Wed, Dec 20, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Tsai must give Taiwanese justice

By Chen Fang-ming 陳芳明

The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will forever be associated, for good or bad, with the concept of transitional justice. The government has certainly exhibited resolve in this area, from its forays into pension reform to addressing the problem of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-gotten assets. These reforms are tasks that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was never able to complete, and which former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was reluctant to touch.

The public has come to place high expectations on the government within this new climate, just as the KMT has pushed back on it. Tsai has demonstrated that she can be both courageous and astute — one of her campaign promises was realizing marriage equality. These proposals, naturally, were met with vehement protestations from religious groups.

Nevertheless, as the nation’s most powerful leader, she cannot hold back on realizing true transitional justice just because of the ideological and religious objections of the few. Transitional justice is not about showing politicians in their best light — it is about them fulfilling their duty.

When the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義條例) was passed on Dec. 5, it set a milestone in Taiwanese history. Transitional justice is not simply about righting the wrongs brought upon Taiwanese during the Martial Law era, it is also about dealing with the cultural damage wrought as a result of personality cults. That the legislation was passed just in time for Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 is, certainly, symbolically important.

The core value of the act is its declaration of the sanctity of life of every person in the nation: It is the assurance of the same extensive basic human rights of everyone, irrespective of ethnicity, class or gender.

The passage of the legislation was met with different reactions from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the KMT: The former used it as a stick with which to beat the KMT, while the latter sprang to the defense of its own record in power.

That the Martial Law era is one stained with the blood of innocents is an undeniable historical fact. The KMT was in power for many years, during which — and especially in the period since the introduction of direct presidential elections — it had the chance to put right some of its past mistakes.

However, the only one to attempt this was former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who apologized for the 228 Incident and the White Terror.

Ma, during his two terms in office, did nothing in this regard, which was a missed opportunity for which he cannot lay the blame entirely at the feet of the DPP.

History has given the KMT a chance to reflect on its transgressions, but during the time it was in power it wasted this valuable opportunity — time marches in one direction; history will not revisit itself.

It is time for the DPP to take the reins of government and lead the nation forward. Any political party that cares about human rights will throw itself behind the task of transitional justice. The KMT squandered the chance to rectify its mistakes, because it has never really had respect for human rights.

Although it does seem that the act is overly focused on the problems bequeathed the nation by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), a close reading of the wording of the act reveals that it is clearly aimed at all violence meted at human rights.

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