debacle".
Hosting an Olympiad while escalating the persecution of communities and individuals among your own population is irreconcilable with the modern Olympic Charter. It's hard to say at times which side appears to grasp this point less — the government of China or the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The first hopes that building extravagant new facilities — and forcibly removing thousands of Beijing families from their homes without adequate compensation to do so — will somehow improve its international reputation.
In 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were more than twice as many arrests in China as the previous year for the offence of "endangering state security". The number jumped to 604 arrests in 2006, from 296 in 2005.
China was awarded the Games by the IOC only after it pledged to respect the Olympic Charter and to improve its human rights record. Instead, the rest of us are now adjusting to its worsening inhuman practices.
Why, for example, do Falun Gong practitioners face continuing merciless persecution after eight long years? What principle of the modern Olympic Games, especially after the experience in Hitler's Berlin in 1936, allows a host government to bar any spiritual community's members from competing in, or even watching, events in Beijing?
The Olympic Games and human rights movements worldwide share the same goals: unity, dignity and equality among the entire human family. When this is violated systematically by the host government of an Olympiad, the Olympic movement as a whole loses credibility.
The IOC should insist to the organisers of the 2008 Games that they conform to the Charter and refrain from discrimination against any group or individual during these Games. As consumers, we might all begin to ask serious questions to the corporate sponsors of the Games, including Manulife, Visa, Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic, Omega, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, General Electric, John Hancock and Coca-Cola. Silence from them implies acquiescence in what is going on across China.
Prince Charles, Mia Farrow, Steven Spielberg, Uma Thurman and many others around the world have already stood up for human dignity at the 2008 Olympics. Is Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch not correct when she says that corporate sponsors, governments and national Olympic committees should urge Beijing to improve human rights conditions in China?
"Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to uphold the human rights pledges it made to bring the Games to Beijing," she said recently. "Human rights are under attack in China, and Olympic sponsors should use their considerable leverage to persuade Beijing to change policy."
The rest of us should too. We are asking the government of China to honour the promises made when it bid for the Games. If you agree, please press your own government and your national Olympic committee to urge the government of China to fulfil its commitments.