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By Rhonda Spivak

WINNIPEG —  Is David Matas the first member of Winnipeg’s Jewish Community to ever have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize? (Hopefully, the historians of the community will let the Winnipeg Jewish Review know the answer to this question.)

Matas, a lawyer and human rights activist, along with former MP David Kilgour, have been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on behalf of Falun Gong followers in China who are being killed for their organs.

As Matas, who is also senior counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, "Falun Gong is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation which began in 1992… it can be thought of as Chinese yoga. It was initially encouraged by the Government of China as beneficial to health, but was banned in 1999. The Communist Party of China represses every belief system it does not control."

In addition to their publication of two reports, Kilgour and Matas co-authored Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs, a 2009 book detailing evidence that  tens of thousands of  Falun Gong practitioners  had been killed by the Chinese regime in the process of extracting their organs for lucrative transplant surgeries.

As Matas said “ We estimated 41,500 organs were harvested between 2001 and 2006 from Falun Gong practitioners.”

Matas and Kilgour won the prestigious 2009 Human Rights Award from the International Society for Human Rights for their work. They were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize separately by federal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj and Balfour Hakak, chairman of the Hebrew Writers Association in Israel.

When asked why he believes the Falon Gong have been so dehumanized, Matas responded, “One reason is simply the numbers.  Falun Gong before it was banned had, about 70 million adherents in 1999. That year, the Communist Party of China membership was an estimated 60 million...A group of that size no matter what its belief attracts the attention of a repressive government…  The Falun Gong, before their banning, were not anti-Communist.  But they weren't Communist either.  For the Communists, that was a matter of concern… the Falun Gong stand for three basic beliefs - compassion, tolerance and truth.  Anyone who believes in any one of these principles spells trouble for the Communist Party government.”

Matas added that, "The collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Central and Eastern Europe haunts the Chinese Communist Party…The Party in China feared a similar collapse, a similar loss of control…Its leaders fantasized the Falun Gong as the engine of their destruction.  They turned a group of innocents into an enemy and launched a persecution to combat an imaginary enemy.”

Wrzesnewskyj said that as a result of Matas and Kilgour’s “selfless efforts” in traveling to 44 countries to raise awareness of the situation, world leaders and global citizens have gained a better understanding of the issue of the illicit harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs in China.

The release of Matas’s initial report prompted the Chinese leadership to implement several regulatory changes regarding transplants, but the lucrative trade in illegal organs has continued, however.

Kilgour and Matas have urged countries to discourage or prevent their citizens from going to China for organ transplants. Their investigations found that many rich foreigners seek transplants in China, where a matching donor can be found in mere weeks while in other countries it takes an average of 2.5 years.

In nominating Matas and Kilgour, Hakak wrote “It is hoped the esteemed Nobel Committee will recognize these distinguished gentlemen for their efforts because the awareness it would bring to the issue could very well save many, many lives.” 

Matas estimates that “about 100 Canadians went to China for transplants since the abuse began.”

When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review how he first became aware of this issue of organ harvesting in China, Matas replied “ The ex-wife of a Chinese surgeon made a public statement in Washington DC in March 2006 that her husband had been harvesting corneas of Falun Gong practitioners in Sujiatun China between 2003 and 2005.  The Government of China claimed she was lying.  The Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong, an NGO headquartered in DC, asked me and David Kilgour to investigate.”

In his nomination to the Nobel committee, MP Boris Wrzesnewskyj said awarding the prize to Matas and Kilgour “would help the world realize that liberty, human rights, and the rule of law can be won by determined peaceful acts of conscience.”

When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review how he thinks the Canadian government ought to be raising this issue of illicit organ harvesting, Matas replied succinctly, “Every which way it can, publicly, privately and persistently.”

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony will take place on December 10, 2010 in Oslo, Norway.  Barack Obama was awarded the prize in 2009.

A version of this  article has been published in the Vancouver Jewish Independent.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.