Tomorrow the UN, together with many countries around the world, will celebrate Human Rights Day, commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948.
Each year, this day is dedicated to one specific issue related to one or several of the thirty articles in this declaration, which include, among others, the right to life (Article 3) and the right to equal treatment by state authorities regardless of one’s gender, race, religion, political affiliation, etc (Article 2). They also include civic rights such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19) or the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Article 20).
This year’s Human Rights Day focuses on the rights of all people “to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decisionmaking.”
The UN’s official Human Rights Day 2012 Web site especially mentions political movements in which people, on the basis of rights expressed in articles 19 and 20 of the declaration, stood up against governments which inflicted political and social injustices on them by oppressing dissenting opinions.
One may or may not agree with the specific goals of public protesters. However, as a democrat, one cannot disagree that those people have the right to express their political opinion in public and to organize peaceful rallies where like-minded people may join them to express their social and political demands.
Such rights have become an important feature of modern democracies; they stipulate the rights of the individual vis-a-vis the various institutions of political power. Modern minds consider the state guaranteeing and protecting public protests against itself the most mature form of democratic practice. The German constitution of 1949 is such a paradigmatic example.
Taiwan, a democratic country in its political structure, still struggles with the undemocratic mindsets of some influential people. It seems that essential ingredients of democratic thought have not arrived yet in the minds of some of the country’s top political executives.
What we have been witnessing in Taiwan in the past few days is the unfolding of, well, not really a tragedy, but rather a political farce, written by incompetent politicians with undemocratic mindsets who mistake the function of their job with the imposition of their personal preferences and values on people under their influence.
A few days ago the Ministry of Education sent an e-mail to 37 university administrations asking them to investigate students who were involved in protests against the government’s political move to legalize the gradual monopolization of Taiwanese media.
In this e-mail, the ministry asked universities to show “concern” for the students’ health, since the demonstrations took place in cold and rainy weather.
One might think it a very touching story of caring politicians, but that is hard to believe.
Given that Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) apologized for the e-mail (though not really “heartfeltly”), promised to ponder “with empathy toward the students” over different ways of expressing concern in the future and initiated a review of university regulations that — I am not making this up — still make it a punishable demeanor for students to participate in protest rallies, it is clearly indicated that other “concerns” were in place, despite, as he later commented the e-mail in question, his “good” and “heartfelt” intentions.