In countries with a mature approach to human rights, transitional justice is generally carried out by the political party that takes over after a dictatorship has fallen. However, after martial law was lifted in Taiwan, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) remained in power, implementing a “peaceful revolution.” Small wonder, then, that only a small part of transitional justice was carried out, namely, the half-baked kind that paid compensation through the administrative system without assigning responsibility and only revealing partial truths.
In November 2001, after the Democratic Progressive Party came to power, the National Archives Administration was established as part of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission. It studied, transferred and digitized documents related to the 228 Massacre and the White Terror held at various agencies to facilitate their use. The administration also organized exhibitions of documents related to the 228 Massacre and the Kaohsiung Incident. Academia Historica, under the leadership of then-president Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲), published many related documents. These kinds of activities are fundamental to finding and revealing the truth.
In addition, the Council for Cultural Affairs, the precursor of the Ministry of Culture, was in charge of preserving, restoring and opening the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park and the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park, but these facilities are still only in the preliminary stages of development and are a far cry from the human rights museums in other countries.
The main reason for this is that the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did not control a legislative majority and thus was unable to provide a clear legal basis for human rights museums, which resulted in a lack of budget and staff allocations.
That said, studies and overall plans commissioned by the government in the past are beginning to bear fruit, and all that is required is that the government follows the rules and treats these results as part of its responsibilities. Unfortunately it is very difficult to imagine a KMT that would right its old wrongs.
Transitional justice is a complex issue, and it includes such matters as the handling of the KMT’s ill-gotten party assets, a Taiwan-centered outlook on history in the high-school history curriculum and so on. Victims of political persecution and their supporters want to stress the need to review the regulation in the National Security Act (國家安全法), which eliminates the possibility for political prisoners during the Martial Law era to appeal their sentences after the lifting of martial law.
Together, late presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) led the nation for a long time, and they were closely involved in the decisions made in connection to the 228 Massacre and the White Terror era. Their diaries and correspondence should not be treated as family or party assets, but as presidential documents, and as such, the government should have recovered them long ago and made them public.
As for other issues, archives should automatically be made public when the confidentiality period expires, and documents concerning transitional justice and historical truth should be handled according to the regulations addressing the public interest in the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法). In addition, agencies managing archives should not be allowed to conceal or restrict access to such documents.
Dealing with these issues is no easy matter, and it is incumbent on the next president to initiate the process.
Chen Yi-shen is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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