Is The Persecution Of Falun Gong In China Tantamount To Genocide?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 9, September 2021

By Helen Hintjens, Ph.D.
International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague

Destruction of Falun Gong books during the 1999 China crackdown. Wikimedia/ClearWisdom

“Genocide is a crime for which there has to be proof of a particular hostile state of mind in an individual or in a government body towards a group that qualifies under the Genocide Convention’s or the ICC Statute’s limited set of groups against whom genocide can be committed”.[1]

Since at least 2000, at the behest of Jiang Zemin, President of the PRC from 1993 to 2003, Falun Gong have been labelled a ‘heretical (or deviated) religion’, and its members systematically persecuted through a covert ‘6-10 Office’ group of Chinese government security officers.

In April 2019, the China Organ Harvesting Research Centre issued a report, investigating allegations dating to 2006 that Falun Gong, imprisoned in China on grounds of following an unauthorized religion, were systematically having their organs harvested for use in Chinese medical institutions.  The report concluded that: “the Chinese regime has attempted to systematically annihilate Falun Gong” through such means.[2] Already in 2004, a court case against the Chinese leadership was heard in a Dutch court. The charges were genocide of followers of Falun Gong.[3] The grisly subject-matter of organ harvesting is part and parcel of wider genocide claims, claims that are hardly news any more. The question in this opinion article is not whether Falun Gong members’ organs are being harvested in PRC; of that there is little doubt. The question is rather, is this an example of a state-committed crime of genocide.

Around one million Uyghurs have been interned in “re-education” camps, and forced to abandon their language, culture and Islamic religion. November 2020, Genocide Watch issued an Emergency Alert stating that “Genocide Watch considers the forced sterilizations and forcible transfer of children of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang to be acts of genocide. Xinjiang, China is at Stage 9: Extermination.”[4]  This unambiguous declaration identifies genocide in China against another religious .  Yet practitioners of Falun Gong, also a recognized religion, for example under US law, do not appear anywhere in the website. Since the sole purpose of Genocide Watch is “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide and other forms of mass murder”, the question remains: is there a genocide of Falun Gong adherents in China?

The China Organ Harvesting Research Centre report acknowledges genocide against other religious minorities.  Of import are the alleged pecuniary motives behind China’s gruesome treatment of those imprisoned on religious grounds.

The regime has also intensified its persecution of other faith groups, including Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and House Christians. More than one million Uyghurs are now detained in political reeducation camps in Xinjiang and subjected to similar “transformation” techniques as those used on Falun Gong. They have been forcibly blood tested, given other medical examinations, and had DNA data collected. The Communist Party is now expanding its targets for reeducation campaigns, surveillance, and organ harvesting to exploit much larger populations across China.[5]

The report concluded that on two counts, genocide had been proven “Among the acts of genocide, our analysis finds that the Chinese regime has satisfied the Convention’s subsections of (a) “Killing members of the group” and (b) “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.”[6] In June 2021, seven UN Special Rapporteurs and five other UN human rights experts[7], having received what they believed was credible information, stated that they:

“were extremely alarmed by reports of alleged ‘organ harvesting’ targeting minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians, in detention in China”.[8]

A search for “organ harvesting” in the Genocide Watch site also comes up with “No results”.  Yet this latter-day commerce emerges as an essential missing link between cases of genocidal persecution in China today, including Uyghur persecution. Live organ harvesting is both a way of killings political (i.e. religious and cultural) prisoners, and a very profitable business, feeding a prestigious organ transplant industry.

In March 2019, when an Independent People’s Tribunal was still considering the issue, forced live organ donations in China were debated in the British Parliament.[9] It was reported that in spite of considerable evidence supporting forced live organ donation of political prisoners, mainly an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Falun Gong:

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) collates global data on organ donations and works with China. The WHO view is that China is implementing an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system in accordance with international standards, although the WHO does have concerns about overall transparency”.[10]

At the initiative of ETAC,[11] The Final Judgement of the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China, published in March 2020, disagreed fundamentally with the WHO position and the “wait and see” attitude of some Western politicians.

“If the  accusations  are  proved,  they  will,  inevitably,  be  compared  to  the  worst  atrocities  committed in conflicts of the 20th century; but victim for victim and death for death, the gassing  of  the  Jews  by  the  Nazis,  the  massacre  by  the  Khmer  Rouge  or  the  butchery  to  death of the Rwanda Tutsis may not be worse than cutting out the hearts, other organs and the very souls of living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people”.[12]

The China Tribunal noted in the final judgement report that, whilst

“A minority of those working in and for ETAC are themselves Falun Gong practitioners. However, ETAC has campaigned to end forced organ harvesting throughout China and to protect the human rights of all prisoners of conscience who are at risk of having their organs forcibly extracted” (Judgement China Tribunal, 2020: 11).[13]

It is reported, as evidence, that even Falun Gong who were not in prison, could be tested for potential organ transplant suitability. As reported to the China Tribunal, in April 2014: “…in  Guizhou,  Liaoning,  Hunan,  Hubei,  Beijing  and  other  locations, police entered practitioners’ homes and forcibly took blood samples and cheek swabs”.[14]  This shows that execution of Falun Gong prisoners, for the purposes of organ harvesting, was part of a wider campaign of systematic persecution by the state, in this case through police entry into civilians’ homes. In line with the opening quotation of this opinion piece, the intent to destroy the followers of Falun was reinforced by the profitability and prestige attached to China becoming the world leader in organ transplants.  The report lists evidence of numerous occasions on which the CCP identified members of the Falun Gong religion as targets for violent suppression, as evil, as a “deviated religion”, and accused Falun Gong of making up stories about organ harvesting, and even of self-mutilation or suicide.[15]  The final Judgement of the China Tribunal was that:

The Tribunal has no doubt whatsoever that physical acts have been carried out that are indicative of the crime of genocide.  Reviewing the definition of genocide found in the Genocide Convention, and repeated in the Rome Statute of the ICC, the Tribunal is certain that there has been killing of members of a group…there has been caused serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group…and there has been the deliberate inflicting on the group of conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction in whole or in part…[The] Tribunal also finds that in relation to the legal understanding of the term ‘group’, Falun Gong  practitioners…do  constitute…a group. Further they belong to one or more of the groups that are specifically identified in the Genocide Convention as deserving of protection, namely a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.[16]

In spite of having adopted an explicitly and deliberately cautious view of all the evidence presented to it, the judges of the China Tribunal concluded that, yes, the practitioners of Falun Gong in China had been the object of state practices that amounted to genocide of a religious group.[17]

If this is genocide, then it is a ‘cold genocide’ like a ‘Cold War’.[18] It is not being committed under threat of warfare or any other obvious security threat. Yet this opens up a no less horrifying prospect. Might this genocide of a religious minority have started as persecution motivated by hatred, and become a genocide conducted for national prestige, money and political power? After  all, in being ruthlessly persecuted for nationalist ends by the PRC state, followers of Falun Gong are not alone.

Dr Helen Hintjens is Assistant Professor in Development and Social Justice at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.


[1] Judgement, The Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China. Tribunal Members were: Sir Geoffrey Nice QC (Chair), Prof Martin Elliott, Andrew Khoo, Regina Paulose, Shadi Sadr, Nicholas Vetch, Prof Arthur Waldron, 1 March 2020. Quote is from 29ff Available here: https://chinatribunal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ChinaTribunal_JUDGMENT_1stMarch_2020.pdf

[2] China Organ Harvest Research Center, Documenting Genocide: The Extrajudicial Killing of Prisoners of Conscience for Organs in China and the Campaign to Eradicate Falun Gong: Factual Findings and Analysis Report, September 2019. Quote p. 38. In terms of the composition of the Independent Tribunal, the report states on p.10: “The International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC) began in 2014 as a web platform providing a comprehensive information source on the issue of forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China. The website features independent reports, lectures, testimonies, government action, latest news, press coverage and videos. Its website says ‘ETAC is an independent, non-partisan organisation. We are not aligned with any political party, religious or spiritual group, government or any other national or international institution. Our members are from a range of backgrounds, belief systems, religions and ethnicities. We share a common commitment to supporting human rights and ending the horror of forced organ harvesting.’ It is not an organisation of Falun Gong practitioners. None of its Advisory Board members is a Falun Gong practitioner. A minority of its committee members are practitioners. The site was originally named End Organ Pillaging (EOP): https://endtransplantabuse.org/”. The full report can be accessed at: https://www.chinaorganharvest.org/app/uploads/2019/04/COHRC-Factual-Findings-Report.pdf

[3] This court case was barely reported in the English-language media, only in the press of Falun Gong: http://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2004/12/7/55341p.html

[4] Genocide Watch, Genocide Emergency for Xinjiang, China, Linda Zheng, 17 November 2020. Available here: https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/genocide-emergency-alert-for-xinjiang-china

[5] COHCR, Documenting Genocide: 36.

[6] COHCR, Documenting Genocide: 37.

[7]  The experts are as follows: Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while counter-terrorism; Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Dr. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, Mr. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention. Source: China: UN human rights experts alarmed by ‘organ harvesting’” allegations, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 14 June 2021. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27167&LangID=E

[8] UN OHCHR News, 14 June 2021.

[9] House of Commons,  Debate Pack: Forced live organ extraction in China. Compiled by: Tim Robinson, CDP 2019-0069, 20 March 2019 for hearing 26 March 2019. Available at:  https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2019-0069/CDP-2019-0069.pdf

[10] House of Commons, Debate Pack: Forced live organ extraction in China: 6.

[11] See ff. 2 infra.

[12] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 2

[13] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 11.

[14] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 64.

[15] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 88-90.

[16] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 154.

[17] Judgement, Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting: 21-22.

[18] Cheung, Maria; Trey, Torsten; Matas, David; and An, Richard (2018) “Cold Genocide: Falun Gong in China,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 12: Iss. 1: 38-62. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5038/1911-9933.12.1.1513