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Lawyer Nominated for Nobel Over His Work On China Organ Harvesting

Posted by Author on March 19, 2010

By Geoff Kirbyson, The Lawyers Weekly, Canada, March 19 2010 issue –

David Matas might be the only lawyer in Canada trying to follow in the footsteps of Barack Obama.

While the Winnipeg-based human rights crusader and immigration and refugee lawyer has run for political office in the past, it’s his nomination for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize that has drawn a link with the most powerful man in the world.

Matas and his research partner, David Kilgour, a federal Alberta MP between 1976 and 2006, have been nominated for their investigation into allegations that Falun Gong followers in China are being murdered for their hearts, kidneys, corneas, livers and other organs.

Matas, 66, says he’s honoured by the nomination but not because of the man who precedes them.

‘If you look at the history of the Nobel Peace Prize award, there’s a wide variety of nominees and backgrounds,’ he says. ‘(The nomination) helps highlight the work that David and I have been doing. It becomes another means of advocacy and promotion to bring attention to the problem and to end the abuse.’

The award’s winner will be announced in October and the presentation ceremony will be held in December.

Matas says he estimates China does about 10,000 organ transplants annually, with roughly one-quarter of the organs coming from prisoners on death row and the balance coming from Falun Gong followers. Initially, virtually all of the organ recipients were foreigners, primarily people from Korea, Hong Kong and Indonesia, but China subsequently began giving its own people preferential treatment for the procedures.

Falun Gong is a religious movement based on the teachings of its founder, Li Hongzhi, which uses aspects of Buddhism, Taoism and modern science. The movement, which began in 1992, became immensely popular in China but the Chinese government considered it a cult and cracked down on it more than a decade ago, persecuting, jailing and executing its followers.

Matas says the Chinese government uses the organ transplants to generate revenue. At one point, prices were listed on an official government website while Chinese hospitals promoted the ‘business’ on their own websites. A kidney, for example, will set somebody back $62,000 while a liver ranges from $98,000 to $130,000, a heart will run you $130,000 to $160,000 and a lung can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $170,000. If you’re into volume discounts, a liver-kidney combination can be had for between $160,000 and $180,000.

‘(The discount) is an indication that people are being killed for their organs rather than everywhere else in the world where people wait for somebody else to die. Why would you get a discount for a combination transplant except that the organs are coming from the same donor?’ he says.

Matas says the most common transplanted organ around the world is the kidney because a donor can donate one and still survive. Except in China, it seems.

‘Our conclusion is multiple organs are being harvested (per donor). We’ve never met or heard of a surviving kidney donor. If there were survivors, you’d think you’d hear about them,’ he says.

Matas says his research isn’t much of a stretch for him considering his legal specialties.

‘I’ve been dealing with international human rights law all my professional life. I know about human rights violations in lots of countries. What I did (in my research) I consider to be lawyerly things. I tried to get all the relevant evidence and come to a conclusion based on it. In my view, this was a legal-type investigation. It’s something that relied on my professional skills to accumulate the evidence and to remedy the wrong,’ he says.

Matas says he doubts his Nobel prize nomination will have much impact on his day-to-day practice because most of the people he deals with speak English as a second (or more) language and don’t read what’s in the newspaper. He says he considers his volunteer work as a form of continuing legal education.

‘It’s a way of informing me of what’s going on, which helps me in dealing with my refugee practice,’ he says.

Matas, who is single, is an avid swimmer and gets in the pool every second day, whether he’s at home or on the road, to swim one kilometre. He has been a sole practitioner since 1979.

The Lawyers Weekly

One Response to “Lawyer Nominated for Nobel Over His Work On China Organ Harvesting”

  1. While the work mentioned above may be very valuable, the nomination is another sign that the Peace Prize is a sad joke.

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