Reflect on human rights
Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, is an important opportunity to reflect on human rights in Taiwan. While Taiwan has made many advances in human rights since the days of martial law, numerous problems persist.
Many of Taiwan’s human rights problems are rooted in a transition to democracy without transitional justice. The legacy of the authoritarian party-state that governed Taiwan during martial law still influences the politics of the present.
The case of Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) has spanned almost the entire post-Martial Law era. In many ways Chiou’s case is symbolic of Taiwan’s human rights problems.
Chiou was first sentenced to death in 1989. The case against him was based on confessions made under torture, which were later retracted. In 1994, two prosecutors and 10 police officers were convicted for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases. However, Chiou remains on death row and Amnesty International is campaigning for a retrial of his case.
The case of the Hsichih Trio shares much in common with that of Chiou. The three men were also convicted on the basis of confessions extracted by police using torture. They spent 21 years in a legal battle during which they faced the death penalty and spent 12 years in prison. The trio were finally acquitted this year (“‘Hsichih Trio’ are finally freed,” Sept. 1, page 1 ).
More recently, there have been concerns about the judicial process being used as a political tool. Since 2008, a number of politicians from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have faced trial on corruption-related charges. In cases such as those of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) and former National Security Council head Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), the defendants were found not guilty. This lends weight to claims of judicial persecution (“Rooting out political corruption,” Dec. 3, page 8).
All theses cases highlight the need for judicial reform. This has been something that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has promised since he was first elected in 2008. Yet up to now he has delivered precious little. With Ma’s party controlling both the executive and legislature, there is no excuse for the lack of action.
Furthermore, in 2009, the Ma government ratified two important UN human rights treaties. These treaties do not specify abolition of the death penalty, but impose strict standards on its use (“Taiwan’s sham over death penalty,” Nov. 17, page 8). In spite of this, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators recently put forward proposals to expand the range of crimes in which the death penalty should apply (“Death penalty changes proposed,” Dec. 5, page 3).
Although Taiwan’s government is failing, its civil society is blooming. The tireless work of non-governmental organizations has contributed to many important human rights gains over the past two decades.
The annual LGBT Pride Parade highlights Taiwan’s tolerance and the ongoing efforts of the LGBT community to gain important rights.
Taiwan’s youth are also a cause for hope. University students are at the forefront of the current movement against a media monopoly. Some of these students drew on their experiences in the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement (“Student protest leader speaks on civil liberties,” Dec. 3, page 3).
Taiwan’s transition to democracy without transitional justice means that the people must be ever vigilant and active in standing up for human rights. Justice and human rights in Taiwan will only come through a grassroots effort of the people.