Thu, Jan 04, 2001 - Page 8 News List

New Year's resolutions and rights

By Brian Kennedy 甘迺迪

"Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions."

That line from American President John F. Kennedy seems very apt when considering what New Year's Resolutions Taiwan ought to make in the criminal justice and human rights arena. To achieve true change in the legal system, to place human rights and civil liberties on a firm foundation, our nation will have to be, as JFK said, masters of its own history without giving way to blind suspicions or emotions. That is a tall order for Taiwan.

I would hope that over the next year our nation could carry through a set of resolutions that will mean something for human rights and civil liberties on our island. The first New Year's resolution I would hope for is an end to the death penalty. The death penalty is a medieval barbaric practice that serves no legitimate or rational end. It routinely sends both the guilty and the innocent to their deaths. It is time to end it.

The second New Year's resolution I would hope for is that the National Human Rights Commission gets the right people on its Board. By right people I mean tough, aggressive, informed advocates for human rights with the experience and the guts to do the job. I do not mean retired scholars, apologists or people whose only qualification is that the Legislative Yuan happens to owe them a favor. More than anything else, the board members of the National Human Rights Commission will make or break it.

The third New Year's resolution I would hope for is a set of constitutional amendments acting as a true bill of rights for Taiwan. This set of constitutional amendments could take as their model the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I do not advocate simply passing a set of statutes, which is what is being envisioned.

The fourth New Year's resolution I would hope for is an aggressive but fair approach to ridding this island of black gold politics and corruption. What this involves is tough prosecution and tough sentencing within the bounds of the law, without sacrificing civil liberties. Human rights and civil liberties are not some kind of ransom that a nation must pay in order to rid itself of corruption. You don't trade one for the other. Corruption can and should be fought while giving full support to civil liberties.

The fifth New Year's resolution I would hope for is for the legal community, including the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Yuan and the Bar Associations to make a fundamental decision regarding what form of trial structure Taiwan is going to have. There was much talk several years ago regarding legal reform and modernization. As is the norm here, the talk went basically nowhere.

The direction that Taiwan's "reform" is headed now is toward unworkable hybrid created by a lack of direction and competing political interests. If we elect to keep the German system we currently have then we ought to modernize it and bring it in line with the current German system.

If we intend to adopt an Anglo-American type system then there needs to be clear agreement on that and a definite, practical plan towards that end. Two metaphors come to mind when considering the current state of legal reform in Taiwan: "dead in the water" and "lost in the woods." Both are accurate.

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