Sun, Jun 10, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Human rights are a matter of the nation’s face

By Lin Tsang-song 林滄崧

A series of cruel murders and violence has sparked renewed calls for dealing with the “chaotic situation” by imposing more severe punishments and guarantees that death penalties are carried out.

However, judging from the direction of the government’s criminal policy over the past 10 years, while heavier punishments — such as increased jail terms for repeat offenders — are quite likely, guarantees that death row inmates will be executed are not only unlikely, but very unlikely.

A part of the public considers capital punishment to be in contravention of human rights. Of course there are a lot of academic and legal arguments for this view, but these are not immediately comprehensible to the public and some cannot even bear to listen to them.

One of the reasons for this is the nation’s human rights education: It covers a wide range of topics, but lacks depth. This helps explain why there are more people in favor of keeping the death penalty than of abolishing it.

Another reason is the discrepancy between the majority’s views and the government’s logic in criminal policy formation. Most people want criminal policies that are more “humanistic,” while the government keeps pushing policies that are more in accordance with human rights.

This discrepancy creates a common scenario that happens almost every time after a violent murder — members of the victim’s family always tell reporters “hopefully the court will sentence the murderer to death,” but the offender often escapes capital punishment based on the reasoning that they can be rehabilitated.

The adjective “humanistic” has many implications, but it could be summed up as achieving “a balance of human nature, humanity and human rights.” “Human nature” bears the implication of divine justice, “humanity” refers to ethics and “human rights” concern legal principles, and so a humanistic criminal policy would have to cover these three aspects.

The view that someone who kills a person should likewise be killed as a matter of divine justice represents an aspect of human nature. However, according to legal principles, no one has the right to deprive another human being of their right to life.

With regard to human ethics, punishment is a compromise between human nature and divine justice on the one hand and human rights and legal principles on the other.

Unfortunately, the view of a majority of the public and the government’s view are not on the same page, or even moving in opposite directions.

There is a saying that if we do not follow divine justice, the gods will not care for us. This tells us that Taiwanese still put great store in human nature and divine justice. Whether it comes to drafting law or formulating criminal policy, the public wants human nature and divine justice to be the core values.

Does the government understand this? Of course it does. However, while the public’s humanistic inclinations are important as a matter of substance, the nation’s respect for and protection of human rights is the face we show the outside world.

It would be nice to be able to strike a balance between the two, but if a choice has to be made, face is more important.

Lin Tsang-song is an adjunct assistant professor at Central Police University.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming

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