If President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is serious about protecting human rights in Taiwan, he should implement the 84 recommendations given by a panel of 10 international human rights experts who he invited to review the nation’s human rights record, since the government ratified the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009.
Last week, the experts published a critical report on the nation’s compliance with the covenants and the state of its human rights. The panel recommended pushing through a set of reforms ranging from abolishing the death penalty to improving the rights of indigenous people, laborers and immigrant workers.
Two of these recommendations can be achieved overnight:
First is abolishing capital punishment. The panel said that Taiwan was one of only 20 countries that carry out state executions. Since Ma signed the international covenants in 2009, the government has executed 20 prisoners, which contravenes the spirit of the covenants. In December last year, five prisoners were executed while waiting for a response to their appeals for clemency.
Ma justifies keeping the death penalty because of public opinion. He says that the public does not want capital punishment abolished, as reflected in a poll carried out in July last year, with nearly 80 percent of respondents believing the death penalty was a deterrent for criminal activity.
However, research by experts has shown that this view is not supported by the facts, which is why many countries — including those of the EU — have abolished capital punishment.
The abolition of the death penalty in these countries took time and required the education of their citizens about the futility of the penalty as a deterrent.
Ma can demonstrate his leadership and commitment to human rights by giving a timetable for abolishing executions and taking steps to change laws that would phase out the use of the death penalty.
Second is that the government can “take appropriate action in relation to the serious health problems of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).”
There is evidence to show the serious deterioration of Chen’s physical and mental state. The most recent was provided through video clips made by Control Yuan member Huang Huang-hsiung (黃煌雄) showing that Chen stuttered when he spoke, had difficulty walking and had the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Chen’s all-volunteer medical team released Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans showing that the former president had suffered damage to his brain that could cause mobility and speech impairments. Chen also suffered from severe depression and it was reported that he made several suicide attempts. The chief psychiatrist of the Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital, where Chen is receiving treatment, said that his only hope for recovery was convalescence in a safe, comfortable environment at home.
Chen’s medical condition has gained significant attention at home and abroad. His supporters have held demonstrations calling for him to be granted medical parole. Many people, ranging from academics to doctors and US politicians such as US Senator Lisa Murkowski and US Representative Ed Royce have called for Chen’s release.
Ma’s refusal to heed these calls has intensified the acrimony between the pan-green and pan-blue camps and Chen’s case has become a polarizing issue for the nation. If he is concerned about leaving a good legacy he should take the opportunity to show his compassion by granting Chen medical parole. If the president is serious about promoting and protecting human rights, he needs to turn his words into action.
Mei-chin Chen is a commentator based in Washington.
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