Sat, May 18, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Rights before cross-strait politics

By Lai Chung-chiang 賴中強

Taiwan Democracy WaTCH recently released a manifesto titled the “Declaration of Free Men (自由人宣言).” We have received some constructive criticism about the declaration, but others fail to grasp the point.

While the idea of promoting a cross-strait human rights charter may seem like a distant dream, the “Declaration of Free Men” makes signing a human rights charter a premise for cross-strait political talks.

Unless the government and major political parties unequivocably state that they will never enter into political talks with China, Taiwan must prepare itself and establish the premise for such talks. Likewise, unless the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abandon the “one China” principle, saying that the Taiwanese can manage human rights on their own is not enough for people to be able to live secure lives.

After Hong Kong’s handover to China, the limits placed on the freedom of Hong Kong residents are proof that China’s “one country, two systems” does not work. The Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet signed by China and Tibet in 1951 was also steeped in blood.

A cross-strait human rights charter may still be far off, but let us remember that 17 months ago, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) talked of signing a cross-strait peace agreement with China. After the Lunar New Year, the CCP’s approach to Taiwan has tended toward promoting a peace forum involving the CCP, the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Against this backdrop, the Declaration of Free Men demands that a human rights charter be signed and implemented to guarantee that the rights of individuals will be protected from threats and violations in future, regardless of what the political future looks like — unification, independence or something else.

A human rights charter may be a distant dream, but a human rights “early harvest list” could be the soil in which free people thrive. Before proposing and signing a human rights charter, at least 15 basic tasks aimed at safeguarding fundamental rights should be completed in Taiwan and in China, and bilaterally between the two nations. When the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) exchange representative offices, their representatives should be given visitation rights, so that people — be they workers or businesspeople — who are arrested or detained on either side of the Strait are not left alone without assistance.

Two years after human rights organizations drafted and pushed this declaration, the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee decided to support it. DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has also said he would support it, while the Mainland Affairs Council said both the SEF and the ARATS have agreed to list it as a topic for discussion at their next meeting. This declaration is clearly a lot more down to earth than the metaphysical classic Tao Te Ching (道德經), to which some commentators have compared this proposal.

We demand that China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Chinese government signed this covenant in 1998 and pledged to implement it. Chinese academics, lawyers, reporters and citizens have urged the NPC to ratify the covenant on numerous occasions, but when we make the same plea, we are accused of using human rights as a pretext to promote Taiwanese independence.

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