Sun, Dec 09, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s human rights in jeopardy

By Herbert Hanreich

When reading this, one cannot help but sympathize (or should we say, empathize?) with a student leader’s remarks about the minister accusing him of being incompetent, hypocritical and making statements “full of lies,” because it is outrageous for a top official to instigate institutions under his supervision to investigate students involved in perfectly legal, but politically unwelcome public actions on behalf of his personal “concerns.”

However, there is more than personal incompetence at stake: There is also a local cultural component present which poisons interactions among people, disfavoring those who are on the “wrong” side of the communication.

The logic behind the patronizing attitude demonstrated by Chiang is still prevailing in Taiwan: People in the upper ranks of hierarchies are not only in charge of the functions that come with their positions, but also of the private lives of individuals under their guidance.

The illegal imposition of long and unpaid working hours on employees is just another case in this aspect.

Human rights favor values which are different: They promote subjective rights of individuals to live their lives along their own personal and moral choices and opinions and, at the same time, insist on national legislation to legally guarantee equal rights and fair opportunities for all to do so.

They are grounded in the historical experience that the imposition of forms of life of the powerful on those subjected to their power fails humanity.

A human rights inspired politician must therefore seek to promote moral norms based on individual freedom by providing the legal space necessary for individuals to develop.

Human rights define this legal space as a public one, whereas national laws specify it by restricting individual freedom in order to enable equal individual freedom for all.

National politics must seek to protect individual freedom from politically, culturally or socially motivated impositions of standardized lifestyles that often apply soft (and sometimes not so soft) power on them under the hypocritical cover of peace and harmony, especially as imagined by the privileged who pursue their own agenda.

Modern life clashes with old-fashioned traditions that have difficulties accepting such a separation of the legal sphere and individual life.

The Confucian tradition is one such old-fashioned culture which, despite some undeniably positive social elements, cements hierarchies, discourages individuality, and finally undermines democracy and human rights. There is a reason why China promotes Confucian values.

The ministry’s hypocritical health concern is very Confucian, acting as if the imposition of certain (ridiculous) ideals of life (“Don’t protest in cold weather”) at the cost of civic rights are morally acceptable in Taiwan.

This is yet another example of how numb forms of regional cultural practices contradict modern ideas of universal human rights.

There is still a long way to go to complement — and sometimes correct — certain cultural practices with ideas that ensure the rights of free individuals.

The student’s action of openly stating his opinions directly in the face of the minister is an encouraging sign that the country is on the right way to fully implementing the ideas of human rights not only in legal texts, but also in the minds of the people.

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