Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 283–295 | Cite as

Stateless Crimes, Legitimacy, and International Criminal Law: The Case of Organ Trafficking

Original Paper


Organ trafficking and trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ transplantation are recognized as significant international problems. Yet these forms of trafficking are largely left out of international criminal law regimes and to some extent of domestic criminal law regimes as well. Trafficking of organs or persons for their organs does not come within the jurisdiction of the ICC, except in very special cases such as when conducted in a manner that conforms to the definitions of genocide or crimes against humanity. Although the United States Code characterizes trafficking as “a transnational crime with national implications,” (22 U.S.C. § 7101(b)(24) (2010)), trafficking is rarely prosecuted in domestic courts. It has thus functioned in practice largely as what might be judged a “stateless” offense, out of the purview of both international and national courts. Yet these forms of organ trafficking remain widespread—and devastating to those who are its victims. In this article, we begin by describing what is known about the extent of organ trafficking and trafficking in persons for the purpose of removal of organs. We then critically evaluate how and why such trafficking has remained largely unaddressed by both international and domestic criminal law regimes. This state of affairs, we argue, presents a missed chance for developing the legitimacy of international criminal law and an illustration of how far current international legal institutions remain from ideal justice.


Organ trafficking Trafficking International Criminal Court International criminal law Medical tourism Transjurisdictional offense Black market 


  1. Bakdash, T., & Scheper-Hughes, N. (2006). Is it ethical for patients with renal disease to purchase kidneys from the World’s poor? PLoS Medicine, 3(10), e349. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Biggins, S. W., Bambha, K., Terrault, N., Inadomi, J., Roberts, J. P., & Bass, N. (2009). Transplant tourism to China: The impact on domestic patient care decisions. Clinical Transplantation, 23(6), 831–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bramstedt, K. A., & Xu, J. (2007). Checklist: Passport, plane ticket, organ transplant. American Journal of Transplantation, 7(7), 1698–1701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brimelow, A. (2009). Israeli organ donors to get transplant priority. Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  5. Buchanan, A. (2004). Justice, legitimacy, and self-determination: Moral foundations for international law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Budiani-Saberi, D. A., & Delmonico, F. L. (2008). Organ trafficking and transplant tourism: A commentary on the global realities. American Journal of Transplantation, 8(5), 925–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, I. G. (2010). Protecting patients with passports: Medical tourism and the patient-protection argument. Iowa Law Review 95(5) (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  8. Council of Europe. (2005). Convention on action against trafficking in human beings and its explanatory report, Accessed 10 June 2010.
  9. Council of Europe/United Nations Study. (2009). Trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs. Accessed 10 June 2010.
  10. Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism. (2008). Kidney International 74, 854–859.Google Scholar
  11. Del Ponte, C., & Sudetic, C. (2008). Madame prosecutor: Confrontations with humanity’s worst criminals and the culture of impunity. Milan: Feltrinelli.Google Scholar
  12. Delmonico, F. L. (2007). The Pakistani revelation. Transplant International, 20(11), 924–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Europa. (2008). Q&A: EU Directive and action plan on organ donation and transplantation. Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  14. Europa. (2009). Organ donation and transplantation in the European Union. Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  15. European Commission. (2009). Proposal for a framework decision on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting victims, repealing Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  16. European Parliament. (2008). Organ donation and transplantation: Policy actions at the EU level. Accessed 27 Feb 2010.
  17. Farrior, S. (2010). Human trafficking violated anti-slavery provision: introductory note to Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, European Court of Human Rights judgment of 7 January 2010. Accessed 10 June 2010.
  18. Forsberg, J. S., Eriksson, S., & Hansson, M. G. (2010). Changing defaults in biobank research could save lives too. European Journal of Epidemiology, 25(2), 65–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Francis, L., & Francis, J. (2009). Partial compliance theory and the international criminal court. In L. May & Z. Hoskins (Eds.), Philosophy and international criminal law (pp. 56–74). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH. (2004). Coercion in the Kidney Trade? A background study on trafficking in human organs worldwide, Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  21. Goodwin, M. (2006). Black markets: The supply and demand of body parts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Greenawalt, A. K. A. (2010). The pluralism of international criminal law. Indiana Law Journal (forthcoming). SSRN: Accessed 10 June 2010.
  23. Gupta, A. S. (2008). Medical tourism in India: winners and losers. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 5(1), Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  24. Halbfinger, D. (2009). 44 charged by U.S. in New Jersey corruption sweep. New York Times July 24, sect. A., p. 1.Google Scholar
  25. Hippen, B., Ross, J. F., & Sade, R. M. (2009). Saving lives is more important than abstract moral concerns: Financial incentives should be used to increase organ donation. Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 88, 1053–1061.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. International Criminal Court (ICC). (2009a). Letter from Christian Wenawaser, President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Accessed 27 Feb 2010.
  27. International Criminal Court (ICC). (2009b). Report of the working group on the 2010 conference. Accessed 27 Feb 2010.
  28. Jafar, T. H. (2009). Organ trafficking: Global solutions for a global problem. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 54(6), 1145–1157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jalloh, C. C. (2009). Regionalizing international criminal law? International Criminal Law Review, 9, 445–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Joint Commission International (JCI) Accredited Organizations. (2010). Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  31. Lawless, A. (2004). Dispelling the myth. The realities of organ trafficking. Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes in interview. Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  32. Matesanz, R., Mahillo, B., Alvarez, M., & Carmona, M. (2009). Global observatory and database on donation and transplantation: World overview on transplantation activities. Transplantation Proceedings, 41(6), 2297–2301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. May, L. (2010). A note on state policy and crimes against humanity (on file with the authors).Google Scholar
  34. Moazam, F., Zaman, R. M., & Jafarey, A. M. (2009). Conversations with kidney vendors in Pakistan: An ethnographic study. Hastings Center Report, 39(3), 29–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Naqvi, S. A. A., Ali, B., Mazhar, F., Zafar, M. N., & Rizvi, S. A. H. (2007). A socioeconomic survey of kidney vendors in Pakistan. Transplant International, 20(11), 934–939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Noel, L., & Martin, D. (2009). Progress towards national self-sufficiency in organ transplants. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 87(9), 647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ohlin, J. D. (2009). A meta-theory of international criminal procedure: vindicating the rule of law. UCLA Journal of International Law & Foreign Affairs, 14, 77–120.Google Scholar
  38. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) (2010). Data. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  39. Paddock, C. (2009). China launches donation pilot scheme in bid to fight transplant organ trading. Medical World News 27 August. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  40. Paust, J. J. (2010). The International Criminal Court does not have complete jurisdiction over customary crimes against humanity and war crimes. John Marshall L. Rev. 43 (forthcoming). Accessed 10 June 2010.
  41. Perrin, B. (2010). Just passing through? International legal obligations and policies of transit countries in combating trafficking in persons. European Journal of Criminology, 7, 11–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (2002). Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  43. Rothman, S. M., & Rothman, D. J. (2006). The hidden costs of organ sale. American Journal of Transplantation, 6(7), 1524–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sadat, L. N. (2010). Unpacking the complexities of international criminal tribunal jurisdiction. Accessed 10 June 2010.
  45. Satel, S. (2008). When altruism isn’t enough: The case for compensating kidney donors. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press.Google Scholar
  46. Scheper-Hughes, N. (2008). Illegal organ trade: Global justice and the traffic in human organs. In R. Grussner & E. Bedeti (Eds.), Living donor organ transplants (pp. 106–121). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  47. Schloenhardt, A. (2005). Transnational organized crime and the international criminal court developments and debates. University of Queensland Law Journal, 24, 93–122.Google Scholar
  48. Shimazono, Y. (2007). The state of the international organ trade: A provisional picture based on the integration of available information. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 85, 955–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith, J. M. (2009). An international hit job: Prosecuting organized crime as crimes against humanity. Georgetown Law Journal, 97, 1111–1154.Google Scholar
  50. Steering Committee of the Istanbul Summit. (2008). Organ trafficking and transplant tourism and commercialism: The declaration of Istanbul. Lancet, 372, 5–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tao, D. (2009). Worldwide market fuels illegal traffic in organs. New York Times. July 30, sect. A, p. 26.Google Scholar
  52. United Nations. (2000). Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations convention against transnational organized crime. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  53. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (2009). Trafficking in persons; Analysis on Europe. Accessed 27 Feb 2010.
  54. Weaver, M. (2009). Private patients to be banned from jumping organ transplant queue. Guardian 31 July. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  55. World Health Assembly. (2004). WHA 57.18. Accessed 26 Feb 2010.
  56. World Health Organization. (1991). Guiding principles on human organ transplantation. Lancet, 337(8755), 1470–1471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. World Health Organization. (2006). Consultation meeting on transplantation with national health authorities in the Western Pacific Region. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.
  58. World Health Organization. (2010). WHO welcomes Egyptian organ transplant law. Accessed 25 Feb 2010.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

Personalised recommendations