In 2009, Taiwan adopted the provisions of the two international human rights covenants (ICCPR & ICESCR) in its domestic laws. Taiwan then published its first human rights report in 2012, and invited a panel of international experts to review the report earlier this year. As the result, the experts produced very substantial and useful concluding remarks after a very thorough review process.
We believe this series of actions is a very positive development for Taiwan's human rights. We also believe that Taiwan's government will take the precious advice given by the panel of international experts very seriously, and actively employ measures to ensure even better protection for Taiwan's human rights.
Last Thursday was the European and World Day against the Death Penalty. The EU and its member states expressed the hope that the death penalty will be abolished or that moratoriums on executions will be implemented in the whole world (21 countries, out of almost 200, still carried out executions in 2012). This hope is also valid for Taiwan, and this is an opportunity to review the concluding remarks made by the international experts on the subject of the death penalty.
The experts "strongly recommend that the Government of Taiwan intensifies it efforts towards abolition of capital punishment and, as a first and decisive step, immediately introduces a moratorium on executions…" Indeed, a moratorium on executions has been an important phase for countries which still retained the death penalty before abolishing it. This phase allows the entire society more time to reflect on the subject before making the final decision of abolishing. Places such as Korea and Mongolia and many US States such as California have all taken this step to ensure better social consensus on the matter and to also prevent any wrongful executions.
Some in Taiwan have argued that a moratorium may not be lawful. This reasoning has not been followed at international level, and legal challenges did not arise against moratoriums in places where they have been adopted. If we take a European example, the UK carried out is last execution in 1964, but only formally abolished the death penalty in 1998. During this period, the UK government was not accused of breaking the law.
Furthermore, the experts also mentioned in their concluding remarks that a "provision of the Covenant seems to have been violated in all 15 cases of executions carried out in Taiwan during the last three years." The provision mentioned here is Article 6 paragraph 4 of the ICCPR which stipulates that "Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence." The experts believed that the provision had been violated because all 15 inmates asked the President for commutation and were executed before their requests were replied. This means that they were executed while still exercising their rights as granted by Article 6 paragraph 4 of the ICCPR. This is why the experts suggested that "the execution of the sentence of death must be postponed at least until the proper conclusion of the relevant procedure."
There is no doubt that Taiwan's human rights situation is excellent by world standard. However, we still wish for better development on the subject of the death penalty. This is why the EU office and the offices of Germany, France and the UK are working together with Taiwan's judicial agencies and NGOs to organise a series of seminars to facilitate better exchange between European and Taiwanese judicial personnel, and to promote mutual understanding.
Frederic Laplanche is the head of European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei.