On this day in 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This declaration together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights formed the International Bill of Human Rights, which has served as the foundation for the basic principles of human rights. Each year on this day, societies look back and examine their handling of human rights and see how effectively people’s basic rights are protected.
Last month, Taiwan underwent another major election. The nine-in-one elections went peacefully and smoothly, and the efficiency with which the votes were counted and results declared was remarkable. That the winners were humble in the face of their coming responsibilities and the losers gracefully admitted defeat and congratulated their opponents pays tribute to the vitality and maturity of Taiwan’s democracy, which truly is one of the best examples in the Asia-Pacific region.
The past few years have also seen Taiwan’s clear effort in pursuing better guarantees of human rights. In 2009, the Legislative Yuan adopted the Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (公民與政治權利國際公約及經濟社會文化權利國際公約施行法), which was proclaimed by the president in the same year.
In 2011, the Legislative Yuan adopted the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Enforcement Act (消除對婦女一切形式歧視公約施行法) and in April this year adopted the Act to Implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (兒童權利公約施行法), which just went into force on Nov. 20. These voluntary actions to incorporate the dispositions of international conventions into domestic laws through legislation further consolidate the protection of human rights in Taiwan and are worthy of much praise.
The vibrant development of the nation’s civil society is also one of the key factors behind the progress in Taiwan’s human rights situation. For example, on the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) rights, Taiwan is in a leading position in the Asia-Pacific region. Even though, as in Europe, the protection of LGBTI rights is still not perfect, Taiwan is nevertheless already a source of inspiration and best practices for many other civic groups in the region. Taiwan’s non-governmental organizations are also very active in many other areas, and act as the impetus and catalyst of progress. The EU and its member states encourage the nation’s human rights groups to interact and exchange experiences with their counterparts in Europe, so that societies from both sides can learn and benefit from each other.
On the interaction between the judiciaries, the EU and Taiwan have in the past few years organized several judicial exchange programs which allowed professionals from both sides to conduct thorough discussions on human rights. It has been observed that Taiwan’s judiciary has gradually given more importance to the dispositions of the international conventions, and that more judges are citing the covenants or conventions in their judgements. These are all very positive developments.
Of course, Taiwan and the EU still have a lot to do on the issue of human rights. After the adoption of the Act to Implement “the Two Covenants,” Taiwan’s government proactively authored the nation’s first human rights report, which was then reviewed by a panel of international experts who were also invited by the government. The panel gave many concrete and useful conclusions, which included a recommendation to initiate a moratorium on the execution of death row inmates. It is sincerely hoped that Taiwan will take these conclusions to heart and take concrete actions.
On International Human Rights Day, it is hoped that people in Taiwan and the EU continue efforts to pursue the betterment of human rights protection and that everyone will also continue to assist each other, to the benefit of human rights for all.
Frederic Laplanche is head of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei.
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