I am delighted to be back in Mexico, where, among other visits, I studied Spanish in Taxco during a two-week vacation project. We Canadians consider ourselves to be your friends as well as commercial partners. Last year alone, our two-way trade reached almost $24 billion. We share similar values, including a widespread concern for the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the marginalized.
Your country was also home to my friend and hero: the late Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, who represented your country proudly in his work in combating corruption, protecting the environment, building multi-party democracy, defending your nationals without fear or favour and strengthening the United Nations.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised Zinser's leadership as Mexico's permanent representative on the Security Council as having "served his country with dedication, wit and independence of spirit at a critical time for the multilateral system." I would like to borrow Adolfo's own words and commend him as "an independent and principled man without prejudice." He was a giant, who fought courageously for human dignity worldwide.
It is his legacy we must all continue to follow, with even stronger will in the face of the current economic challenges. I believe concerted pressure needs to be applied to all governments, particularly those of countries like China, whose increasing economic and political influence will help shape the direction of our world. The years ahead could mean either progress toward respect and fulfilled lives for all members of the human family or regression toward a world of authoritarian societies ruled by a privileged few.
In the context of this forum, I should say immediately that rules-based trade has helped people around the world to live better lives. A return to protectionism would only worsen the present economic problems for most of us. What many of us oppose is unfair trade, which, in one of its worst abuses, involves the export of products made by forced labour.
This panel will speak to the link between involuntary labour done since 1999 by tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience in camps across China and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs in Mexico, Canada and elsewhere.
A large network of these camps has existed in China since the 1950s. Since then, any Chinese national could be sent to one of them without any form of trial for up to four years. No appeal is possible. The Beijing party-state closely duplicated the inhuman work camp model set up in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, although the earlier networks did not appear to have been involved in forced labour exports. Another major difference is that since 2001 only Falun Gong inmates in the Chinese camps have been used as a live organ bank to be pillaged for sales to foreigners.
Dr. Charles Lee, now of the United States, and Liu Wei, now of Germany, will describe the conditions in the camps in which they worked in effect as slave labour, including the range of consumer products for export produced in each. In a south Beijing facility, Liu, until January 2003, was compelled to package 7000-10,000 chopsticks daily in filthy conditions and for a period to knit one wool sweater every three days even when she sufferred seious cutts to her fingers by the sewing needle. She estimates that about 700 among one thousand other women with her in the camp were Falun Gong practitioners. Only she and other Falun Gong prisoners were tested regularly medically for a grotesque commercial reason, i.e., potential forced organ transplant, she learned only after she managed to be released from the factory.
Among the products for export made at Lee’s facility were plastic Christmas trees, toys, lights and other items similar to ones formerly made by residents of Texcoco and presumably other communities here in Mexico. I understand that an estimated minimum 800,000 Mexicans have lost their livelihoods to such unfair competition from China over the past six years. No-one can estimate precisely how many of those were to workers in these inhuman Laogai camps. Human-rights concious countries like Mexico and Canada should demand that the government of China prove that none of its exports are made by “workers” like Liu and Lee. More information on Laogai can be found on http: www.laogai.org
It is illegal under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to export goods made by forced labour, but unfortunately the party-state in China does not respect WTO rules or other undertakings it gave to the world organization when it joined in 2001. WTO inspectors rarely, if ever, identify such exports, which is why governments anxious to protect their nationals must act effectively and together now to keep this kind of competition out of our markets. The Doha Round should deal with effective remedies to this, among other trade issues of concern to all world economies.
It's a well-established fact that in recent years "cheap goods" from China have dominated most world markets; slave labour is certainly one reason for this phenomenon. It is certainly not the fault of the Chinese people, who are often grossly underpaid, work long hours, and often have neither medical insurance, nor clean air/ water, nor pensions nor work safety regulations from a regime which, often with the help of its own and foreign business communities, exploits more than one fifth of the world’s population.
David Matas, and I were asked by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in 2006 to study allegations of organ pillaging against the Falun Gong community across China. We did so as volunteers because we both believe in human dignity for all. He’ll tell you about our report, which you can access in Spanish on our report website (www.organharvestinvestigation.net). From eventually 52 kinds of proof, we concluded beyond any reasonable doubt that the government of China since 2001 has killed without any form of prior trial thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in order to sell their vital organs for high prices to ‘organ tourists’.
As you may know, Falun Gong is an exercise movement with a spiritual component, which began in China only in 1992 and received full government sanction. In fact, state-run media even praised the group for their contribution to health improvements among the Chinese population. It grew so quickly that by 1999 there were 70-100 million Falun Gong practitioners across the country by the regime’s own estimate, with participants that included well-educated professionals, high-level officials and veteran Party members. With their belief in “truth, compassion and forbearance,” the Falun Gong diaspora today include many non-Chinese individuals and live as good citizens in some eighty countries. China, which is homeland to the majority of Falun Gong practitioners, is now the only country where they do not have the freedom to practise. Worse yet, it is the only country where they are blatently persecuted by the party state with every element of government machinery.
Why did Beijing declare war on Falun Gong in the summer of 1999? The main reason no doubt was totalitarian paranoia. The movement had grown so fast that its participants were more numerous than the membership of the Communist Party of China. Its values were very different from those of then President Jiang Zemen and others governing the country since 1949. When thousands of Falun Gong practitioners held a silent protest at Party headquarters in Beijing on April 25th that year, the mercilous persecution began. Hundreds of thousands were initially imprisoned, tens of thousands went to forced labour camps and thousands were killed for their vital organs. The party-state media continues to demonize and vilify them across China just as the persecution continues.
Matas and I are not practitioners, but we have both been most impressed by those we have met in perhaps 45 countries. Almost with no exceptions, they are hard-working, peaceful, loving and caring individuals with amazingly enduring dignity. In my judgement, the war on the large group of its own people began and continues today because of totalitarian governance combined with 'anything-is-permitted capitalism'. If the party-state is truly a government of the people, as it so often claims, it would have respected its fellow citizens and such crimes against humanity would not occur.
Finally, I should mention Gao Zhisheng, a courageous lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who was once ranked one of the ten best in the country by China's ministry of Justice. When he, a Christian, defended Falun Gong in court, he and his family became targets of the same persecution imposed on Falun Gong practitioners, including 50 days of harrowing torture for him in prison. His wife and two children escaped China a few weeks ago, but Gao disappeared yet again in February to the great conern of many of us.
It is therefore imperative that the international community heed our appeal to hold the Chinese government accountable and block the export of goods produced by forced labour.