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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

David Matas Reflects on Organ Harvesting

Lawyer David Matas gestures as he speaks during a press conference. (Woody Wu/AFP/Getty Images)
Lawyer David Matas gestures as he speaks during a press conference. (Woody Wu/AFP/Getty Images)

Epoch Times: August 6, 2007 - The Epoch Times caught up with David Matas, the co-author with David Kilgour of "Bloody Harvest: Revised Report into the Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China," on June 20, after he had given a speech at the University of Minnesota, where he graciously agreed to an interview.

ET: Mr. Matas, could you tell us what you are doing here in Minnesota?

David Matas: I came here to speak at a hospital at the University of Minnesota—"Organ Transplants in China" that's the title of the speech. And also while I'm here I've met with various people, the staff of Senator Coleman and the staff of Senator Klobuchar. So that's basically what I'm doing.

ET: And who invited you to come and speak on this?

DM: It was the University of Minnesota hospital transplant center. [The U of M Program in Human Rights and Health cosponsored the event.].

ET: I would like to ask you what prompted you to take on this project of organ harvesting in China initially?

DM: I am a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg. I was asked to do it by a non-governmental organization, the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong. I am interested generally in human rights and I was familiar with the persecution of Falun Gong. I knew they were being persecuted in China.

I also knew by the very nature of the allegation that it would be a difficult one for human rights organizations to come to grips with because normally human rights organizations like witnesses, and don't like to act unless there are witnesses, but by the very nature of the allegation, [I knew] there were not going to be any witnesses. So I thought that I could maybe make a contribution to this. And I have done similar things in the past—human rights reporting and writing.

ET: Are you a Falun Gong Practitioner?

DM: No, and I have not been paid to do this report by the Falun Gong community. And we [David Kigour and David Matas] are not necessarily doing what the Falun Gong wants, but are forming our own independent judgment and using our own words. We are acting on our own behalf. Although both of us belong to many organizations, we are not speaking on behalf of these organizations. We are trying to be independent, outside experts. We do not try to accommodate anybody else.

ET: I have read some criticism about certain pieces of evidence in the report "Bloody Harvest." Are there portions of the investigation that you would consider incontestable?

DM: In coming to the conclusion that we did, all of our evidence is independently verifiable. There is nothing in that report that somebody who wants to do their own research cannot check and see for themselves. In fact most of the evidence comes from the government of China, from their websites and their statistical reporting. So I would say that the evidentiary foundation is incontestable. I suppose that what you could debate are the analysis and the conclusion. We conclude that based on the evidence, that this is what is happening [organ harvesting]. Somebody else may want different, or more, evidence.

Also, because I am a lawyer, I am used to hearing disagreements. In a typical day, as soon as I argue in court, somebody gets up and disagrees with everything that I say. So I am quite used to hearing people disagree with me, and I am well aware of what is a plausible disagreement and one that is implausible. And I have heard many disagreements with our report, but none of them are what I would call tenable. Most of the disagreements, if not all, come from the government of China or from people who are somehow identified with the government of China and are being supported or prompted by the government of China. This in itself does not undermine the points that they are making, but I think it does show that these people are not disagreeing with our investigation out of intellectual analysis, but out of a set position.

And the kinds of arguments they come up with are hard to take seriously. One of the common forms of argument that I hear, and I've heard this over many months, and in many different forms, is that they will put something in quotations, say that we said it, and then disagree with what is in the quotation, but you can look in our report, its not there, what they quote us as saying. So when people say "David Matas said this", and I don't say it, then that is not a serious argument, but a very common argument.

For example, I was just in Israel speaking about this issue at a hospital there, and the Chinese embassy circulated some material in opposition to our report at the hospital where we were speaking, and I read it. And what it said is that our report is based on rumors. What they would do is quote something from our report, but then add to the quote the phrase "it is said that," but that phrase, "it is said that," is not in our report. This phrase "It is said that", gives the appearance that we are relying on something without identifying the source, when in fact, in the report, we do identify the source. So what they do is remove the source, replace it with the phrase "it is said that," and then accuse us of fomenting rumors.

This will not convince anybody who is seriously interested into looking into the merits of the report.

ET: Earlier today at the office of a senator, you mentioned that there were three incontestable points of evidence…

DM: When I say incontestable…What very often happens when I am dealing with governments, politicians, parliamentarians—these are people who don't have the time or the energy to sit down to go through the report, and they are not sure whether or not it is true.

The way we come to our conclusions is to accumulate a lot of relevant evidence, and then look at it altogether to come to our ultimate conclusion. All the relevant evidence is incontestable. But for someone to determine if all of this is real depends on sitting down and going through all of this, and it takes a bit of time and effort.

What I say to them to short circuit this process is "you don't have to worry about this, we did the work and you can check it if you want" and we have had people who have done that, including [University of Minnesota's Dr.] Kirk Allison, and others. But if they don't have the time to do that, there are three things that are clear, simple, and obvious. One is that the Falun Gong are being persecuted, the second is that the source of the majority of all organs in China is prisoners.

ET: And how do you know that?

DM: Because there is no system of organ donation in China. And also we have the deputy minister of health of the government of China, Huang Jiefu, who makes a statement in a conference in China, and this is in our report, that apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners. He also goes on to say that under the table business has to be banned.

And the third incontestable point is that the precautions that should be in place to prevent this type of practice are not in place, not in China, nor around the rest of the world.

ET: If the situation of organ harvesting does indeed not exist, would it be possible for the government of China to step forward and say, "here is the evidence, this phenomenon does not exist"?

DM: Well sure, they would presumably know where the organs come from. They would have a far better likelihood of explaining the source than we would, and it's one of the strange things, although I've seen many Chinese government responses to our report, none of them touches that issue. They never say, "The organs do not come from Falun Gong, they come from somewhere else". They never say that. That would be the simple and obvious way to refute the report, if indeed the report is refutable.

The sheer feebleness and silliness of the Chinese government's response to our report does nothing to undercut our convictions that our conclusions are true and in fact does reinforce them.

ET: I've also read that this report is somehow anti-China or insulting to the Chinese people, how would you respond to that?

DM: Well, what is China? China is its people and China is its territory, but primarily China is its people. It's certainly not insulting to the people of China. Quite the contrary, the people of China are the victims. It would be insulting to the Chinese people to ignore their victimization. It is, of course, critical of the Chinese Communist Party, but the Communist party is not China. The communist party is a government that rules by force, is not elected, does not represent the people of China, and violates human rights. This is a communist tactic, to identify the communist party with China itself. The Communist party is very different from China. Because it does not represent China, It only represents itself.

ET: What has been the response of the medical community regarding this issue.

DM: Well the medical community on the whole is horrified, because it is an abuse of their profession. The transplantation society has issued an ethical statement basically saying, no transplants from prisoners period. They do, though, seem to put the onus on anybody claiming that there is harvesting from prisoners. In other words they want proof that this is happening before they cease contact, where it should be the other way around. As long as there is suspicion or reason to suspect that there is this organ harvesting, there should be no contact. And since the reality is that virtually all organ harvesting in China comes from prisoners, then there should be no contact with China, that should be the ethical principal. No contact in the transplantation area with China. And that is not the current stance.

With the World Medical Association, I know that they are actively considering expelling China from the WMA, its on the agenda for the meeting coming up in October, in Copenhagen, but they have not expelled China yet and I think they should have, but at least they are actively considering it.

I have been going to a lot of hospitals at the invitation of doctors who are very concerned. I've spoken at hospitals in Montreal, Israel, Belgium, in Mumbai and here as well, so we are getting a fair amount of medical concern, but I think there could be more.

ET: Is your investigation continuing? And is there going to be a third revision to the report?

DM: Well yes it is continuing because we continue to get more evidence. So we are talking about a third version. But my view is that we should do the third version in a book form. The report is geared more toward parliamentarians, government officials, and politicians and there is a real pressure to keep it very short. I thought it would be useful to have a version that deals with the issue in a more expansive form. One that tries to answer all the questions rather than trying to just get people's attention who don't have a lot of time. And it should also be more accessible to the general public and the general reader than our current report is.

ET: When the first evidence of organ harvesting came to light. The U.S. Embassy in China took a tour of the "scene of the crime" in a hospital in Sujiatun and found nothing suspicious and this piece of evidence has been frequently used to discredit the entire report. How do you respond to that?

DM: Well the first reaction by the Chinese government came out the very same day as our report did. And their response was that it was all untrue, when they obviously could not have even read it. Their second reaction was after they read it and all they had to say was that there were two errors in the report, that we got two names of cities wrong in two provinces, which we corrected, and it has nothing to do with the allegation. What happens is people pick up on silly little things because they just don't want to deal with it. Obviously the government of China does not want to deal with it. And others as well, for other reasons. There is a lot of economic interest in China. If you accept our report as true, it is hard to sit back and do nothing, and so many people find an easy excuse to do nothing.

Our report is not about Sujiatun, it's about what is happening in China generally. The reason Sujiatun arises is because the ex-wife of a surgeon with the pseudonym "Annie" said that her husband had been harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners from 2001 to 2003. Now when someone goes there in 2006, almost three years later, the fact that they don't see anything does not mean anything. Indeed, even if they were to go there a week later or even an hour later, the operating room would be cleaned up and I would not expect anybody to find anything there, especially after its in the papers and the Chinese government has a chance to put on a show.

There is another thing to mention about Sujiatun, There was an unfortunate mix up that we write about in our second report, we have an appendix about it. There was a sequence of stories in the Epoch Times, I think on 3-16 and 3-23 of 2006. The 3-16 story interviewed an individual with the pseudonym of "Peter", who talked about a detention area in Sujiatun where Falun Gong practitioners where being held, and he said that their organs were being harvested and he went on to describe the detention area…a three meter tall brick wall with barbed wire on top with a steel door and so on.

In the second week there was a follow up story, an interview with "Annie," who talks about her husband doing operations in a hospital in Sujiatun. Now you can read the stories and see that although "Peter" and "Annie" are talking about two different facilities, the reporter in the second story assimilates the two, and although "Annie" is talking just about the hospital, the questions are being asked about the concentration camp, and Annie did not correct the questions, she just answered the questions, so these questions in the interview had the assumption built into them that the facility that "Annie" was talking about was the same facility that "Peter" was talking about. And although they are both talking about organ harvesting, they are talking about two different places.

Then the U.S. Consulate goes to the hospital and they can see that there is no wall around the hospital and they can say "not as described," anybody can see that. But if someone wanted to deal with this issue seriously I think they could pierce through this. In any case this confusion caused a problem, and created an easy way out for anyone who did not want to deal with this issue.

ET: You have recently returned from a trip to Israel, and before you returned I heard it reported that you made a request to the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs to expel the first secretary of the Chinese embassy for incitement of genocide, is that correct?

DM: I raised this issue at a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The reason this came about was created by a strange sequence of events. The Chinese embassy had heard about this event held at an Israeli hospital and asked the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry to ask the hospital to cancel it, which they did not. They also asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to ask the hospital to cancel the invitation to me, which again, they did not. Finally they asked the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry to cancel the invitation to a Falun Gong practitioner, who was to sit on the panel, which in this case, they did.

When the Chinese embassy found out that the event was continuing and that I was speaking, they asked to come to reply, and they did, and I have no problem with that, and they attacked me and again I have no problem with that, but they also attacked the Falun Gong, spewing out this anti Falun Gong propaganda that we see all the time, "Falun Gong is an evil cult," Falun Gong is responsible for mass killings, and so on. To me, this is incitement to hatred, which is in turn leading to these killings of the Falun Gong.

We have identified by name, 3000 different individuals who have been killed by torture, in addition to the tens of thousands, by our estimation who have been killed due to organ harvesting, all because they are Falun Gong. So in my view this is genocide and this type of propaganda is the incitement to genocide. So I have reason to believe that Israel has good reason to be displeased with this individual and that he should be expelled.

ET: You mentioned earlier some recommendations that the U.S. State Department could make to travelers to China for medical transplant, could you explain that?

DM: The U.S. State Department has a travel advisory for China, You can go to its website and see it. It talks about a wide variety of things to alert travelers going to China. But when it comes to Organ Harvesting, nothing—nothing is there, and it should be there. I would say there should be a link to our report. I would say there should be a statement that organs are coming from Falun Gong practitioners, or at least a statement that organs are coming from prisoners and that prisoners are non-consenting. If you get an organ transplant in China, someone is being killed. I think there should be warning like that.

ET: Speaking of consent, is there such a thing as consent for organ donation from a prisoner?

DM: No and this is something that the Transplantation Society has been very good at. They have put out a statement saying that there is no such thing as meaningful consent from a prisoner. Because of the restrictions of liberty in a prison environment, it is impossible to ascertain whether prisoners are truly free to make independent decisions, and thus an autonomous and informed consent for donation cannot be obtained. Therefore the Transplantation Society is opposed to any use of organs from executed prisoners. Obviously if you are dealing with Falun Gong practitioners, there is no consent, but whether it is a Falun Gong practitioner held prisoner or a death row inmate, it is unethical to take organs from either one of them.

ET: My final question, are you advocating a boycott of the Beijing games?

DM: Well what I'm advocating is an end to organ harvesting in China from Falun Gong practitioners. Now, I'm prepared to support any effort that would help that. If a boycott of the Olympic Games is used for that purpose, to advocate an end to this practice, I would say yes. To me it is inconsistent to the Olympic spirit to ignore this. There are different ways the Olympic games can be used to put the issue across, I would like to see the Olympic committee… well, as you know, there are a number of people in China who cannot participate in the Olympic games in any way, including Falun Gong practitioners. They can't compete, they can't coach, they can't attend, they can't even be in the neighborhood. I think the Olympic committee should be protesting that.

The Olympic games represent a form of contact with China, I think that we should take advantage of that contact to raise this issue, no matter who is being contacted and no matter in what context. This is happening because the people in China and the government of China are allowing it to happen, and if there is enough protest from enough people, both in and outside of China, it'll stop. The Olympic Games represent a way to get the message in or out—that this is happening. I think a boycott is one way of doing this.

ET: Thank you very much.

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