The Chinese constitution states: "The State respects and preserves human rights."1 But it does not. The problem is not just hypocrisy. Nor is it the inevitable failure we all face to achieve the ideal. The problem is embedded in the constitution itself.
The Chinese state, according to the Chinese constitution, is a "democratic dictatorship"2. The notion of a democratic dictatorship is a contradiction in terms. "Democracy" means rule of the people. "Dictatorship" means that someone is being told what to do, dictated to, by someone else. For a dictatorship, there are those who give orders and those who are expected to follow them.
The Chinese constitution defines democracy. The constitution states that "The state organs of the People's Republic of China apply the principle of democratic centralism."3 Again that is a contradiction in terms. "Centralism" means rule of the centre, and not of the people who are everywhere and not just in the centre.
The preamble to the constitution refers to a system of multi party cooperation and political consultation system under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. So the "centre" of democratic centralism in China is the Communist Party. Democratic dictatorship means Communist Party dictatorship.
Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the last head of the Communist Party in Poland, said, in a speech at a Congress which decided, on June 27, 1990 to disband the party, that the dictatorship of the proletariat became the dictatorship of one party and degenerated into oligarchic or personal tyranny.4
What does the Communist Party actually stand for? What is Communism today? Karl Marx in 1875 defined Communism succinctly with this slogan: "From each according to his means; to each according to his needs."
However, Communist states which tried to realize this ideal collapsed. When the state took away the wealth of those with means, no one had an incentive to accumulate means. When the state catered to claimed needs, needs expanded without limit. The work ethic collapsed. Communist states were states of whining malingerers, with large numbers of people doing little or nothing but asserting infinite needs and waiting for the state to meet them.
Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiao Ping anticipated the collapse of Communism and shifted ideologies. He said in 1984, shortly before the disappearance of Communism from Eastern and Central Europe: "To get rich is glorious". What he did not say is that there are some ways of getting rich which are shameful. He introduced a system of anything goes capitalism, without the rule of law. The arbitrary power of the state became the arbitrary license to do whatever became necessary to make a buck.
But what was left of Communism when its ideological core was gutted? More or less nothing except the desire of those already in power to remain in power. The new Communist slogan became: From each according to their distance from the people in power; to each according to their proximity to the people in power.
Jiang Zemin, who succeeded Deng Xiao Ping, attempted in 2002 to provide a cover for the continuation in power of the Communist Party of China after the end of Communism with an ideology labelled "the three represents". Wikipedia, which makes every effort to be neutral, labels this ideology as "incomprehensible". What is behind the verbal gibberish is the belief that the Communist Party represents China, that criticism of the Party is unpatriotic.
Hu Jintao, the current president of China, continued in 2005 in this ideological vein, with a philosophy labelled "the construction of a harmonious society". Again, behind the verbal facade, what this philosophy amounts to is asserting that harmony in society comes from supporting the rule of the Communist Party.
Yuri Andropov, Brezhnev's successor as head of the Soviet Union, and a former head of the KGB said both candidly and ominously in 1975 "Any citizen of the Soviet Union whose interests coincide with the interests of society feels the entire scope of our democratic freedoms. It is another matter if those interests (of the citizen) ... do not coincide (with the interests of society)".5 Or, as the Hungarian writer Miklos Haraszti has put it: "Within the Revolution, complete freedom; against the Revolution, none."6
Communism today in China is an ideology of repression for those who object to the rule of the Communist Party, of immunity for those in power and of wealth accumulation for the ruling clique. For those out of power, there is nothing in which to believe.
Communism had historically repressed every contrary ideological movement in order to promote its own ideology. Once the Communist states of China renounced their own ideology, many beliefs sprung up to take its place.
The fact that the Communists in China had gutted their own ideology did not change their old bad habit of repression. On the contrary, the reflex of repression became ever more dangerous. Once Communism ceased to stand for anything, the number of people believing in something other than Communism increased dramatically.
In China, the predominance was Falun Gong, an updating and intertwining of the ancient Chinese exercise and spiritual traditions. Falun Gong started only in 1992, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, with the writings of Li Hong Zhi. By 1999, from seventy million to one hundred million adherents had rushed into the ideological vacuum Communism had left behind.
This number of adherents was more than the then membership of the Communist Party of China with sixty million members. Chinese president Jiang Zemin turned green with ideological envy. Nobody could understand his "Three represents" despite the force of the state behind it. Tens of millions understood, accepted and acted on the writings of Li Hong Zhi despite the fact that he was an outsider without any state support or Communist Party connections.
Let me quote the words of Jiang Zemin. In a letter issued to the standing members of the Political Bureau of Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party April 25, 1999, he wrote:
"Can't the Marxism our communists have, the materialism, atheism we believe in really win over that suit of stuff aired by Falun Gong? If that were the case, would it be a thumping joke?"7
Jiang Zemin and Communists generally endorse materialism and atheism, in contrast to spiritualism or religion. The Chinese constitution does not ban spiritual belief. On the contrary, it asserts freedom of religion.8 However, Communist societies have traditionally been hostile to religion.
Karl Marx divided society into exploiters and exploited, capitalists and workers, the elite and the masses. He called religion the opiate of the masses. Religion served to drug the exploited into accepting their exploitation.
In capitalist China, the division that Karl Marx conceptualized between exploiters and exploited has been thrown, to use a phrase of Marx, into the dustbin of history. However, as can be seen from the remarks of Jiang Zemin, the hostility to spiritualism remains. There is no ideological basis for this hostility left once the notion of exploitation is gone.
On a practical level, there is the desire to avoid and even repress competing allegiances. That is why we see the strange phenomenon of Chinese government appointed Catholic bishops and a Chinese government appointed Panchen Lama, successor to the Dalai Lama. These appointments show that the true concern China has about religions is not spiritual belief as such but rather any allegiance they can not direct and control.
The Falun Gong, which is not hierarchical, which has no priests or bishops, which has no leadership, can not be usurped the way China has attempted to usurp Christianity and Buddhism. If the Government of China could have appointed a head to the Falun Gong movement, it would have done so and the Falun Gong would have survived in China, albeit in Chinese government controlled form. Because, given the nature of the Falun Gong, this form of imposition of control from above is impossible, the only recourse of control open to the Government of China was banning.
However, in a tyranny, politics is never just practical. It is also personal. What Jiang Zemin was expressing was not just the need to control an external allegiance. He was also expressing wounded pride.
Which thinker or philosopher of twentieth century China has the most devotees or followers outside China? The answer is Li Hong Zhi, the author of the works which inspired the Falun Gong movement. It is certainly not Jiang Zemin, not now and not in 1999 when he wrote those words.
Jiang Zemin talks about winning as if Communism and Falun Gong were in a contest of persuasion for the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. But this was not a contest Jiang Zemin intended to try to win fairly. By the time Jiang Zemin got concerned, Falun Gong had already won this contest hands down. President Jiang decided to reverse history and impose a Communist victory through force.
It is indeed a joke which history has played on the Chinese Communists that, despite their atheism and materialism, the most significant and influential thinker China has produced during their rule is a spiritual leader. President Jiang resented turning Chinese Communist rule into a joke. He resented even more his being a joke. He had to choose between being laughed at or being feared. Respect, agreement and understanding were out of the question. Given the choice between being an object of ridicule or an agent of fear, he chose tyranny. He prevailed on the Central Committee of the Communist Party to ban the Falun Gong.
The Falun Gong quickly became the number one target of repression in China. First came demonization. The incitement to hatred from the Chinese government against the Falun Gong knew no bounds. Though they are a group of non-political, non-violent innocents, the Government of China routinely labels them an evil cult.
Then came arrest and torture to pressure the Falun Gong into abandoning their beliefs. They represent, according to the UN rapporteur on torture, two thirds of the torture victims in a country where torture is chronic.
They represent, according to the United States Department of State, half of the hundreds of thousands held in Chinese forced labour detention camps. Many of those arrested refused to tell their jailers who they were, to protect family and co-workers back home. But their failure to identify themselves made them especially vulnerable. Those who refused to recant, who refused to identify themselves just disappeared.
Then came death. One facet of the Chinese shift from socialism to capitalism was the withdrawal of funds from the health sector. Hospitals had to find paying clients to keep their doors open. The most obvious source was organ transplants. There is global demand for organs because of shortages everywhere.
China began the organ trade by selling the organs of prisoners sentenced to death. But the global demand for organs and the health system need for money quickly outgrew the available death row supply. The depersonalization of the Falun Gong, their huge numbers in detention and their vulnerability as an unidentified population meant they became the next source. Falun Gong were killed in the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold to foreigners, generating a billion dollar business for China. David Kilgour and I wrote a report which is available on the internet detailing this horror9.
The dynamic of Communist repression is all too familiar for Ukraine. The forced Ukrainian famine of 1931 to 1933 and the Chinese harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners have many features in common.
- The Ukrainian famine reports, like the reports of Falun Gong organ harvesting today, were not as widely reported as they should have been. Walter Duranty, the dean of foreign correspondents in Russia at the time, the Soviet New York Times correspondent and the 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner, turned a blind eye to the famine. The rest of the establishment media followed his lead. It was he who coined the phrase, to justify Communist oppression, "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs".
- The few reports of the famine which were made at the time, like the reports of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners today, were often not believed. Malcolm Muggeridge in 1933 reported on the famine for the Manchester Guardian. He visited Ukraine and wrote that he saw full granaries and starving millions. The Guardian, because of his reports, fired him. Russia evicted him. His own aunt by marriage Beatrice Webb, an important figure in England in her own right, called the reports of Muggeridge "base lies".
- The killings in the Ukraine through forced starvation, like the killings of Falun Gong through organ harvesting, were ideologically based. In Ukraine, the ideology at work was forced collectivization. The enemy the Communists thought they saw and tried to suppress were the kurkuls, the independent, private enterprise, small business farmer class.
The Falun Gong today are living today what Ukraine lived through more than seventy years ago. But there is one big difference between the kurkul and Falun Gong suffering. The forced famine of Ukraine is long over. The repression of Falun Gong practitioners in China continues.
David Kilgour and I, in addition to being human rights researchers and writers, are also human rights activists. Once we came to the conclusion that Falun Gong practitioners were being killed for their organs, we could not just stop there. We had to do what we could to stop this foul practice. Since we released our report, first in July 2006 and a second version in January 2007, we have together been to over 40 countries. Ukraine is the latest in a long list. All over the world, we have met with prisoners released from Chinese jails, patients who have had transplants in China, transplant professionals, foreign affairs officials, parliamentarians, journalists and activists. We have held press conferences, and spoken in public fora like today's. This global pressure has had an impact.
China has enacted a law which came into force May 1, 2007 banning the sale of organs. This law has led to a downturn, though far from an end, to the sale of organs in China to foreign transplant tourists. The Chinese Medical Association entered into an agreement with the World Medical Association in October 2007 promising to end the sourcing of organs from prisoners. The Chinese Medical Association promise is broad enough to encompass both prisoners sentenced to death and Falun Gong practitioners.
The abuse is far from over because China still does not source organs from proper sources, the sources other countries use - voluntary living donors and the brain dead, cardiac alive. Though sourcing from voluntary donors in China is possible, it is not organized. There is no organ donation structure in China. Moreover, it remains illegal in China to harvest organs from those who are brain dead but remain cardiac alive. With respectable sources not available, even a reduced volume of transplants in China still must source, substantially, from the disreputable sources traditionally used, those sentenced to death and Falun Gong practitioners.
Our first priority remains to end this abuse. However, even when it ends, there will be work to be done, the work of memory, accountability, redress. There can be no immunity, no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity. There needs to be a remedy to address the wrongs that have been suffered, by the Falun Gong, by the kurkuls, by all victims of Communist crimes.
Jiang Zemin has achieved this much. The persecution of the Falun Gong which he has led is no joke. We can not laugh at mass murder. We have to take it seriously and do something about it.
Humanity has a lasting record of Nazi criminality through the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. We need a similar tribunal for Communist criminality. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal which sat at Nuremberg provides for a "just and prompt trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis"10. It is too late to have a prompt trial for the major criminals of Communism. But it is not too late to have a just trial.
The hammer and sickle of Communist repression remain in a few countries - China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. But we should not have to wait for Communism to disappear everywhere to begin the efforts of seeking redress for the crimes of Communism. We can help end the wrongs of Communism in the remaining countries where Communism holds sway if we begin the effort of justice for the crimes of Communism now.
I commend the organizers of this conference for their goal of establishing legal mechanisms to provide redress for the crimes of Communism. I endorse that goal, offer what I can do to help and say to you all, the sooner the better.
David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.