Far-fetched and fantastical? One aspect of Squid Game could be all too real

Netflix’s hit dystopian drama – with deadly playground games, anonymous masked henchmen and a giant murderous doll – is far-fetched to say the least. And yet, arguably, one storyline underplays the grim reality.

In just four weeks, Squid Game, the Korean production where contestants play children’s games and the losing players are killed, became Netflix’s most popular series ever and number one in 90 countries.

In one storyline, guards take the bodies of losing contestants and operate on them, removing vital organs while the subjects are still alive. These organs are then rushed to be sold to Chinese traders.

A grim reality

Astonishingly, this black market story has some basis in reality. Illegal organ trading has become a widespread and lucrative business for illegal groups around the world, with one estimate suggesting that 10,000 kidneys alone are traded on the black market worldwide annually – more than one every hour.

In most countries, including the UK, criminal gangs bear primary responsibility for this sinister and sadistic trade. In 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that they had collected information on approximately 700 victims of trafficking in persons for removal of organs detected in 25 countries over 13 years. This is likely a conservative estimate.

For example, a few years ago people smugglers in Egypt would often target refugees and asylum seekers from countries like Eritrea and Sudan, telling them that they could raise money to pay for sea crossings into Europe by selling their organs. In other cases groups even abducted refugees to extort exorbitant ransom payments from their families and friends.  When payments were not forthcoming, vital organs were forcefully harvested in unhygienic conditions, generally resulting in the death of the person concerned.

China is also home to this sinister trade, but recent years have also seen allegations emerge which suggest it is home to another form of illegal organ harvesting – one sanctioned and organised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself.

Organ harvesting on an industrial scale?

In particular, activists allege that the CCP is responsible for industrial level organ harvesting sometimes specifically targeted at members of ethnic and religious minorities and prisoners of conscience. CSW has not been able to independently verify these allegations, but the accusations certainly offer cause for concern in light of the CCP’s well-documented and egregious human rights violations.

For example, a series of reports by human rights lawyer David Matas, former Canadian cabinet minister David Kilgour and China analyst Ethan Gutmann, found evidence to suggest that Falun Gong practitioners – a spiritual movement which has been banned in China since 1999 – had been particularly and unwillingly targeted, finding that “the source of 41,500 [organ] transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained.”

In 2019 an independent people’s tribunal into forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China chaired by barrister and former judge Sir Geoffrey Nice QC also raised concern that forced organ harvesting may now be taking place amid the ongoing human rights crisis in the Uyghur region.  

Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply. The concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs is more recent and it may be that evidence of forced organ harvesting of this group may emerge in due course. The Tribunal has had no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled and absent a satisfactory explanation as to the source of readily available organs concludes that forced organ harvesting continues till today. The Tribunal further concluded that crimes against humanity against the Falun Gong and Uyghurs have been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

Short form conclusion of the China Tribunal’s judgement

A call to action

The organ harvesting storyline is not one of the most dominant features of Squid Game, but it does illustrate that even the most far-fetched and horrifying stories can often have some basis in reality.

The programme’s themes of social injustice and discrimination have clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world, and our hope and prayer at CSW is that anyone stirred by the unspeakable horrors depicted in the show would be moved to stand up, speak out and challenge the equally grave atrocities taking place in our world today.

By CSW’s Head of Campaigns Dave Mance

Featured Image: Screenshot from Squid Game/Netflix


365 days and counting: The international community still needs to end the suffering of Tigray

On 4 November 2020 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in response to an attack on a federal army base which the Tigrayan authorities described as pre-emptive. Troops from Eritrea and Somalia joined the ENDF in launching a pincer movement against the Tigrayans, and communications to the region were cut and remain disrupted to this day. 

The attack marked the beginning of a conflict which is still ongoing, one in which over 52,000 people have died, and an estimated 1.7 million have been displaced internally. One year on and the crisis in Tigray is showing no signs of coming to an end, with Prime Minister Abiy pledging to “bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again” in a statement on 3 November – hardly the words expected from a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Along with the Eritrean leader, PM Abiy and his government are responsible for a horrific campaign of violence against the people of Tigray which a joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) recently found may have involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, a finding they attribute to both sides of the conflict.

Continue reading “365 days and counting: The international community still needs to end the suffering of Tigray”

Long Read: Removing the Obstacles to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa

Religion-related tensions continue to arise in many African countries. They come in varying forms and degrees of intensity, and can be intra-religious or occur between religious communities.

Religion is either instrumentalised as a rallying point or is the raison d’étre of armed non state actors seeking to enforce an extremist interpretation of their creed or to gain material advantage. It is used by individuals or political parties as a bridge to power and rallying point.  In addition, some governments view religion, or certain religious or non-religious groups, as threats, exercising control through excessive registration requirements or more forcible means. 

Every country on the African continent is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), with its expanded articulation of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), where the right to change or refuse one’s religion or belief as an act of conscience can be inferred from Article 8. However, in parts of the continent, human rights in general, and FoRB in particular, are challenged by arguments about cultural relativism and frequent but erroneous assertions that they are a Western construct. 

Thus, despite being parties to international and regional treaties, many African countries either do not give legal effect to them, or create exemptions for their implementation. This has further exacerbated their already poor profile on human rights protection.

Continue reading “Long Read: Removing the Obstacles to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa”

Call for Action to Address Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region from Women from Africa and of African Descent

As women from Africa or of African descent, we are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict by signing this open letter in solidarity with the women and girls in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, who are being targeted in a campaign of sexual violence which the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has described as being of “a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”

During a disturbing briefing to the Nations (UN) Security Council in April, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir Mark Lowcock reported an unspecified agency operating in Tigray had estimated that 30% of all incidents against civilians involved sexual violence, which he confirmed is being used “as a weapon of war, as a means to humiliate, terrorize and traumatize an entire population today and into the next generation.” The perpetrators were identified as members of the “Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence forces, Amhara Special Forces, and other irregular armed groups or aligned militia,” and nearly a quarter of the cases involved gang rape over an extended period of time.

Reports continue to emerge from Tigray of wives being raped in front of their husbands; mothers raped in front of their children and vice versa; family members forced to choose between raping female relatives or death, and of women themselves being forced to choose between rape or death. Several victims report their assailants boasted of “cleansing” their bloodline, while others arrive at medical facilities having suffered additional traumatic injuries to their reproductive organs inflicted by attackers to prevent them from bearing children. Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium have concluded this campaign of mass rape fits “a pattern that has been evident in previous genocidal actions, and [is] reminiscent of events in Bosnia and Rwanda.”

Continue reading “Call for Action to Address Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region from Women from Africa and of African Descent”

Massacres, starvation and wanton destruction: The international community must act swiftly to save Ethiopia’s Tigray region

There are worrying indications that atrocity crimes may be underway in Tigray, where civilians are bearing the brunt of a conflict pitting the armies of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and an allied ethnic Amhara militia against the forces of the former regional administration.  

In a tragic irony, the government of Ethiopia, one of the first nations to sign the 1948 Genocide Convention, currently stands accused of permitting and participating in violence that could amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Equally ironic is the fact that the future of a Nobel Laureate who professes Evangelical Christianity, is now inextricably linked with that of the leader whose regime is deemed to have committed crimes against humanity, including the crime of religious persecution that largely targets Eritrean Evangelical Christians.

For Eritrea’s leader, Isaias Afewerki, the war on Tigray is the fulfilment of a long-held vendetta against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). He has effectively groomed the leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia, aided in this endeavour by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s own antipathy towards the Tigrayan leadership and ambitions of centralising power.

Continue reading “Massacres, starvation and wanton destruction: The international community must act swiftly to save Ethiopia’s Tigray region”