Tue, Jul 26, 2016 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Tsai’s nominee comes with baggage

Taiwan’s transformation from authoritarianism to democracy without bloodshed has often been touted as a success story. While the nation’s democratization is certainly an achievement all Taiwanese should be proud of, its sense of transitional justice is still lacking.

The residue of authoritarianism lingers in all corners of Taiwan, where statues of the main instigator of the White Terror era stand tall and those who violated human rights during the Martial Law era go unpunished.

The nation’s failure to institute transitional justice in the course of its democratization was further compounded by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) recent nomination of Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Commission Chief Commissioner Hsieh Wen-ting (謝文定) as the president of the Judicial Yuan.

Hsieh was a lead prosecutor in a number of cases during the White Terror era, including the Kaohsiung Incident and the murders of democracy activist Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) mother and twin daughters.

Given his high-level judicial position during the authoritarian era, Hsieh could very well be among the secondary culprits, accomplices and people who bear joint responsibility for laying fake and false charges against people during the White Terror era.

“How can an official who obeyed whatever order they were given be expected to initiate effective judicial reform?” National Taiwan University student Wu Yun-ching (吳昀慶) asked on Sunday, a sentiment shared by many Taiwanese.

After the lifting of martial law in 1987 that put the nation on the path to democratic reform, an exit mechanism should have been introduced for secondary accomplices to expel them from the nation’s judicial system. Appointing such people to prominent posts would certainly compromise, if not hinder, the nation’s dire need for transitional justice.

Unlike other democratized nations, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, where lustration laws were passed to achieve transitional justice, including the banning of public officials above a certain rank from government posts and investigations of those who worked for agencies associated with human rights abuses, Taiwan has not had such laws to “clean” the ubiquitous presence of its authoritarian past.

Tsai, in her inauguration speech, said that a truth and reconciliation commission would be established by the Presidential Office to address past issues, adding that her goal of transitional justice “is to pursue true social reconciliation, so that all Taiwanese can take to heart the mistakes of that era.”

“We will discover the truth, heal wounds and clarify responsibilities. From here on out, history will no longer divide Taiwan. Instead, it will propel Taiwan forward,” she has said.

However, how exactly will “Taiwanese take to heart the mistakes of that era” and how can the Tsai administration “propel Taiwan forward” with her nomination of an individual with a controversial past to be the nation’s protector of justice?

The pursuit of transitional justice entails more than just dealing with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-gotten party assets.

The nomination of Hsieh comes as a striking irony in light of the very democratic values Tsai touted in her inauguration speech and has raised the question whether her administration’s claim to defend democratic values and norms is genuine.

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