Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The whole truth, and nothing less

So perhaps the pan-blues are to get their way after all. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is, we are told, considering whether an independent commission should be established to investigate his shooting on March 19. Apart from the dubious constitutional position of such a commission -- criminal investigations are entirely a matter for the Judicial Yuan -- it is hard to find fault with the idea. A harsh investigatory light is perhaps the only thing that will get rid of the pan-blues' shadowy claims and refocus attention on the most likely explanation for the shooting: a lone gunman prompted by the pan-blue's obscene election campaign.

If we're in the business of creating special commissions, however, let us not forget that there are a number of other crimes that cry out for high-profile treatment. Saturday saw the 23rd anniversary of the murder of Professor Chen Wen-cheng (陳文成), thrown to his death from a fire escape while in the custody of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) Martial Law enforcers, the Taiwan Garrison Command. At a seminar on Friday a number of human-rights advocates pointed out that this, along with other crimes of the Martial Law regime, has never been cleared up. It is not that the victims' families want revenge, we heard, but that they would at least like to know what happened. Talk of closure is all very well, as is the talk of forgiveness which the pan-blues trot out every Feb. 28. But what about the issue of justice? If we are to have a commission on the Chen shooting then let us have one on crimes of the Martial Law era as well.

And why stop there? Because it is not just a case of the Martial Law regime getting a little heavy-handed. The Martial Law regime was itself illegal. The KMT regime was not, after all, the sovereign government of Taiwan, but a regime of occupation tasked with the temporary administration of Taiwan. International law is quite strict on what occupiers may not do with regard to changing the society and institutions of the lands they occupy. In this light almost everything the KMT did from 1945 was illegal. What is needed is an investigatory commission into the criminality of the KMT regime itself.

At the seminar on Friday it was pointed out that Taiwan had given priority to providing compensation for the injustices of the past but that money was often not what the victims' families actually wanted. Nor did cash bring the closure that they sought. Taiwan's approach has been both open-handed and mealy-mouthed. While compensating for injustices it has avoided addressing the issue of by whom or for what reason those injustices were performed. As such, justice itself has been ill-served.

This is not an abstract issue. It means the murderers and the torturers of the Martial Law era walk among us with impunity. Should they? Those who gave them their orders still play a major role in Taiwan's political life. Should they?

One of the things we have learned from various attempts at truth commissions and the like in the last decade or so is that emerging democracies are stronger for having had them, stronger for facing up to their past. Only when the dark deeds of the past are scrutinized properly will people understand what was so bad about it all and why we don't want to return there.

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