Corpses of doubtful origin banned from Paris exhibition


on 24 April 2009

World Coalition member organisation Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) and human rights advocacy group Solidarité Chine have filed a successful lawsuit against the Paris exhibition Our body, à  corps ouverts.
A French judge ordered the self-styled “anatomic exhibition of real human bodies” to shut down. The event showcased dissected and artificially preserved Chinese-sourced corpses and organs and charged a 15-euro entry fee.
ECPM and Solidarité Chine highlighted the bodies’ uncertain origin and suspected the may be those of executed death row inmates and dead prisoners. “Those bodies are all those of young, male Chinese nationals and show no signs of disease, which means that they are very unlikely to have died of natural causes”, the organisations wrote in a communiqué.
“Don’t we know that in many cases, the relatives of those executed in China complain that they could not collect their relative’s body?” said Richard Sédillot, the organisations’ lawyer. “According to Chinese tradition, burying a deceased person is the most sacred act in family life. We can assume how the exhibition of bodies without a resting place may traumatise the affected families”, he added.

Missing consent

The exhibition’s promoters said they obtained the corpses through a Hong-Kong based scientific foundation, but they failed to prove that the concerned persons had consented to having their body thus exhibited.
The plaintiffs also demonstrated that Our body violated new French legislation on the respect of the human body, which came into effect in December 2008.
Encore Events, the company behind the exhibition, contends that 30 million visitors attended similar exhibitions in numerous countries without raising any legal issues. Its representatives said there was a “mix-up” and appealed the decision. Another court will hear the case in a few days.
“We are currently researching more evidence and case law to demonstrate that we had the right to take legal action”, said Hélène Labbouz, a member of the ECPM team working on the case.
In 2008, the World Coalition targeted China in a campaign highlighting trafficking linked to the bodies of the executed and the authorities’ lack of transparency on the death penalty.

May 5 update:
The Paris Appeals Court confirmed the first ruling, upholding the ban on the exhibition. Its decision read: “Encore Events did not produce proof, as it ought to, of the lawful  and non-fraudulent origin of the bodies and of the existence of authorised consent.” The exhibition’s promoter said he intended to take the case to a higher court.

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