Spain ratifies Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs of Council of Europe

Spain, the global leader in organ donation, has also headed up for many years the fight against trafficking in human organs and transplant tourism in the international community. Our country has today taken a further step with the ratification of the Santiago de Compostela Convention to fight this criminal offence, which has been open for signing in the city in Galicia since 2015.

The act to deposit this Ratification Instrument of the Santiago de Compostela Convention has taken place today in Strasbourg.

By ratifying this Convention, Spain strengthens its contribution to the fight against this criminal offence and continues to develop the legal framework of the Council of Europe in line with its commitment to this benchmark organisation on human rights.

Together with another 14 countries, Spain was one of the first signatories and played a decisive role in drawing up the document. In fact, the Convention was drawn up in response to a study jointly promoted by the Council of Europe and the National Transplant Organisation (Spanish acronym: ONT), which concluded the need to develop an international treaty specifically designed to combat trafficking in human organs.

The Convention obliges States to criminalise the illegal extraction of human organs and their use in transplants, for similar ends or in related actions. The illegal extraction of human organs is defined as the action whereby the purchase and sale is brokered or in which the valid consent of a living donor or requirements for authorisation to obtain organs from deceased donors cannot be guaranteed, as established by prevailing national legislation. It also includes measures to protect victims and to prevent criminal offences, as well as the need to ensure the transparency of national transplant systems and fair access to this type of operation. It also includes provisions to promote international cooperation and represents an opportunity to achieve concrete action at a global level through the harmonisation of national legislations.

Today’s ratification of this Convention by Spain was preceded by the amendment to the Spanish Criminal Code in 2019. In Article 156(2) of our Criminal Code, trafficking in human organs is classified as a criminal offence and is in line with the provisions of the Santiago de Compostela Convention. It states that “the trafficking in human organs will be punishable with a prison term of six to 12 years in the case of an organ from a living person, and with a prison term of three to six years in the case of an organ from a deceased person”.

Each year, between 140,000 and 150,000 transplants are carried out around the world, according to the figures handled by the ONT upon designation of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO calculates that between 5% and 10% of these transplants come from trafficking in human organs. This criminal offence normally takes place in the context of transplant tourism, whereby patients from rich countries or with rich minorities undergo transplants in developing countries with organs illegally extracted from the most vulnerable sectors of the population. This is a problem of a global dimension that violates fundamental human rights and poses a serious threat to individual and public health.

Our country has been involved for some time now in a number of international initiatives to combat this form of 21st Century slavery. Through a robust programme of international cooperation, the ONT collaborates with countries on all five continents, showcasing the Spanish Donation and Transplant Model, its formula for success to ensure patient access to transplants, and consequently, to tackle the root cause of trafficking in human organs.

Spain has also actively participated in the development of key documents in the international fight against this criminal offence, such as the Madrid Resolution to Achieve Self-sufficiency in Transplants, the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, United Nations Resolution 73/189 to strengthen and promote effective measures and the Declaration on the Responsibility of Doctors to Prevent and Fight Criminal Offences related to Transplants, recently adopted by the World Medical Association.






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