Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 8 News List

What should we do to put an end to prejudice?

By Hawang Shiow-duan 黃秀端

The recent controversy surrounding articles by Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), the former acting director of the information division at Taiwan’s representative office in Toronto, concerns one of the most sensitive topics in Taiwan — that of ethnicity. Yet President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) kept quiet about the controversy for days on end as public outrage continued.

If Ma is sincere about wanting to foster ethnic harmony, his actions were too slow.

The government needs to be proactive on this issue. Taiwan is plagued by various forms of prejudice.

There is discrimination based on ethnicity, class and gender, and discrimination against foreign spouses and workers. It is high time we take these issues seriously.

After the world saw millions of Jews murdered in World War II as a result of the ideas of racial superiority propagated by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, countries around the globe felt compelled to stop the use of language and actions that encourage racism and incite hatred.

To combat hatred and prejudice and encourage peaceful coexistence among all races and groups, the UN passed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965, which has been signed by 173 countries.

Of course, discrimination and conflict between various groups cannot be solved merely by signing an agreement and racial conflict continues to be a serious problem all over the world.

Those concerned with this problem may support establishing legislation — where it doesn’t exist — stipulating that all ethnic groups are equal and outlawing all forms of discrimination.

This is feasible and has been carried out in some countries. Canada’s Criminal Code outlaws inciting or encouraging hatred and promoting genocide.

France has laws against the use of aggressive words, slander and insults to incite discrimination, hatred or violence, while the EU has the most complete anti-discrimination legal framework in the world.

Last year, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong passed the Chinese territory’s first anti-racism law.

But before introducing legislation on hate crimes and discrimination, the potential effects must be considered, including whether such laws will infringe upon freedom of speech.

Attention must be given to the methods that would be used to combat discrimination and whether the measures are in line with the principle of proportionality.

Other important issues that need consideration include whether a society supports a law and whether the legislation could actually lead to social differentiation.

One way to deal with this is to hold public opinion forums before proceeding with legislation to give various sections of society a chance to forge a consensus through rational and informed discussion. This could help forge an agreement on what is acceptable and what is not.

We should not rush legislation on this matter. Pushing through legislation without careful consideration could create a tool for politicians in oppressing the opposition.

The effectiveness of our judicial system is crucial. Furthermore, it is essential that everyone treat each other respectfully and that politicians not be allowed to exploit racial differences to mobilize support. These are principles we must bear in mind if we are to achieve ethnic harmony.

Hawang Shiow-duan is a political science professor at Soochow University.

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