By Emma Batha
LONDON, Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A senior lawyer called on Tuesday for the top United Nations human rights body to investigate evidence that China is murdering members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and harvesting their organs for transplant.
Hamid Sabi called for urgent action as he presented the findings of the China Tribunal, an independent panel set up to examine the issue, which concluded in June that China's organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity.
Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations by human rights researchers and scholars that it forcibly takes organs from prisoners of conscience and said it stopped using organs from executed prisoners in 2015.
But Sabi, Counsel to the China Tribunal, told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that forced organ harvesting had been committed "for years throughout China on a significant scale ... and continues today".
The harvesting has involved "hundreds of thousands of victims", mainly practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, he said, adding that detainees from China's ethnic Uighur minority were also targeted.
"Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century," Sabi said.
"Organ transplantation to save life is a scientific and social triumph. But killing the donor is criminal."
Falun Gong is a spiritual group based around meditation that China banned 20 years ago after 10,000 members appeared at the central leadership compound in Beijing in silent protest. Thousands of members have since been jailed.
Geoffrey Nice, the tribunal's chairman, told a separate U.N. event on the issue that governments, U.N. bodies and those involved with transplant surgery, could no longer turn a blind eye to the "inconvenient" evidence.
Nice, who was lead prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, said the tribunal's findings required immediate action.
"The time of convenient 'uncertainty', when all these entities could say the case against (China) was not proved, is past."
Transplant recipients in China include Chinese nationals as well as overseas patients who travel to China in order to receive an organ at a substantial cost, but with a greatly reduced waiting time.
The tribunal said in June its findings were "indicative" of genocide, but it had not been clear enough to make a positive ruling.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time that government regulations stipulated that human organ donation must be voluntary and without payment. (Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)