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New Heights for Human Rights

New Heights for Human Rights

By Donna Jacobs

Monday, April 16, 2007

Former maverick MP Kilgour takes aim at countries where abuses run rampant.

When David Kilgour, Edmonton's maverick-idealist MP, retired from politics after serving from 1979 to 2006, he marked the event by breaking in a pair of new sturdy, deep-treaded brown boots.

The next month, he scaled 5,199-metre Mount Kenya. A few days later, he tackled Africa's tallest peak, Tanzania's 5,895-metre Mount Kilimanjaro. He stopped 300 metres from the top after his group's most-fit climber was carried down the mountain with pulmonary edema.

These days, he's packed away his mountain-climbing boots for a tougher slog by far. The former Crown attorney has taken up a fight against the governments of China, Sudan and Burma -- whose human rights abuses have thwarted the UN and NATO and distressed millions of people around the world.

Recently back from another trip -- so far he has covered 30 countries in less than a year -- he was up at 6 a.m. for a half-hour cross-country ski in Ottawa's never-ending winter-spring.

Says his wife, Laura, who supplies technology and logistical help from the home front while he flies around the world: "I figure he was away 80 per cent of the time between July and December."

Apparently the key to fitness for this six-foot, 165-pound 65-year-old is to eat light and keep moving. This morning, he is fuelled by his typical breakfast of muesli cereal and milk, yogurt, orange juice and a hot cross bun.

Though he can barely sit still, he slowed down long enough to talk about his 24-7 "retirement" activities with the same idealism-driven animation that fuelled his kinetic political career.

Driven from the Progressive Conservative party in 1990 for opposing the GST, he sat as an independent before becoming a Liberal in 1991. In April 2005, partly in protest against the sponsorship scandal, and the Liberals' lack of action on the Darfur crisis in Sudan, he became an independent again.

As a former secretary of state for Latin America and Africa and Asia-Pacific, human rights remain at the top of his action list.

He wants Burma's repressive junta to stop persecuting the country's minorities. Hundreds of villages have been closed, he says, and the Karens and other minorities "are herded to 'safety zones,' hunted like rabbits if they're caught in the wrong zone, raped, killed."

This, he says, is the year to release National League for Democracy Leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi from 11 years of house arrest, instigated to prevent her from taking power after a landslide victory in 1990. (See

And as the ethnic-cleansing crisis continues in Darfur -- supported, he says, by oil-hungry China and arms-selling Russia -- Mr. Kilgour calls for a three-point plan:

1. Create a no-fly zone patrolled by NATO forces in neighbouring countries, a force that will shoot a plane down before it bombs more villages. "People are being killed -- 80 a day -- or raped or beaten or starved because they're deemed to be Africans in Africa by people who deem themselves to be Arabs."

2. Organize a regional meeting to represent all the peoples of Darfur in a safe location where they can create a regional government along the lines of Afghanistan's loya jirga.

3. Establish -- "this is the tricky part," he says -- a regional force to protect Darfur from the ground. Move the 10,000 UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan to Darfur and add another 10,000 UN peacekeepers and peacemakers. NATO and Canada should be taking a leadership role.

But this day, he mostly talks about China. After months of investigation, he says unequivocally that the Communist Chinese government has instituted "a new crime against humanity that has never even been thought of before." The government persecutes, imprisons and brainwashes in slave-labour camps thousands of practitioners of Falun Gong. Ultimately, he says, it medically murders them to harvest their organs.

Falun Gong, a meditative combination of Confucianism Buddhism and Taoism that began in 1992, was initially promoted as healthy by the government. But in April 1999, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners silently protested unfair treatment in a single northeastern municipality. Jiang Zemin, then president of China, is said to have gone out in his limousine where, through its tinted windows, he saw senior diplomats and party members in their midst.

"He went back that night and wrote a letter to his senior people that said Karl Marx will defeat Falun Gong," says Mr. Kilgour. "And literally from July of '99, it's been absolutely war -- unprincipled, violent, terrible war against Falun Gong."

The Chinese government has declared it an "evil cult," and has spread preposterous propaganda, says Mr. Kilgour, that these peaceful people kill their own children.

Mr. Kilgour, a former journalist, and David Matas, a well-known human rights lawyer in Winnipeg, have travelled the world in search of hard evidence after being asked by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China to assess allegations of organ-harvesting from live, healthy practitioners.

The two lawyers concluded that of 41,500 organ transplants in China during a five-year period, most came from Falun Gong practitioners. They published their findings last July and updated them in January in an objective investigative report, which is available on Mr. Kilgour's or at

The report cites the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre website ( ). It has very upbeat, if ungrammatical, advertisements of plentiful "donors" promising transplants in a matter of weeks, when it takes months and years in other countries. (Kidney transplants alone supply China with $325 million U.S. yearly.)

A kidney transplant is quoted as $65,000 U.S., a liver transplant $130,000, a heart transplant $130,000 to $160,000 and a cornea transplant $30,000.

The Matas-Kilgour report includes transcriptions of telephone calls to prospective customers guaranteeing premium-quality Falun Gong organs, the profits from which finance hospitals and the military.

From the Matas-Kilgour report: "The Organ Transplant Center of the Armed Police General Hospital in Beijing boldly states: 'Our Organ Transplant Center is our main department for making money. This year (2004) there is a chance to break through 30,000,000 yuan (about $3.8 million U.S.).' "

Mr. Kilgour explains that far from being donors or criminals whose organs are taken after execution, these lucrative organs come from peaceful people who rarely see a court.

He says a Falun Gong practitioner, when asked, will admit to being part of the movement because truth is one of Falun Gong's principles. Once identified, practioners are sent to work camps, where for 16 hours a day they make items for export, including Christmas decorations and promotional materials for multinationals.

"Their blood is tested and they're carefully tested medically. We're convinced that they're tested so that when a westerner goes to Shanghai No. 1 People's Hospital for a new kidney, for example, the hospital has a computer bank of all the kidneys available from the practitioners. The turnaround time, thus, from arriving in China, undergoing tissue type tests and getting the organ is two weeks."

One military doctor tested compatibility of seven kidneys before a successful match for one patient from another Asian country. "Eight human beings died," says Mr. Kilgour, "so he could get a kidney."

The two lawyers are by no means alone in their campaign. Manfred Nowak, the UN rapporteur on torture, said two-thirds of people tortured in China are Falun Gong practitioners. In March, an article in the respected Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found the Matas-Kilgour report "credible" given China's "remarkable" organ transplant rate.

Doctors in three Canadian hospitals -- in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary -- have reported about 100 Canadians have gone to China for transplants.

Of China's recently announced ban on the export of transplanted human organs, Mr. Kilgour says, "Laws in China are often observed mostly in the breach, especially when there are hundreds of millions of dollars involved -- as in the case of selling organs from Falun Gong practitioners and executed 'criminals.'

"We hope it's not just pre-Olympics spin."

Mr. Kilgour has campaigned for this cause in Australia with Edward McMillan-Scott, Conservative MP and vice-president of the European Parliament. He believes the campaign has collapsed the Chinese organ transplant market there.

"We're trying to get citizens, parliamentarians and doctors in all 70 countries where there are Olympic committees to raise these issues," says Mr. Kilgour. "We're not calling for an Olympic boycott. If we can just create enough pressure, we think the government of China will stop this terrible practice."

Yesterday, Mr. Matas and Mr. Kilgour left for Pittsburgh and Cleveland (two major transplant centres in the U.S.), then for Asia and Europe.

Retired indeed.

Donna Jacobs is an Ottawa writer. Her e-mail address

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007


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