Tue, Dec 18, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Social rights crucial for democracy

By Huang Song-lih 黃嵩立

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Ministry of Justice seems intent on carrying through with its forum on the National Human Rights Plan of Action (國家人權行動計畫).

Democracy and human rights have advanced by leaps and bounds over the past 50 years, and our freedoms and rights have gradually come to be respected by the government and protected by the law. However, the Nov. 24 referendums are evidence of the weak foundations of human rights in Taiwan — democracy without human rights is nothing less than the tyranny of the majority.

At the same time, due to the difficulties involved in verifying fragmentary information transferred between groups and the accompanying emotions, it is not difficult for organizations with large resources to use propaganda tactics to manipulate democracy.

Compared with community mobilization, the government’s attempts to explain its positions were weak and indirect, which led to the severe blow to gender equality and LGBT rights, as well as a strengthened position of conservative forces opposed to human rights.

Some legislators have relied on populist rhetoric to question the Council of Grand Justices’ constitutional interpretation, in effect challenging the fundamental underpinnings of a country based on the rule of law.

A single referendum has laid bare a weakness of democratic societies for all to see. Local human rights advances have been causing unease in China and Beijing is certain to increase its mobilization efforts to destroy them in future elections.

The government was already preparing the action plan, but with these new challenges, it is even more urgent that it gets the ball rolling.

Covenants Watch has suggested that the government include the following three items in the action plan:

First, a human rights agency. In addition to quickly setting up a national human rights commission independent of the government to monitor the incumbent administration, a dedicated human rights organ should also be set up within the Executive Yuan.

Covenants Watch has for many years said that the Executive Yuan must set up a human rights office to increase its human rights expertise and master its human rights skills.

The office could help ministries and departments solicit views from different sectors of society, and plan and implement the rights action plan.

It is difficult to understand why the government cannot provide even the resources required for an office of a few dozen people, when conservative forces are ready to invest NT$100 million (US$3.24 million) at the drop of a hat.

Second, promotion of human rights. Taiwanese enjoy freedom and human rights, but they often ignore the importance of these values and, as a result, do not protect them. Human rights education is a construction of our awareness through participation, and it requires an understanding of the history of our forebears who fought for these rights and of the human rights situation at the international level.

When it comes to Chinese human rights violations in particular, there should be a Chinese–English bilingual database that should be open to other nations as a reference and a warning. The government should also study what rights the public thinks are important and what doubts it has to be able to provide human rights training in schools, to civil servants and to judges.

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