Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs
Introduction: the problem
How much? How much would you sell a kidney for, if your family was starving?
How much would you pay for one – if you thought you would die without it?
Thousands and thousands of people ask themselves these questions every year as they become part of the black market in human organs.
Some people say: so what?
Providing it is a choice, individuals should have the right to do what they want with their bodies.
The number of people needing transplants is increasing and if national health services can’t provide them, why shouldn’t people look elsewhere?
The notorious Yusuf Sonmez, a surgeon at the heart of a now infamous organ trafficking ring, dubbed ‘Dr Frankenstein’ by the press for his part in thousands of transplants has even talked about his pride in what he has done.
But dig a little deeper you will see that there is no moral ambiguity here.
This is one of the most exploitative trades on the planet.
The people who sell are desperate.
The people who buy are desperate.
Yes, lives are saved. But at what cost?
The so-called donors are the impoverished, the weak, the orphaned, the uneducated, the vulnerable.
Both they and the recipients are exposed to surgeries in which there are no medical guarantees in a market which damages public health.
Many people do not think of this as a European problem, but it is.
Organ trafficking has touched many of our nations: Kosovo*, Turkey, Serbia, Romania, Germany, Spain, to name a few.
The real winners are the criminal gangs.
It is hard to put exact figures on it, but we know that organ trading is big money.
A young person from Eastern Europe might sell a kidney for 2,500 Euros.
In Ukraine we know of cases where recipients have paid up to 200,000 Euros.
This is one of the world’s top ten illegal money-making activities generating an estimated $1.2bn in illegal profits globally every year.
It is believed to fund terrorism too.
Just last month the Iraqi Ambassador to the UN asked the Security Council to investigate claims that the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ are harvesting organs in order to bankroll their terror campaign.
The need for the Convention
The problem has been legal ambiguity.
Up until now Europe’s law enforcement agencies have struggled to crack down on illegal organ trading.
They have lacked the legal framework needed to go after the perpetrators and the means to co-operate effectively across borders.
But this changes today.
What began in 2008 as a joint study into organ trafficking by the Council of Europe and the United Nations has grown into the Convention Against the Trafficking of Human Organs that we are launching this morning:
The world’s first ever international treaty to empower states to deal specifically with this crime.
I want to thank the Spanish Government for the leadership they have shown in getting us here and I want to commend the first 14 signatories:
Republic of Moldova
and the United Kingdom
This Convention is genuinely ground-breaking and you are its outriders.
I urge the rest of our member States to sign and ratify without delay.
Given the global nature of organ trafficking, the Convention is open to countries outside of Europe – so I urge non-European states to join us too.
What will it do?
The Convention itself will primarily do three things.
First, it criminalises organ trading in cases where there has been no human trafficking.
Under current international law, trafficking people in order to sell their organs is punishable.
But not everyone is trafficked.
There are plenty of instances of donors travelling for surgery without being threatened or physically coerced.
So, building on existing law, the Convention will cover these cases ensuring that our international legal framework is comprehensive and complete.
Second, it provides for a raft of new offences.
Most countries already prohibit the selling and buying of organs, in one way or another.
But what about the web of activity underpinning each trade?
What about the person who recruits the donor and solicits the organ?
What about the person who matches it up to the recipient?
What about the doctor who carries out the operations?
Or the hospital officials who turn a blind eye?
Our Convention closes these loopholes and ensures that anyone guilty of aiding and abetting organ trading can be punished.
It allows us to bring to justice the whole network of individuals driving the deal.
And, crucially, because states will be operating under the same legal framework it will be much easier for national police forces to share vital information and to work together to close in on trafficking rings.
Finally, the Convention places an unprecedented focus on support for victims.
It will be up to states and national courts to define who the victims are:
Depending on the circumstances it may be the donors, or the recipients, or even both.
They will have a right to compensation, borne by the perpetrators which may cover the costs of injury and medical treatment as well as the suffering they have experienced.
It is important that victims are supported in both their physical and psychological recoveries.
Let me end by telling you how proud I am to be here to launch this Convention today.
Illegal organ trading preys on the desperate and reduces human beings to the price tag that can be attached to their body parts.
Today we begin closing the loopholes which are exploited by the perpetrators.
We are taking the law into the shadows in which they operate.
As the body responsible for ensuring that Europe’s laws keep up with Europe’s crimes in order to safeguard basic human rights I can think of few better endeavours for the Council of Europe.
Thank you very much.
* All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.