At the end of November last year, Taiwan Association for Human Rights chairman Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) was found not guilty in the court of first instance of violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) in the first instance. In the verdict, the judge conceded that this guarantee of peaceful assembly does apply to Taiwan.
The judge cited the guarantee to the right of peaceful assembly stipulated in Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which, together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), forms part of the International Bill of Human Rights. Taiwan ratified both covenants earlier in the year.
At the same time, the Ministry of Justice was engaged in compiling its state report on the ICCPR and the ICESCR following a government situational review, conducted on Nov. 16 last year, of their implementation in Taiwan. This review found that certain laws, including the Assembly and Parade Act, do in fact conflict in part with the two covenants, and that the institutions concerned, such as the ministry and the National Police Agency, had to conduct a more in-depth review of the implications for the execution of that particular law.
On Dec. 10 — Human Rights Day — two years after the announcement of the Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Presidential Office issued a press release outlining current progress. According to the press release, the majority of relevant legislation has either been amended or submitted to the legislature, and that any conflicting clauses not yet amended are to defer to the covenants, in line with the “last act” rule, by which the most recent legislation takes precedence over older laws.
In other words, the highest administrative office in the land has already publicly stated that, even though it is now too late to amend all the legislation before the end of the current legislative session, any laws that conflict with the covenants are already invalid, and that government departments cannot use these outdated laws to infringe people’s human rights.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) claims he is prioritizing human rights, but are all government departments throughout the country, at all levels, fully aware of this? Apparently not. There is already a high degree of consensus among all political parties that the Assembly and Parade Act, in its current form, should be consigned to the dustbin of history. That notwithstanding, under the rather schizophrenic government system that exists here, aspects of government policy inconsistent with human rights’ promotion are reviewed while at the same time legislation that is both flawed and outdated is being employed to intimidate members of the public from exercising their basic human rights.
There are actual cases of this happening. On Dec. 23, people from Gangkou (港口), an Amis Aboriginal village in Hualien County, staged a protest at the East Coast National Scenic Area office. Not only did the Hualien County Police Bureau break up the protest three times in the space of five minutes, they issued seven people with citations the very next day, ordering them to appear in court for violation of the Assembly and Parade Act. The Ministry of the Interior appears to have completely disregarded the announcement made by Ma on Human Rights Day, continuing to apply discredited legislation to deal with these “troublesome” Aborigines and their attempts to claim their land back.