Why We Must Protest: The Case of Falun Gong
By David Matas, Esq.
Guest Opinion, The Epoch Times , July 21, 2012
Editor’s note: After taking part in an event on July 8 in Singapore marking the launch of his book (with David Kilgour) “Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs,” David Matas met with the press. He was asked the following question: “Why should I care about the killing of Falun Gong for their organs? What does it have to do with me?” Matas gave an extemporaneous answer to the question, but then the next day wrote out a fuller response, which is this article.
What are you waiting for? Are you not going to protest until someone comes for you, to kill you for your organs? By then, it will be far too late.
Reverend Martin Niemoller, in 1938, wrote: “First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
The killing of Falun Gong for their organs is an abuse that did not start or end with Falun Gong. The killing of prisoners for their organs began in China with prisoners sentenced to death. As the research of Ethan Gutmann has shown, it spread to Uyghurs, Tibetans, and house Christians.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, many people asked a similar question: Why should we care about what the Nazis do to the Jews? What does it have to do with us?
By the Treaty of Munich in September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed with Hitler, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier to give the part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland to Germany. Czechoslovakia had no say in the matter.
In the House of Commons the same month, Chamberlain justified his appeasement of Hitler, saying about Hitler’s claims that Czechoslovakia was mistreating its ethnic German minority, that it was a “quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”
It would be all too easy to repeat the gist of this sentiment: that the people outside of China know nothing about Falun Gong, that the government of China’s repression of Falun Gong is not a quarrel in which outsiders have any interest or stake.
Yet, Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in a quarrel between people of whom Neville Chamberlain and many of his British colleagues knew nothing led less than 12 months later to World War II, with over 400,000 British deaths, a global conflagration, and the Holocaust.
The German Nazi ideology of eliminationist antisemitism, the determination of the Nazi regime to kill Jews everywhere, precipitated, continued, and prolonged World War II.
For the Jewish community, World War II was a loss beyond words. The Jewish community lost 6 million souls, one-third of its population. The Yiddish shtetl culture of Eastern Europe was obliterated.
The global community suffered that loss. Jews have made signal contributions to global science and arts, culture and learning. Albert Einstein himself would have been killed in the Holocaust had he not escaped and been a refugee.
The loss of Falun Gong practitioners through the killing for their organs is the loss to the global community of the contributions these individuals could have made if they had lived.
World War II was a disaster and a tragedy for the whole planet. Total casualties during World War II were 62 million—25 million military and 37 million civilian. Thirty-one million non-Jewish civilians died in that War.
The link between antisemitism and Nazi aggression was direct because Nazi Germany invaded foreign countries to kill their Jews. Lucy Dawidowicz, in her book “The War Against the Jews, 1933–1945,” writes that in the minds of the Nazi German leaders, World War II was a cover for its planned murder of the Jews.
There was even a link between antisemitism and Japanese aggression. The Japanese invasions in Asia were made possible by its Tripartite Pact with Italy and Germany and the power vacuum created in Asia by German attacks on the Asian colonial powers—France, the Netherlands, and Britain. Hatred of Jews dragged the whole world down.
After the war, the damage continued. The Nuremberg Tribunal established in 1945 was abolished in 1948 with half its docket unprosecuted, including Kurt Waldheim, who later went on to become secretary general of the United Nations and president of Austria.
Moreover, there were many thousands not yet identified, not yet charged, that would have been caught by a full-blown prosecution effort. The Allies were motivated by a desire to bring and keep West Germany onside in the Cold War.
For immunity against the Nazis to be effective, it had to be comprehensive. The creation of a general international criminal court, which had originally been part of the plans for postwar institutions, was scrapped. Similarly, local systems of justice had to avoid the prosecution of Nazi mass murderers in their midst.
That immunity became a license for one genocide after another. There is a direct link between the immunity given to Nazi mass murderers after World War II and the seemingly endless stream of post-World War II crimes against humanity—in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Sudan.
If there is one thing we could have done to reverse the tragedies of the 20th century, I suggest it would have been this: Protest vigorously and globally the Nazi victimization of Jews from the minute it started. We cannot, of course, reverse history. But we can learn from it.
If there is one lesson that humanity should learn from World War II, it is that state hatred of a disadvantaged minority in a repressive country can wreak global damage.
If we know nothing about Falun Gong, we had better learn and learn fast. The abuses the government of China wreaks on Falun Gong run the risk of affecting us all.
While China is not about to invade foreign countries to kill their Falun Gong practitioners, spying, infiltration, and attempts at suppression are standard fare. The government of China uses threats, intimidation, political bullying, and the power of its large purse to corrupt human rights values planetwide in its attempts to demonize and marginalize Falun Gong.
Human rights oppression is a spreading, indelible stain. It never stops with today’s victims. Unless today’s victims are defended, we run the risk of becoming tomorrow’s victims.
Violators divide to conquer. They attack the most vulnerable, counting on the indifference of those who could help by playing on the difference between the victims and the outsiders. We must combat that indifference by convincing outsiders of their unity with the victims.
Regrettably, in combating human rights violations, we have a wealth of choices. In choosing which violations to combat, first priority should go to the worst violations. We need to help victims in those countries who cannot help themselves.
If you become a human rights activist in China combating repression of Falun Gong, you run a grave risk of becoming a human rights victim yourself, as the case of Gao Zhisheng demonstrates all too well. Outsiders must help Falun Gong in China because only outsiders can do so from the vantage of safety.
Protesting the violations of brutal regimes abroad may seem forlorn. They may seem so firmly entrenched that nothing will budge them. Yet, the experience with South African apartheid, the communist Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the national security states of Latin America and more recently the tyrannies in Egypt and Tunisia shows the contrary.
The very inflexibility of these regimes means that they are brittle. Press against their violations bit by bit and eventually the regimes shatter.
Remedies for Victims
In any case, our primary audience when we protest violations is not the perpetrators but the victims.
Whether our protests move the violators, they surely move the victims. For many victims, the worst part of their victimization is their despair at being unnoticed and abandoned. By standing with the victims, we say we know what is happening and we object to what is happening; our very protests are for the victims remedies in themselves.
Human rights belong to individuals, not states. Leave human rights to states and human rights will wither. Individuals must assert human rights to keep those rights alive.
Crimes against humanity are crimes against us all. When crimes against humanity are committed, we are all victims. We must not be silent in the face of our own victimization when part of our human family suffers from grave abuses.
Protesting human rights violations abroad is not just about others. Nor is it just an attempt to prevent worse in the future. It is about us, now.
Combating human rights violations abroad is considerate, humane. Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear are cruel, inhumane. We become who we are by what we do. By ignoring the plight of Falun Gong, we erode our own humanity, turn ourselves into mean, uncaring people.
We who are not Falun Gong must protest human rights violations of Falun Gong, not in spite of the fact that we are not Falun Gong but because we are not Falun Gong. By leaping across the geographical, spiritual, and cultural divide, we affirm our fundamental unity, our solidarity with all humanity, our common human bond.
David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Canada.