Thu, Dec 11, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Ma's ironic Human Rights Day

At the invitation of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) delivered a keynote speech yesterday marking International Human Rights Day in Taipei.

In his speech, Ma expressed the wish that the legislature would speedily approve the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to show the importance Taiwan attaches to human rights.

Kudos to Ma for bringing up the issue, which would suggest that he agrees with Article 1 of both covenants, which states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Talk is cheap, however, and so are lofty legislative performances if not backed up by concrete action. Even if the legislature does approve the two UN covenants, they could end up as two more pieces of paper gathering dust if not followed by amendments to various laws in the spirit of the covenants.

If not, the Referendum Law (公民投票法) will remain a “birdcage” law that deprives people from exercising direct democracy, and the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) will remain a terrible piece of legislation that denies the public the right to freely assemble and express their views.

While yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was also a day of ironies for the Ma administration, even as Ma trumpeted his message on human rights to the audience.

In his speech, Ma said: “The government has worked incessantly to uphold human rights ... Taiwan has also become the freest country in the world for those wishing to assemble or parade.”

In his inauguration speech, Ma also pledged that: “Taiwan’s democracy should not be marred by illegal eavesdropping, arbitrary justice or political interference in the media or electoral institutions.”

Again, irony struck on International Human Rights Day when the Public Television Service (PTS, 公視) alleged that the government was mulling censorship measures.

The ad ran by PTS yesterday in various newspapers said that the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee and the Internal Administration Committee — both KMT controlled — had passed a resolution demanding that all future programs, productions and budgets receive approval from government agencies such as the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Council for Hakka Affairs and the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission.

In view of these events, coupled with lingering discontent over police brutality against protesters during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit to Taipei last month, maybe the biggest irony of all was Ma being chosen to present this year’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award in the first place.

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