(CN) - Described by a New York congressman as "something out of a horror story," longstanding allegations that the Chinese government sells the organs of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners on the black market made for a grim House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Followers of Falun Gong, a religion developed in China around 1992 with millions of adherents, have long accused the nation's Community Party of selling the organs of executed religious minorities since the late 1990s.
The allegations received substantial media attention a decade ago following a study by Canadian politician David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas.
The 2006/2007 Kilgour-Matas report, as it came to be known, estimated that "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and found that the Chinese government continues to harvest the organs of Falun Gong practitioners.
Chinese officials denied what they called a "groundless and biased study" based on "rumors and false allegations," but the United Nations' lead torture investigator demanded a "full explanation of the source of organ transplants" two years later.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a six-part resolution calling for more study and denunciation of China's human rights record.
As the first congressman to speak, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel commented on the perversion of what he called "one of the miracles of modern medicine."
"These procedures save lives every single day, but non-consensual organ harvesting represents a gross violation of human rights," Engel, who represents the Bronx and Westchester, said. "And if this horrible abuse weren't enough, we hear about victims being targeted for their religious beliefs, and of Chinese prison camps reaping profits off of harvesting these organs."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who introduced the bill, took a swipe at the Department of State for what she called a "whitewash" of China's behavior in its most recent annual Report on Human Rights Practices.
Speaking of organ-harvesting allegations, the report quoted an admission by Chinese official Huang Jiefu that "organs from executed prisoners accounted for 64 percent of transplants in 2012 and for 54 percent by mid-2013."
However, Ros-Lehtinen took issue with the State Department including what she called Huang's "unsubstantiated and dubious" claim that all organs would come from voluntary donations by Chinese citizens as of the beginning of 2015.
"It does the Falun Gong and prisoners of conscience the world over a disservice if our State Department continues to whitewash China's human rights violations because it's not a problem that's going to go away simply by ignoring it," the congresswoman said.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.