Illegal weapons trafficking, human trafficking, and organ trafficking are three illicit trades in which smuggled goods are transported via clandestine ratlines, the supply meeting the demand, in a simple value transaction.  Of the three, organ trafficking is perhaps the most rare and least understood.  Those who get to close to the gangsters, and gangster governments, who perpetrate these crimes and come between the criminals and their profits tend to have a fairly short life span in many instances.

What is interesting about these value transitions is that they involve underground systems.  I stress systems as the key here because these transactions do not happen in a vacuum.  Organ trafficking in particular requires a unique form of underground railroad with skilled technicians who kidnaps victims, remove their organs, efficiently transport those organs, and then transplant them into waiting patients. With more overhead involved that trafficking women and children for prostitution, or smuggling drugs, it is interesting that more has not been exposed when it comes to the illegal harvesting of organs.

From recent reports out of Egypt, to rumors about ISIS, and industrial scale organ trafficking in China, the phenomena is very real and represents a gross human rights violation which is rarely spoken of in international forums.


A recent news report out of Somalia recounts the journey of a woman and her two children who traveled to Egypt, most likely being trafficked by the East African version of a coyote who shuttles refugees and migrants from sub-saharan African to Europe.  By one account, the woman was unable to pay the traffickers so they turned to another way to extract value from their human cargo.  All three were murdered and sliced open, their livers and kidneys harvested for retail sale on the black market.


Rumors of children being kidnapped and murdered for the purposes of organ trafficking have been going around for years in Mexico.  Apparently, it is much more than a rumor.  In 2014, Mexican police arrested Knights Templar cartel member Manuel Plancarte Gaspar who, “was part of the cartel’s organ-trafficking ring. The ring would kidnap children and take them to rented homes with medical equipment where their organs were removed,” AP reported.

Mexican drug cartels have been diversifying their business model, getting away from the drug trade in exchange for oil smuggling (and extortion), illegal logging, selling stolen vehicles, human trafficking, and illegal mining.  Organ harvesting can also be added to this list.

Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, the subject of the documentary “Cartel Land” also made the claim that his anti-cartel vigilante group (autodefensas) intercepted a group of children who had been kidnapped during a school field trip and were being transported via refrigeration truck prior to being rescued.


While ISIS is well known to be involved in human trafficking, there have long been allegations that the group engages in organ trafficking as well, however hard evidence has not been forthcoming.  With large numbers of civilian hostages held by ISIS in Tal Afar and Raqqa, some have speculated that the terrorist group sells organs to wealthy Gulf State Arabs who need kidneys.


Perhaps the most prolific organ harvesters are not a terrorist group or drug cartel but a state.  The People’s Republic of China executed political prisoners (such as Fulan Gong members, Uyghur ethnic minorities, Tibetans, and Christians) and harvested their organs for retail sale to patients in need.  As the truth began to leak out from behind the bamboo curtain, the PRC claims to have cracked down on the practice.  However, this has only fueled the illicit black market for harvested organs.  A 2006 investigation conducted by a Canadian member of parliament concluded that the illegal organ trafficking business was worth around a billion dollars a year.

The existence of a flourishing underground organ trade in a country ruled by authoritarian decree rather than written law should not exactly come as a shock. Because the rules and decisions are made by the powerful and for the powerful, the average citizen has little incentive to respect the law. When it comes to health care, where the government has done little to provide a safety net for its citizens, they have all the more reason to take matters into their own hands. –The New Yorker

A type of organ tourism has existed, and probably still does, in China in which a wealthy foreigner in need of a transplant flies into the country and is prepped for surgery once on the mainland.  Meanwhile, an impoverished Chinese citizen volunteers to give up a organ in order to pay off debts, or a political prisoner is executed by the state so his organ can be harvested.  Chinese doctors than conduct the transplant.