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Organ Trafficking: Sanctions

Volume 802: debated on Monday 2 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on 23 January (HL Deb, col 1148), whether the proposed United Kingdom autonomous global human rights Magnitsky-style sanctions regime will apply to persons engaged in (1) illegal organ trafficking, or (2) obtaining organs for transplant without consent.

My Lords, we will soon lay secondary legislation for the UK’s first autonomous sanctions regime under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The work is complex, and it is important to take the time to get this right. This sanctions regime will allow us to impose sanctions in response to serious human rights violations or abuses around the world. As it is not yet in force, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific aspects of the scope.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has said and the action that is being taken to introduce the sanctions regime he has referred to, but he will know that I have recently been sent a report from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong which shows that over 7,000 doctors in China are involved in the systematic killing of prisoners through the horrific enforced body harvesting trade in that country. Could he assure me that, notwithstanding what he has just said, the Government will none the less look sympathetically at taking action under these new provisions in order that these doctors are brought to book?

My Lords, I note and pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work on this. I assure all noble Lords that the whole purpose of the scope of the sanctions regime is to ensure that we hold individuals who abuse human rights to account for their actions, whatever the basis of those human rights—indeed, I remember many a debate in your Lordships’ House on this legislation—and whatever the abuse.

My Lords, the China Tribunal has concluded that China’s forced organ harvesting constitutes a crime against humanity. I know the noble Lord takes his responsibilities as Minister for Human Rights seriously. Has he read the China Tribunal’s report? A draft was out about six months ago, and it has now been finalised. If he has, does he agree with it? I note that he did not raise this issue at the Human Rights Council the other day.

My Lords, on that final point, as the noble Baroness will know from her own experience as a Minister, when you are at international fora you are very much time-limited on all the issues, and the exclusion of a particular issue does not mean that there is not a focus or priority attached to it. She will know that the final report was issued yesterday; it is 562 pages long. I have not yet read it, but we are considering it and I will respond to her in detail once we have done so more fully.

My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the Minister said that he would not make a preliminary decision, yet in a letter to me on 25 February the Government said that, having consulted the World Health Organization and Beijing, their view is that China is implementing

“an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system”.

How does that square with the China Tribunal’s findings that organised butchery of living people compares to

“the worst atrocities committed in conflicts of the 20th century”,

including the gassing of Jews by the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia? Will he revisit the full report referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, published this weekend, a copy of which I sent to him, and look at the inquiries and investigations carried out by one of the Sunday newspapers published yesterday, which I have also sent him and which detail these horrendous crimes committed against both Falun Gong practitioners and Uighur Muslims?

My Lords, my Sunday afternoons would not be the same without emails from the noble Lord. I assure him that I have underlined my commitment and the commitment of Her Majesty’s Government to the important issues raised in relation to the Falun Gong. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, we will respond once we have fully considered the details of the report. The noble Lord rightly raises those details and the details of other reports, one of which was issued today on human rights issues and the plight, particularly, of Uighurs in China. We raise this in multilateral fora and the Uighurs issue was mentioned in my contribution at the Human Rights Council last Tuesday.

My Lords, the Government have had powers to make Magnitsky-style regulations—visa bans and asset freezes—since the passage of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and Sanctions and the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Why the delay? It cannot be EU membership, as other EU members such as Lithuania and Latvia have Magnitsky-style regulations.

My Lords, there is no sense of a lack of priority. I assure the noble Lord that we are very committed to this sanctions regime. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it a personal priority. The noble Lord points to issues and the use of other restrictions. We have had those levers at our disposal. Only last week, when answering a Question on another country—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—I reassured noble Lords that we have used levers at our disposal, including visa restrictions.

My Lords, last July I had the opportunity to ask the Minister a question precisely on the WHO and its definition of whether what is going on in China is ethical. He replied that the Chinese are saying that. Last July, he undertook to raise with the WHO our concern about the farming of organs and this continuing atrocity. What has happened since July? Have we continued to put pressure on the WHO?

The short answer to the noble Lord is yes; we have taken up direct conversations and consultations with the World Health Organization. I put on record again that the allegations that have been raised in various reports, including the final report conducted by Sir Geoffrey Nice, raise questions that need to be answered in the context of that report. I know the noble Lord is aware that the view of the World Health Organization remains that China is implementing an ethical, voluntary organ transplant system, in accordance with international standards, although it has now raised concerns about transparency. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to prioritise this issue and that of human rights within the context of China.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his commitment to consider the report, as his department develops the regime. While he does, will he have in mind the standards that we implement through the Human Tissue Act 2004? It puts consent as the fundamental principle underpinning lawful storage and use of body parts—organ and tissue? This is the level of consent we expect of international standards for an organ transplant system.

It is always a challenge when a former Health Minister asks you a pointed and specific question, but the answer to my noble friend is yes. Across the piece, the United Kingdom prides itself on the standards it sets. Those standards also determine how we prioritise particular issues and human rights concerns on the world stage.

My Lords, there have been some confused reports on human rights in the media over the weekend. They seem to have confused the European Court of Justice with the European Court of Human Rights. Will the Minister confirm that it is still the intention of the Government to play a full, constructive and positive role in the European Court of Human Rights, to continue to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights and to participate fully in the work of the Council of Europe?

In all those respects, the Government’s position is clear. We continue to uphold the issue of human rights, not just in a European context, but globally. On the final question, we remain very much committed to the Council of Europe, and I was pleased recently to see the Prime Minister approving the new nominations to it.