Murder for body parts
Murder of human beings for their body parts is widely condemned and considered a crime under the law of most countries. Such practices have been confirmed or suspected to occur within a handful of contexts.
- Medicine murder (not to be confused with 'medical murder' due to medical negligence) means the killing of a human being in order to excise body parts to use as medicine or for magical purposes in witchcraft. Medicine murder is not viewed as a form of human sacrifice in a religious sense, because the motivation is not the death of a human or the effecting of magical changes through the death of a human being, but the obtaining of an item or items from their corpse to be used in traditional medicine. Its practice in the format described below occurs primarily in sub-equatorial Africa. Medicine murder in southern Africa has been documented in some small detail in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, although it is a difficult subject to investigate because of its controversial standing in customary practices and laws. Very few research and discussion documents have been devoted to this subject. Three concerning Lesotho were published in 1951, 2000 and 2005 regarding the same events in the 1940s and 1950s; one concerning Swaziland was published in 1993 covering the 1970s and 1980s; and a commission of enquiry held in South Africa in 1995 covering medicine murder and witchcraft in the 1980s and 1990s.
- The illegal organ trade has at times led to murder for body parts, because of a worldwide demand of organs for transplant and organ donors. At times, criminal organizations have engaged in kidnapping people, especially children and teens, with the victims being killed and their organs harvested for the illegal organ trade. The extent is unknown, and non-fatal organ theft and removal is more widely reported than murder.
- In the early 21st century, China was reported to be using its extensive pool of Falun Gong political prisoners as a supply for body parts to be used in transplants. The allegations and supporting testimony were raised in several countries and seen as deeply disturbing, however follow-up studies found no conclusive proof that such practices took place and the claims therefore remain as allegations. Reports and testimony claimed that such prisoners were routinely assessed for transplants and apparent tissue typing, in a manner with no relevance to ordinary patient wellbeing, and that many were subsequently executed to meet demand for matching organs. Data on availability and speed of transplants within China (under 2 - 3 weeks in some cases compared to years elsewhere) led several renowned doctors to state that the statistics and transplant rates seen would be impossible without access to a very large pool of pre-existing donors already available on very short notice for hearts and other organs; several governments also established restrictions intended to target such a practice, in case it existed. China strongly denied such practices and stated it had already undertaken a full investigation and found no evidence.
- Historically, anatomy murders took place during the earlier parts of modern Western medicine. In the 19th century, the human body was still poorly understood, but fresh cadavers for dissection and anatomical study were sometimes difficult to obtain. Mortuaries remained the most common source, but in some cases, such as the notorious English murderers Burke and Hare, victims were killed instead and the killers then sold the bodies for study. The practice has intermittently been reported since that time; in 1992 Colombian activist Juan Pablo Ordoñez, claimed that 14 poor residents of the town of Barranquilla had been killed for local medical study with a purported account by an alleged escapee being publicized by the international press.
- 1 Body parts for magical purposes ('Medicine murder')
- 2 Illegal organ trade murders (the 'Red trade')
- 3 Alleged execution of prisoners to satisfy organ harvesting demand
- 4 Murder for dissection and study
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Body parts for magical purposes ('Medicine murder')
Purpose and frequency
Medicine murder is often termed ritual murder or muthi / muti murder, although there is evidence to suggest that the degree of ritual involved in the making of medicine is only a small element of the practice overall. The objective of medicine murder is to create traditional medicine based partly on human flesh. Social anthropological ethnographies have documented anecdotes of medicine murder in southern Africa since the 1800s, and research has shown that incidences of medicine murder increase in times of political and economic stress.
The practice is commonly associated with witchcraft, although ethnographic evidence suggests that this has not always been the case, and that it may have been accorded local-level political sanction. Medicine murder is difficult to describe concisely, as it has changed over time, involving an ever-greater variety of perpetrator, victim, method and motive. Most detailed information about the minutiae of medicine murder is derived from state witnesses in trials, court records and third-party anecdote.
The phenomenon is widely acknowledged to occur in southern Africa, although no country has issued an accurate and up to date record of the frequency with which it takes place. This is not only because of the secrecy of the practice, given its controversial status, but also because of difficulties in classifying subcategories of murder. Medicine murder has been a topic of urban legends in South Africa, but this does not diminish its status as a practice that has resulted in legal trials and convictions of perpetrators.
The perpetrators are usually men, although women have been convicted as well, most notably in Swaziland when Phillippa Mdluli was hanged in 1983 for commissioning a medicine murder. Perpetrators vary widely in age and social status.
An individual or group of individuals commissions a traditional healer or inyanga / nanga (a herbalist skilled in traditional medicine) to assist them by concocting medicine (or muti). The medicine supposedly strengthens the 'personality' or personal force of the person who commissions the medicine. This increased personal force enables the person to excel in business, politics, or other sphere of influence. A human victim is identified for murder in order to create the medicine.
Victims vary widely in age and social standing. They are often young children or elderly people, and are both male and female. In some instances, the victim is identified and 'purchased' via a transaction involving an often nominal amount of money. The victim is then abducted, often at night, and taken to an isolated place, often in the open countryside if the murder is being committed in a rural area. It is usually intended that the victim be mutilated while conscious, so that the medicine can be made more potent through the noises of the victim in agony. Mutilation does not take place in order to kill the victim, but it is expected that the victim will die of the wounds.
Body parts excised mostly include soft tissue - eyelids, lips, scrota, labia - although there have been instances where entire limbs have been severed. These body parts are removed to be mixed with medicinal plants to create a medicine through a cooking process. The resulting medicine is sometimes consumed, but is often made into a paste that is carried on the person of the perpetrator or rubbed onto scarifications.
Since the 1970s, the manner in which medicine murder is practiced has become altered to the methods described above, although the continued practice of medicine murder demonstrates that belief in human flesh as a powerful medicinal component remains strong in some communities. It would appear that medicine murder in the 18th and 19th centuries may have been considered the legitimate domain of traditional chiefs and leaders, in order to improve agriculture and protect against war (see Human sacrifice).
Following industrialisation and growth of commerce, the range of purposes for which medicine was used to increase influence expanded significantly. In the early 1990s when South Africa was experiencing internal political strife between several political groupings, it became clear that some mutilations for medicine were opportunistic and incidental to the assassination of political opponents. There have also been occurrences of mutilation of corpses in medical facilities. In not all cases does the employment of a traditional healer seem to have been thought necessary to the process.
1994 Segametsi Mogomotsi
In 1994, a 14-year-old named Segametsi Mogomotsi was murdered in Mochudi, Botswana and body parts removed. The killing was widely believed to have been for muti, and the police even recovered some excised organs. However, these were destroyed before being tested to establish them as human, leading to accusations of police complicity with the murder. The killing led to riots as students in Mochudi protested about police inaction, and eventually Scotland Yard from Britain were asked to investigate, as neutral outsiders. Their report was given to the Botswana government, which did not release it to the public. These events inspired some of the events in the book The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.
2001 Thames torso case
A little boy whose headless and limbless body was found floating in the Thames in 2001 was identified by an arrestee in March 2011. The five-year-old’s identity has remained a mystery after he was smuggled into Britain and murdered in a voodoo-style ritual killing. He was drugged with a ‘black-magic’ potion and sacrificed before being thrown into the Thames, where his torso washed up next to the Globe Theatre in September 2001. Detectives used pioneering scientific techniques to trace radioactive isotopes in his bones to his native Nigeria. They even enlisted Nelson Mandela to appeal for information about the murder.
They struggled to formally identify the boy, whom they called Adam, despite travelling to the West African state to try to trace his family. Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim's real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent.
Police have passed numerous files on the case to the Crown Prosecution Service but it has never gone to court. A second suspect, a Nigerian man, was arrested in Dublin in 2003 but was never charged. Mrs Osiagede was first questioned by police after they found clothing similar to that worn by ‘Adam’ in her Glasgow tower-block flat in 2002. The only clothing on his body was a pair of orange shorts, exclusively sold in Woolworths in Germany and Austria. Dressed in a traditional gold and green dress, Mrs Osiagede denied any involvement with the death of the young boy.
Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: "They used him for a ritual in the water." Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water.
2009 Masego Kgomo
Masego Kgomo was a 10-year-old South African girl whose body parts were removed and sold to a sangoma in Soshanguve, South Africa. The little girl's body was found in bushes near the Mabopane railway station, north-west of Pretoria. 30 year old Brian Mangwale was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Illegal organ trade murders (the 'Red trade')
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), illegal organ trade occurs when organs are removed from the body for the purpose of commercial transactions. The illegal organ trade is growing, and a recent report by Global Financial Integrity estimates that globally it generates profits between $0.6 billion and $1.2 billion per year
In some cases, criminal organizations have engaged in kidnapping of people, especially children and teens, who are murdered and their organs harvested for profit. In 2014 an alleged member of the Mexican Knights Templar cartel was arrested for the kidnapping and deaths of minors, after children were found wrapped in blankets and stuffed in a refrigerated container inside a van.
According to the most recent Bulletin of the World Health Organization on the state of the international organ trade,[when?] 66,000 kidney transplants, 21,000 liver transplants, and 6000 heart transplants were performed globally in 2005, while another article reports that 2008 the median waiting time for the U.S. transplant list in 2008 was greater than 3 years and expected to rise, while the United Kingdom reported a lack of organs for 8000 patients, with the rate increasing at 8%. It was estimated that about 10% of all transplants occur illegally, with the Internet acting as a facilitator. Transplant tourism raises concerns because it involves the transfer of healthy organs in one direction, depleting the regions where organs are bought. This transfer typically occurs from South to North, developing to developed nations, females to males, and from people of color to whites, a trend that experts say "has exacerbated old...divisions". While some organs such as the kidney can be transplanted routinely and the single remaining kidney is adequate for normal human needs, other organs are less easy to source. Liver transplants in particular are prominent, but incur an excruciating recovery that deters donations.
Most countries have laws which criminalize the buying and selling of organs, or the carrying out of medical procedures for the illegal organ trade, in most countries globally.
Alleged execution of prisoners to satisfy organ harvesting demand
This concern arose during the first decade of the 21st century as a result of disturbing testimony and patterns in organ transplants within China during the early 21st century. A number of reports and anecdotal evidence raised an (unconfirmed) concern in some quarters that China may engage in execution of prisoners on demand for organ harvesting rather than simply as part of capital punishment for their perceived crimes. Evidence was cited concerning the size of the transplant market in China, organ prices and availabilities, prisoner testimony concerning medical examinations of the distinctive types required for potential transplants of retail organs rather than assessing prisoner wellbeing, the extremely low delays for compatible heart and other organ donors of under a few weeks which has been described as impossible without access to a virtually unlimited supply of immediate donors of these major organs, which are unpredictable in supply and can take years in other countries, and evidence suggesting targeting of Falun Gong followers (a practice which China has committed to stamping out) for the purpose. The overall conclusions of the 2006 Kilgour–Matas independent report into these allegations were not accepted either by Chinese or other governments, and several follow-up reviews failed to substantiate the claims or found inconsistencies sufficient to cast considerable uncertainty on the conclusions, with the broad consensus being one of potentially suggestive and disturbing patterns, rather than a categorical smoking gun. Despite this, the extent of evidence still led to many responses expressing "deep concerns" at the findings, and several countries took action as a result of the concerns and findings.
Responses were noted from the US Government, the US National Kidney Foundation ("deeply concerned"), the Queensland Ministry of Health in Australia (abolished training programs for Chinese doctors in organ transplant procedures and banned joint research with China on organ transplantation), a petition signed by 140 Canadian physicians (urged the Government to warn Canadian nationals that organ transplants in China were "sourced almost entirely from non-consenting people").
Medical testimony was also provided by the Associate Director of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine in the University of Minnesota, who wrote that the "short time frame of an on-demand system [as in China] requires a large pool of donors pre-typed for blood group and HLA matching," and would be consistent with the Falun Gong allegations about the systematic tissue typing of practitioners held prisoner", and that the time constraints involved "cannot be assured on a random-death basis", and that physicians he queried about the matter indicated that they were selecting live prisoners to ensure quality and compatibility. Tom Treasure of Guy's Hospital, London, said the Kilgour–Matas report was "plausible from a medical standpoint" based on the numerical gap in the number of transplants and the short waiting times in China compared with other countries, and noted the existence of blood tests of imprisoned Falun Gong followers, which is not useful for the victims but is critical to organ donation. Ethan Gutmann, adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, interviewed a variety of former Chinese prisoners, to estimate the number of practitioners detained at any one time, and the level of medical examination. His conclusion from this research was that those selected for organ harvesting, from the total percentage of Falun Gong practitioners examined in custody, were between 2.5% and 15%, and obtained figures compatible with an adjusted estimate from Kilgour and Matas for the years 2000–2008.
A 2009 study in the journal Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation reported in 2006, an estimated 4000 prisoners were executed to supply approximately 8000 kidneys and 3000 livers for foreign buyers.
Murder for dissection and study
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- Persecution of people with albinism
- Witchcraft accusations against children in Africa
- Child sacrifice in Uganda
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