Law enforcement responses to organ trade and trafficking
This page is for law enforcement authorities, consultants, researchers and others who wish to know more about identification, investigation and prosecution of organ trade -and trafficking cases. We answer a range of pertinent questions: how many cases have been officially reported? What charges are commonly applied in organ trade cases? How often do investigations lead to successful convictions? What problems do law enforcement authorities report during investigation and prosecution of criminal cases? What are vital disruption points of organ trade networks? What types of offenders participate in organ trading crimes? How are organ trade networks structured and organized? Where and how do these networks intersect with the medical sector? What are the environments and opportunities under which organ trade networks thrive? Which indicators, barrier models and recommendations exist to help guide law enforcement personnel and other stakeholders in guiding organ trade investigations?
Note that the information and knowledge presented on this page is based on a very small number of uncovered cases. Existing data on the organization of organ trade networks is not generalizable to the organ trade as a whole. Organ trade networks also displace and refine their modus operandi in response to disruptions, prosecutions and the recent strengthening of laws. Knowledge and recommendations concerning the organization of organ trade and law enforcement responses thereto will likely change and develop as more in-depth knowledge about these features is acquired.
Facts and figures
- By 2022, 16 convictions involving organ trade have been reported to the case law database of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is far less than would be expected based on global estimates of the problem (UNODC, 2022);
- The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reported 9 additional cases (OSCE, 2013);
- There have been only 5 reported convictions for human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal (UNODC, 2022; OSCE, 2013);
- Other charges applied in criminal cases include fraud, brokering, severe bodily injury, organized crime, assault, unlawful exercise of medical authority and abuse of authority;
- All reported cases have cross-border features and most involve the facilitation of living donor kidney transplants;
- All illegal transplants that have been officially reported so far, took place inside medical institutions with the involvement of medical staff (UNODC, 2022; OSCE, 2013; Ambagtsheer, 2021);
- Successful convictions of hospitals, clinics, doctors and other medical staff are virtually non-existent;
- Law enforcers report having limited awareness and knowledge of how and where to identify and disrupt illicit transplant activities.
materials for law enforcement practitioners
- Ambagtsheer, F. & Bugter, R. (2022) The organization of the human organ trade: a comparative crime script analysis. Crime, Law and Social Change. Open access. This article also explains how legal transplants differ from illegal transplants. Its (supplementary) materials contain detailed scripts of legal and illegal kidney transplant procedures to enable comparison between both procedures.
- UNODC (2022). Toolkit on the Investigation and Prosecution of Trafficking in Persons for Organ Removal, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Vienna, Austria.
- UNODC (2023). Case Law Database. SHERLOC. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Vienna. At www.unodc.org.
- De Jong, J. and F. Ambagtsheer (2016). "Indicators to Identify Trafficking in Human Beings for the Purpose of Organ Removal." Transplantation Direct 2(2): e56.
- De Jong. (2015). Trade in human organs and trafficking in human beings, an exploratory study into the involvement of the Netherlands and Europe. Dutch National Police. Woerden, The Netherlands. The original Dutch version is available here.
- OSCE (2013). Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal in the OSCE region: analysis and findings. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Vienna.
- Interpol (2021). Trafficking of Human Beings for the purpose of Organ Removal in North and West Africa. Analytical Report. Available here.
- Gawronska, S. (2021). "Illicit Organ Removal in Nepal: An Analysis of Recent Case Law and the Adequacy of Human Trafficking and Transplantation Frameworks". Journal of Human Trafficking: 1-22.
- Ambagtsheer, F. (2021). "Understanding the challenges to investigating and prosecuting organ trafficking: a comparative analysis of two cases." Trends in organized crime: 1-28. Open access publication
- Gawronska, S., Claes. L. & Van Assche, K. Double Prosecution of Illicit Organ Removal as Organ Trafficking and Human Trafficking, with the Example of Belgium. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, Vol. 28: 503–524.
- Martin, D., et al. (2016). "Prevention of Transnational Transplant-Related Crimes-What More Can be Done?" Transplantation. 100(8): 1776-1784.
- Caulfield, T., Duijst, W., Bos, M., Chassis, I., Codreanu, I., Danovitch, G., Shin, M. (2016). Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal and the ethical and legal obligations of healthcare providers. Transplant Direct, 2(2), e60.
- Pascalev, A., Van Assche, K., Sandor, J., Codreanu, N., Naqvi, A., Gunnarson, M., Yankov, J. (2016). Protection of human beings trafficked for the purpose of organ removal. Transplantation Direct, 2(2), e59.
- Holmes, P., Rijken, C., D'Orsi, S., Hol, F., Gallagher, A., Greenberg, G., Forsythe, J. (2016). Establishing trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal and improving cross-border collaboration in criminal cases. Transplant Direct, 2(2), e58.
- Capron, A. M., Muller, E., Erlich, G., John, M., Bienstock, R. E., McCarren, M., Yankov, J. (2016). Stimulating and Enhancing Partnerships Between Transplant Professionals and Law Enforcement: Recommendations. Transplant. Direct., 2(2).
- Ambagtsheer, F., et al. (2015). "Reporting organ trafficking networks: a survey-based plea to breach the secrecy oath." American Journal of Transplantation 15(7): 1759-1767.
- National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings (2012). Human trafficking for the purpose of the removal of organs and forced commercial surrogacy. The Hague: BNRM. Dutch version available here. English version available here.
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