Tue, Apr 23, 2013 - Page 8 News List

The need for talks on human rights

By Wu Jieh-min, Hsu Wei-chun 吳介民,徐偉群

At the same time, in China, there are countless social activists and people trying to protect human rights being arrested, detained, beaten or killed simply for asking that the laws of the nation be observed.

Taiwanese continue to fight against human rights abuses in their own country, but why do they shy away from saying to the Chinese government, “please enforce the human rights as advocated in your own constitution, and stop the political persecution.”

Why do Taiwanese politicians hold their tongues the minute they land in China, and refuse to broach the subjects of democracy or human rights?

Taiwan Democracy Watch has recently published a book, entitled The Manifesto of the Free (自由人宣言), which discusses the need for both China and Taiwan to strive toward human rights guarantees; for the civil society in both countries to pro-actively engage in exchanges on human rights issues; for the governments of both countries to make a clear commitment to including human rights issues on the agenda, alongside economic and trade issues.

It also discusses the need for both sides to, at the appropriate juncture, sign a human rights charter; and the belief that, until there have been substantial improvements in the human rights situation in China, and until there has been progress in making the political system there more democratic, the two sides should not engage in any talks of a political nature.

Unlike political parties, civic groups are not burdened with the need to weigh up political considerations, and neither are they held hostage to the logic of political short-termism.

They are free to say what they feel needs to be said.

Civic groups can look to the long term, to seek out a path that will lead to permanent peace between China and Taiwan.

What we would like to see is for empty concepts, such as the “1992 consensus” and “one China,” to be replaced by a consensus on human rights.

This consensus should first be debated in the wider society, and when it has been agreed upon, for short and mid-term goals to be clearly and concisely articulated.

When these ideas have been given concrete form, they can be introduced into the political and legislative process in Taiwan, and then we can instigate a dialogue on human rights in cross-strait negotiations.

Based on the principle of equality and fairness, Taiwanese authorities should also investigate human rights abuse cases involving Chinese citizens in Taiwan, such as human rights conditions in detention centers.

We should also apply universal human rights standards to Chinese spouses, married to Taiwanese, who want to apply for Republic of China citizenship.

The basic attitude informing the next phase of cross-strait talks should be as follows: no political talks without human rights; if political talks are to be had, we must first address the issue of human rights.

To the world, Taiwan should declare that there will be no talks on anything unless there is first a consensus on human rights.

And finally, we are not to allow Beijing to define what “human rights” are supposed to mean.

Wu Jieh-min is an associate research fellow in the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica; Hsu Wei-chun is convener of Taiwan Democracy Watch and assistant professor of law in the department of law and economics at Chung Yuan Christian University.

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