Sat, Jan 02, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Taiwan: Sanctuary then and now

Taiwan has no asylum law and accepts no asylum applicants on this basis. This would be problematic enough were it not for the fact that government officials and bureaucrats traditionally used this absence to explain away their responsibility to human rights protection instead of doing something about it.

Until now.

The Cabinet has finally approved a bill that would allow foreigners or stateless people to apply for asylum under circumstances including persecution and war. It is unlikely that the bill will become law in its current form; the scope for applications seems rather large and the definition of persecution rather fuzzy, but one way or another it is a positive development.

This bill follows on from the government’s codifying of two UN covenants on civil and political rights and economic social and cultural rights, and as such is a welcome example of the government delivering something practical and apparently enforceable in regard to the protection of human rights of not just Taiwanese, but anyone else who may have contact with Taiwan and its legal processes.

Human rights and democracy: these concepts extend to all people. But even today in Taiwan, so often they remain self-congratulatory slogans, not instruments of change and social nourishment. So often legislators on both sides of politics mouth platitudes in the direction of these concepts while failing to act in the defense of the persecuted on their doorstep.

The irony is that Taiwan has historically been a shelter for huge numbers of economic and political refugees from China. Soon, it appears, this role of sanctuary can finally extend to people of all nations.

The active pursuit of a balanced and sensible asylum system would help to wash the dirt off the hands of the Republic of China for its support for some of the world’s most odious and repressive regimes in the second half of the 20th century — many of which gave rise to refugee populations themselves.

The World Anti-Communist League, founded by dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) soon after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan, was an organization of its era, to be sure, but it was no less repugnant for its sinister activities, criminal links and corrosive influence on some of the most miserable nations in the Third World, socialist or otherwise.

For some, it will be astonishing to learn that this organization still exists, admittedly emasculated and mellowed, as the World League for Freedom and Democracy, which has ongoing ties to the KMT and almost every arm of government, including moral support from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other senior government and KMT officials.

Watching how the league, with its support for the Contras in Nicaragua and even nastier activities and connections besides, is able to jump through hoops these days accounting for the pro-Beijing activities of the KMT makes for entertaining sport.

The problem is this: Amid alleged attempts last year to interfere with the membership of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, this government and the KMT continued to fete the World League for Freedom and Democracy and its ludicrous legacy. The league stands for principles that are incompatible with liberty and the kind of sensitivity and intelligence that promotes democracy and freedom.

As with so much new legislation, the devil is not just in the detail, but in the very motivations of those who change the detail in its passage to law. The fate of asylum seekers and stateless people in Taiwan may be a small issue for most lawmakers, but as an index of the government’s commitment to human rights amid painful revisionism on the KMT’s record of activities, it should prove most valuable.

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