Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Interest in game points to failure
to face past

By Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

People have been talking about a Taiwan-made computer game called Detention (返校) that is set against the backdrop of the White Terror era and uses ghostly symbolism to conjure up an atmosphere of terror. The game’s popularity, to some extent, reflects the public’s interest and curiosity about this neglected part of Taiwan’s history, and is a reminder that the nation has not done enough to achieve transitional justice.

Until now, the emphasis regarding human rights violations that took place under authoritarian rule has been on obtaining redress and compensation for the victims, and it was not until last year’s handover of state power from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that the Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例) was passed into law.

Consequently, Taiwan’s transitional justice seems to be stuck at the stage of shallow transition, involving the cheapest kind of compensation — the monetary kind — and the question of how to dispose of ill-gotten party assets. Deeper transition must involve pursuing the liability of the perpetrators.

The pursuit of liability has largely been limited by the legal framework in Taiwan, which makes it hard to prosecute the perpetrators.

However, Article 29 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted by the international community in 1998, stipulates that crimes against humanity are not subject to any statute of limitations. Article 33, Paragraph 2 of the statute stipulates that orders to commit crimes against humanity are manifestly unlawful. It adds that officers in a subordinate position are not obliged to obey such orders, and that if they do obey and carry out such an order, they cannot escape liability by saying they were following the orders of their superiors.

Regarding superior officers, Article 28 of the statute states that if there are relations of rank in which orders are given and obeyed, and superiors know of violations committed by their subordinates, but do nothing to hinder them or turn a blind eye, they will be held criminally responsible. Unfortunately, the slow pace of transitional justice in Taiwan has prevented the most up-to-date and central values inherent in international human rights safeguards from being incorporated into the nation’s legal provisions.

Investigations into Taiwan’s history of human rights violations have been going on since martial law was lifted in 1987. However, the very party that most needs to be investigated and held to account, namely the KMT, has continued to exercise control over policy implementation. This has often prevented related documents from being made completely open to public scrutiny and some documents have fallen into the hands of private individuals. This situation has made it hard to find out the truth.

In February and March last year, there was an incident in which Taipei military police decided for themselves that documents concerning the 228 Incident were state secrets, and used threatening means reminiscent of the White Terror era to pressure a private owner into handing over all such documents in his possession. This incident highlights the military law enforcers’ lack of knowledge of the law and it shows that vestiges of the anti-human-rights mindset that prevailed under the old authoritarian regime might still exist today. This, and that the military police involved were only given light administrative penalties shows that Taiwan’s transitional justice really falls far short of what it should be.

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