Almost 70 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the next few decades, this declaration together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the two Covenants) jointly formed the bedrock of international human rights.
Human rights of individuals were no longer seen as special privileges for the few, but the fundamental rights for all.
It is thus important that on this day we take stock of what we have achieved and remind ourselves of the difficulties of achieving such progress and the long road ahead to ensure the protection of human rights everywhere.
Democracy and human rights are embedded in the very fabric of our societies. In Taiwan, the progress of human rights in the last 30 years is nothing short of remarkable, underpinned by a vibrant civil society, a strong and empowered Legislative Yuan, as well as an independent judiciary and media.
Transition of power has taken place three times, smoothly and successfully. Taiwan has additionally incorporated the provisions of six of the UN’s nine main treaties on international human rights into its domestic law and it undertakes periodic voluntary reviews.
Just this year, Taiwan demonstrated again that it is the leader in Asia on LGBTI [lesbian gay bisexual transgender and intersex] human rights. These are achievements that Taiwan should be proud of.
However, we must not simply pat each other’s backs and be content with what we have achieved. There is a worrying discourse taking place around the world that challenges the universality of human rights and democracy.
Excuses are being made on why human rights should not be applicable to every human being. In places where human rights are established, there is a disturbing tendency to take past achievements for granted.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to and defense of every human being’s fundamental rights, and insistent in our belief that no roll-back can be allowed when it comes to human rights and our democratic institutions. We must not become complacent, but must take on the challenges we all still face.
In the past few years, we have seen clear achievements in Taiwan’s pursuit of better guarantees of human rights, but some concerns remain.
Earlier this year, a panel of international experts again reviewed Taiwan’s implementation of the two covenants. Many valuable recommendations were given by the panel, and we sincerely hope that the government will address the problems and challenges pointed out by the experts in good faith.
This of course includes the recommendation on banning all form of cruel and inhumane punishments, including the utmost form of corporal punishment, the death penalty.
On this International Human Rights Day, we hope that the task of continuing to perfect human rights protection can be sustained in both Taiwan and our societies.
Taiwan is a beacon of human rights in Asia, but we can all do better. We should all be ready to cooperate in order to improve human rights both at home and abroad, and be the defenders of human rights and fighters against bigotry, hatred and discrimination.
Catherine Raper, representative of the Australian Office; Albin Mauritz, director of the Austrian Office; Rik Van Droogenbroeck, director of the Belgian Office; Mario Ste-Marie, executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei; Vaclav Jilek, representative of the Czech Economic and Cultural Office; Nicholas Enersen, director of the Trade Council of Denmark, Taipei; Madeleine Majorenko, head of the European Economic and Trade Office; Jari Seilonen, representative of Finland’s Trade and Innovation Office; Benoit Guidee, director of the French Office; Martin Eberts, director-general of the German Institute; Donato Scioscioli, representative of the Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office; Hugues Mignot, director of the Luxembourg Trade and Investment Office; Guy Wittich, representative of the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office; Maciej Gaca, director-general of the Warsaw Trade Office; Martin Podstavek, representative of the Slovak Economic and Cultural Office; Jose Luis Echaniz Cobas, director of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce; Henrik Persson, representative of the Swedish Trade and Invest Council; Rolf Frei, director of the Trade Office of Swiss Industries; Catherine Nettleton, representative of the British Office.
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