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Australia poised to combat illegal organ harvesting: ALHR

The Australian Lawyers for Human Rights are calling for changes to the law so that organ trafficking crimes outside of Australia are capable of constituting an offence.

user iconMelissa Coade 22 September 2017 The Bar
Human body, illegal organ trafficking, ALHR
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In a submission to a Joint Standing Committee Inquiry into human organ trafficking and organ transplant tourism, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), has called for changes to the Division 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The group has told an Inquiry into Human Organ Trafficking and Organ Transplant Tourism that just like federal laws that aim to catch child sex offences that occur outside the country, the Commonwealth criminal code should extend similar provisions to cover overseas organ trafficking.

According to Madeleine Bridgett, ALHR Business and Human Rights Subcommittee co-chair, illegal organ trafficking is widespread. Some of Australia’s nearest neighbours in developing East Asian countries are vulnerable targets for the trade, she said.


“Australians who travel overseas for organ transplants are at risk of facilitating grave human rights violations, the exploitation of poor and vulnerable people, and indeed of engaging in criminal activity themselves,” Ms Bridgett said.

Using the example of China’s black market for organs, Ms Bridgett said that the practice of illegal harvesting and trafficking is rife in a number of countries as well. In China however, she noted that prisoners of political conscience and those sentenced to be executed are targeted as a main “source of supply of human organs for medical transplantation”.

Citing the Amnesty Australia report, China’s Deadly Secrets, published in 2017, Ms Bridgett said that there is cause to believe that China continues to source organs from prisoners on death row.

“This form of persecution invariably amounts to crimes against humanity, and Australia must do all it can to bring such crimes to an end,” she said.

“The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific rightly notes that people in third world countries who chose to sell their organs may understand the deal but do not possess knowledge of the lifelong implications behind the permanent removal of an organ. They are often simply trying to support their families.”

The Inquiry is being led by both the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its mandate is to examine whether organ trafficking conduct that takes place overseas should be regarded as illegal under domestic law and whether Australia should accede to the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.

The ALHR indicated that it also supports moves for Australia to accede to the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.

The group said it hopes the government will put more money towards increasing rates of voluntary organ donation within Australia, given the country’s poor rates of donation in comparison to other developed countries around the world. Australia ranks behind the USA, France and the United Kingdom in terms of the number of organs gifted for donation.

 “Australia is well placed to make landmark legislative reform in the area of organ trafficking and organ transplant tourism, both domestically and internationally,” Ms Bridgett said.

“ALHR calls on the Australian government to protect Australians travelling overseas and the victims of organ trafficking by extending current criminal laws to conduct that occurs overseas. We also call on Australia to become a global leader in international and regional efforts to address organ trafficking and transplant tourism,” she said.

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