On Tuesday last week, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) held two High-Level Policy Coordination Meetings, at which it was decided that the 11 empty Control Yuan seats should be filled. Following the meetings, the Presidential Office said that the Control Yuan, in addition to monitoring the executive branch, also offers relief for and guarantees against human rights infringements.
Human rights groups have long urged the government to build a sound human rights protection system. These calls have included demands for the establishment of a national human rights commission and a human rights office under the Executive Yuan dedicated to dealing with rights issues as well as such tools as a human-rights impact assessment system, human-rights indicators and human-rights statistics that would facilitate monitoring the government’s performance.
Tsai wants to appoint rights experts to the Control Yuan. However, it should be pointed out that appointing members to the Control Yuan cannot be a substitute for the establishment of a national human rights commission.
The Control Yuan should always have had human rights awareness and expertise. However, a national human rights commission would have a specific goal, and its establishment must not be delayed by the appointment of Control Yuan members.
First, the Control Yuan’s statutory authority is to monitor official bodies and make sure that they do not violate the law or neglect their duties, and its judgements are based on Taiwanese law. By comparison, while a national human rights commission would also have monitoring functions, it would watch over events rather than individuals, and it would concentrate on reviewing laws and policies.
In addition, a national human rights commission would be independent of the government. It would push the government toward establishing a culture respectful of human rights.
The Control Yuan’s responsibilities are to ensure that government authorities do not violate human rights, which means that it is indeed involved in human rights protection, but a national commission would also have to focus on promoting and guaranteeing human rights.
In addition, Control Yuan members and staff must meet stringent employment requirements, and this does not conform to the UN Paris Principles’ requirements for social diversity. The members and staff of a national human rights commission should represent a variety of backgrounds in an attempt to review national policy from a variety of different perspectives, which would avoid a situation in which laws and regulations and resource distribution completely abides by mainstream values. This implies a conflict of values with the Control Yuan.
Fourth, a national human rights commission must reference the Belgrade Principles — which define the relationship between parliaments and national human rights institutions — and work closely together with the legislature to ensure that domestic legislation follows human rights conventions.
Finally, a national human rights commission must maintain a good relationship with society and act as a bridge between it and the state. By using interviews, public hearings, forums and symposiums as a way to integrate public opinion in its policy suggestions, it would help deepen and consolidate democracy.
The public has high expectations of the Democratic Progressive Party government’s ability to pursue human rights and democracy. The establishment of a national human rights commission is a fundamental part of promoting political reform.
Huang Song-lih is convener of Covenants Watch.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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