Mon, Sep 12, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Bring justice to victims of abuses

By John Wei 魏千峰

Recently the Cabinet's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission and the National Archives Bureau were forced to apologize to Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and others involved in the Formosa Incident. This was a result of the Documents of the Formosa Incident exhibition held in 2003, in which personal letters and derogatory news reports of various individuals were put on display without their prior consent. I approve of the courage and consideration of the government's apology, but this should in no way mitigate the considerable injustice that has been shown.

The fact that 10 years after the lifting of martial law it was still necessary for the individuals involved to take legal action against the government to protect their human rights is an indication that Taiwan's transition into a just society is still far from complete.

Following the third wave of democratization in the 1980s, nations that formerly practiced dictatorship and tyranny have one after another established truth and reconciliation commissions, declassified government documents and implemented legislation to reflect their commitment to become a more just society. Such efforts are directed at re-establishing the collective memory of the people, condemning injustice and fear caused by former regimes, and building a new political identity. Therefore, transitional justice has become a concept that nations cannot ignore.

Although different countries have adopted different systems to reflect their various historical, political and cultural backgrounds, the commitment to historical truth and transitional justice must remain constant. Besides South Africa, in Latin America nations such as Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala have all established a truth and reconciliation commission of some sort. South Africa, for example, helped those who had been oppressed become respected citizens by having the families of the persecuted recount their stories. The media then spread the truth and the government recognized its past wrongdoings. As a result, the perpetrators faced criminal charges but they were entitled to an amnesty if they could expose atrocities from the apartheid period.

In other words, transitional justice can not only serve to heal the wounds of the past but also integrate and reform society through the pursuit of penitence and reconciliation.

Former Eastern Bloc countries such a Poland and East Germany focused on disclosing the truth of political incidents of great significance, making public national archives and re-establishing the collective memory of their citizens. In 1991, a new unified Germany enacted the Stasi Records Act to disclose classified documents previously held by the Stasi, the East German Intelligence and Security Service. This allowed people to access these files showing the human rights abuses, preserving the truth of what happened and re-appraising the political climate.

Additionally, the German government also returned properties that had been illegally seized by the communist regime, and established tribunals for those who had been and sentenced for crimes they hadn't committed.

Between 1945 and 1987, major political incidents including the 228 Incident and the Kaohsiung Incident infringed on the human rights of more than 140,000 people.

During these incidents, people went missing or were secretly imprisoned; others were tortured and jailed without trial -- not unlike what happened in the former communist states of Latin America and Eastern Europe.

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