Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Our human rights still need to be addressed

By Ku Er-teh顧爾德

Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 has special meaning for Taiwan. The Kaohsiung Incident that took place on this day 25 years ago was an important watershed for the tangwai [outside the party] movement. The defense lawyers in that case are today's political leaders.

Due to the close relationship between Taiwan's political and democratic development and Human Rights Day, the latter has always been given a high political profile, as if political rights equal human rights. Articles 3 to 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are related to a person's basic rights to life and political participation, are for the most part protected in Taiwan -- at least in name. Of course, some people may argue that Article 15, which states that "everyone has the right to a nationality," is ambiguous for the people of Taiwan.

But more importantly, as technology continues to advance, such progress may easily violate our rights -- such as those stipulated in Article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence," or Article 19, which protects a person's freedom "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

If those in power do not firmly uphold human rights, it is far too easy for them to interfere with the public's rights using technology. But they may also do so due to technological ignorance. Conflicts over proposed identification cards with electronic chips and a proposed database of the public's fingerprints underline this problem.

Perhaps Taiwan is weakest in the latter section of the declaration -- the protection of a person's economic, social, and cultural rights -- mainly stipulated in Articles 22 to 29. Although they are also basic universal human rights, they are more likely to be affected by changes in social and economic conditions than political rights. For example, Article 23 states that "everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration." But this is actually decided by different social conditions. People's rights to leisure, education, medical care and cultural life also vary in different societies.

In the lead-up to this memorable day, we saw merely activities on "cultural citizenship" held by the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA). Other government agencies only care about political rights -- such as the right to participate in legislative elections -- and seldom hold activities to boost people's social, economic and cultural rights. We are witnessing new challenges to people's rights in Taiwan.

Other bad news was cause for uneasiness, such as poor students being unable to afford lunch, increased numbers of low-income households, poverty brought on by globalization and the violation of foreign spouses' working and cultural rights, and even the right to ethnic equality. We need new policies in the face of these human rights problems brought on by social changes.

Recently, Minister of the Interior Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), who is closely associated with these problems, was named the Human Rights Trampler of the Year by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights just because he has been incapable of resolving new problems.

What is more regretful is that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who has vowed to turn Taiwan into a human rights-oriented nation, repeatedly announces a determination to amend the Constitution to fulfill our needs. But what human rights will be protected in the Constitution? To this day, the government has failed to undertake serious discussion of this. How will it be possible for the government to suddenly come up with a perfect Constitution when Chen amends it?

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