In May 1960, Mossad, the tweenage state of Israel’s intelligence agency, found Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi, hiding in Argentina, where he had been living for about a decade. Officers kidnapped him and rendered him back to the tranche of land that had been carved out of the Middle East and reserved for the new and/or old Jewish homeland, where he was imprisoned and interrogated for nine months.
The Israelis put Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem. It was a real trial with real judges and a real defense attorney that Israel paid for, though as Hannah Arrendt would famously note in the New Yorker a year later, the translation was a bit shit. And obviously he was found guilty, what the fuck else were they going to do? He was later hanged in the only execution Israel has ever undertaken.
That’s what we used to do to people who organized genocides, and by ‘we,’ I mean the West and its allies. Nowadays, that shit doesn’t fly. In Eichmann’s case, the country he served didn’t exist anymore, and what was Argentina gonna do, complain? But when genocides happen now, we tend to condemn them in the strongest words possible, as long as those words don’t lose us too much money, or put too many of our people in harm’s way, and that’s pretty much it.
I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest — on the one hand, it’s probably a good thing that we don’t just go busting down other countries’ borders because they don’t comport themselves exactly as we would like. The last time we tried that, it didn’t work out for anybody except Dick Cheney. But on the other, it would be nice if everybody stopped committing genocide, so, again, a bit of a toss-up.
More than a few things have changed though, since the days of Eichmann and co.’s Final Solution. The big one is that our communications have gotten a lot better, faster, stronger, more than ever, hour after hour, work is never over. In the 90s, we were watching TV footage of what experts said was ‘just tribal violence,’ weeks before the systematic elimination of Tutsis in Rwanda. We have a live feed of the events that took place leading up to and during the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar in 2016, because everyone has a cell phone and everyone’s cell phone has Facebook. And in Canada, though it could be better, our education system makes it pretty hard to forget what we’ve done to the Indigenous peoples of this continent for the past handful of centuries.
My point is that though we can’t kidnap every person responsible for every ethnic cleansing or mass atrocity that happens in the world, we are at least kept informed of them. That is, we are unless they happen in China. You might remember a little while ago, I published an article about the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in our entertainment media. If you do, I love you, but in it, I mentioned that China has been for a little while running concentration camps that are reported to house about a million Muslims, most of whom are Uyghurs, a minority ethnic group from around the Xinjiang province.
Prisoners in a Xinjiang "reeducation camp"
Since I wrote about that, a couple of people have mentioned to me that, while they knew vaguely that the Uyghurs were down bad in China, they didn’t know it extended to literal concentration camps, or if you wanna go with the CCP’s branding, reeducation camps. By the way, calling your concentration camps “reeducation camps” is the least effective attempt at spinning a story since Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said that he “wasn’t sure” whether he was the one in blackface or the one in the KKK hood in his yearbook photo.
Anyway, this is gonna make me sound like a douche, but I was pretty surprised that people weren’t aware of the extent of China’s persecution of Uyghurs — I mentioned it in a couple of throwaway lines because I thought it would be too mansplain-y to go into detail about it. That is, I was surprised until I found out that, until like yesterday, I was also unaware of the full extent of China’s persecution of religious minorities.
One of the things that set the Nazis apart in their fucked-ness was the experiments their doctors performed on victims of the Holocaust — the name Joseph Mengele might ring some bells in this context. It was especially horrifying because we had figured out pretty early on that we don’t use medicine to hurt people, and that to do so is to consider those people less than human; in the case of gynecology, three fifths to be exact. Google that if you don't wanna sleep tonight. Basically, if you’re a doctor, you’re not supposed to do fucked up shit to people. It’s against the hippopotamus oath or whatever.
Well allegedly, they don’t have hippos in China, and haven’t for like 30 years, because there’s been some wild shit going on. In 1994, Human Rights Watch published a report called “Organ Procurement and Judicial Execution in China,” which details a government-sanctioned program of sourcing organs for transplantation from freshly executed prisoners. The longest any organ other than skin can survive outside of a body is 36 hours for a kidney, and some organs, like the heart, can only survive for max 6. What I’m trying to say is that this program required a valid recipient before an execution took place, which means they killed prisoners on demand, and they used doctors to do it.
Now, I was -5 years old in 1994, so I can’t really tell you first hand whether or not this report made a splash when it came out, but I can tell you that the next time the whole ‘China kills prisoners whenever they need organs’ thing showed up was in 2006. And in 2006, it did make a splash. The thing is, the reason it was brought up again in the first place is fucking weird.
In 1992, a Chinese man named Li Hongzhi formed a new religion called either Falun Gong or Falun Dafa depending apparently on nothing. He got very popular very quickly, which is not what you want to see in a new ideology if you’re a repressive regime, and so in 1999, after years of mounting tensions, the CCP just straight-up cancelled Falun Gong and issued an arrest warrant for Li, who had already dipped to New York.
Okay, so back to 2006: Falun Gong practitioners founded the Shen Yun Performing Arts Association in upstate New York and began sending a troupe of dancers on tour across North America. Now there are a bunch and they perform in pretty much every major city in the West; if you’ve lived here in Ottawa for a little while, you may have noticed the ads for their yearly run at the NAC fucking everywhere.
Last year's Shen Yun ad
What does this have to do with forced organ transplants, you ask? Excellent question, cheap storytelling device, and I’ll tell you the answer: The Shen Yun performance follows a feverish narrative that includes an imagined historic past — remember, homie came up with this religion in the 90s — weird effigies of Mao Zedong and Karl Marx, virulent condemnations of evolution and homosexuality, and the persecution of Falun Dafa followers including via, you guessed it, forced organ transplant. So, yeah… weird.
Anyway, the Shen Yun troupe’s commercially successful dramatized complaints of religious persecution echoed real reports of the imprisonment, execution, and organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners, particularly in the Liaoning province of mainland China. In response to the allegations, both borderline hallucinatory and very real, two Canadian international law experts named David Matas and David Kilgour volunteered to look into it. They published a report that said that China indeed still had a forced organ transplant problem, and that they were very likely using Falun Dafa practitioners as storage for sick rich people.
And this is where the most batshit game of political he-said she-said I have ever tried to parse in my life begins. The Kilgour-Matas report came out in 2006, to the ever-hollow horror of the international community and categorical denial from the CCP. Falun Gong also runs a western news organization called the Epoch Times, but its editorial bent hovers somewhere around Breitbart territory — Li Hongzhi has said that he believes people will be separated by race in Heaven and that modern science is the result of alien psychological warfare, although apparently he meant that last one metaphorically — so I’m not even gonna go there.
Then, also in 2006, Ethan Gutmann, an investigative journalist, started to dig into organ harvesting in China and reported that the primary victims of forced organ transplants in China were Uyghur Muslims in the 90s (backing up and expanding on the HRW report) until the crackdown on Falun Gong followers starting in 1999, from which point the latter group replaced the former as the primary source of on-demand human parts.
In the years that followed, China began an attempt to legitimize its organ transplant industry with reforms beginning in 2011 that attracted praise from the WHO and an admission that despite the fact that they said they didn’t, they actually had been executing prisoners for their organs in the past. In 2015, China said that it had stopped using prisoners entirely, but nobody really believed them, and a 2017 decision to invite the architect of these reforms, Huang Jiefu, to the annual “Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism” in the Vatican caused an uproar.
The continued post-2015 skepticism with regard to China’s organ thing triggered more WHO dismissals the following couple years, and a major Washington Post piece backing the reforms in 2017. AND THEN, in 2019, the independent China Tribunal, headed by veteran human rights prosecutor Sir Geoffrey Nice, published a report that said that actually, bullshit, China still harvests organs, and they’re back to taking them from Uyghurs again. The WHO has not responded to the report.
Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, helped prosecute former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević at the Hague in 1999
Seriously, I wrote all of that shit down and I still barely know what the fuck is going on. Trying to find out whether or not China harvests organs from its religious prisoners is like trying to follow the plot of Riverdale. No character is likeable, and there have been like 17 versions of the plot within four years, I’m gonna fucking blow my brains out. It doesn’t help that one of the main groups facing persecution is about as credible as the CCP itself, and the people like Trump who say that the WHO is in league with China are starting to look like they have a point, I’m living in crazy town (they don’t by the way, the WHO relies on complete cooperation between member states and is running on about as much funding as fucking Shen Yun, but still).
Anyway, all of this is to say that after hours of research and 1,800 words, I’m still not sure whether or not I’m allowed to say that China executes Muslims and other religious minorities in order to steal their organs, and that’s a fucking issue. I’m pretty sure that they do, but pretty sure isn’t good enough when we’re talking about state sanctioning of one of the most atrocious crimes against humanity that I can think of. So consider this my request for everyone to get their fucking shit together: the WHO needs to decide what side they’re on, the Falun Gong association needs to get off of 4chan, if it’s not too much to ask China needs to stop genociding religious groups, and I need to go to sleep before I start to think that someone’s after my organs too.