Please allow me to correct two erroneous impressions contained in your otherwise accurate report on Tuesday concerning my visit to the hospital room of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Monday (“US rights advocate Cohen visits former president,” Dec. 18, page 1).
It is not accurate to state, as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) reportedly said, that I am “planning to establish a committee to review Chen’s human rights.”
What I said was that I hoped to return in February of the coming year as a member of a committee established by the Ministry of Justice to evaluate the implementation of Taiwan’s new human rights legislation, and in that connection, I may see Chen again.
It is also not accurate to state, as Vice Minister of Justice Wu Chen-huan (吳陳鐶) reportedly said, that I believe Chen’s medical issue is a “domestic issue,” erroneously implying that I do not think it is also an international law issue.
Actually, my reference to “domestic issue” came after Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) raised a different question — the timing of any further executions in relation to the scheduled visit of the foreign experts invited to evaluate Taiwan’s human rights implementation. Plainly, execution of the death penalty in any country raises both international and domestic issues, and in the context of our useful discussion, my reference was clearly meant merely to indicate that the timing of any execution is obviously the responsibility of the minister of justice, ie, “the ball is in his court.”
Gao remarks misleading
I am sorry to see that the Taipei Times has repeated the misleading reports about remarks by DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) regarding the recent visit of professor Jerome Cohen.
Cohen is a member of the international review committee (actually a pair of committees) of eminent international human rights experts that has been invited by the government and charged with conducting the review of Taiwan’s first state reports under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in lieu of the two UN committees in Geneva, to which Taiwan is denied access.
The committee members have already begun reviewing the state reports on paper, but the main, public review sessions will take place in late February, and that is what Cohen was referring to.
However, the article (following some of the Chinese-language reports) makes it seems that there is some new committee that is specifically going “to make a complete review of Chen’s human rights.”
The work of the committees is a bit more far-reaching than that. Indeed, they are considering the entire scope of human rights conditions in Taiwan, closely patterning their deliberations and their conclusions on the standard practices of the UN treaty bodies.
Thus, it is unlikely that, in addition to their official “concluding observations” on each covenant, the committees would issue any separate statement of support for Chen. What is quite possible is that the committee evaluating Taiwan’s compliance with the ICCPR will express concerns about aspects of Taiwan’s prison conditions in general, and at most, Chen’s situation might be cited as an illustrative example of that.
In the history of Taiwan’s human rights development, this international review process is a very important step, which has engaged considerable efforts from the government, a myriad of Taiwanese non-governmental organizations (which have been producing their own responses and critiques of the state reports to submit to the members of the committees) and now segments of the international human rights community. It would be a pity if incorrect reporting led to public misunderstanding of the process.