EDITORIAL: Transitional justice takes a hit

Fri, Sep 14, 2018 - Page 8

The resignation on Wednesday of Chang Tien-chin (張天欽) as deputy chairman of the Transitional Justice Commission over an alleged plan to manipulate public opinion against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) New Taipei City mayoral candidate Hou You-yi (侯友宜) is yet another example of how an electorally motivated agenda can easily taint and tarnish the cumulative efforts of many.

The road toward transitional justice has been long and bumpy, as the former authoritarian KMT remains a relatively influential political force and some people are reluctant to see past wounds dredged up. They argue that what happened in the past should stay in the past.

That is why victims of the KMT’s suppression and atrocities and their families had to wait decades before seeing the government take a first step toward attempting to achieve long-overdue transitional justice.

While many have rejoiced over the beginning of the grand project, it is not all smooth sailing. The KMT has repeatedly challenged the findings of the Executive Yuan’s Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee, taking it to court and succeeding in June in having the Taipei High Administrative Court question the constitutionality of the law providing the basis for the establishment of the committee in August 2016.

The court is to seek a constitutional interpretation from the Council of Grand Justices on the Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例).

The assets committee’s every move has also been closely scrutinized for signs of political interference from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and it has spent a lot of energy and resources fending off the KMT’s accusations that it is a mere campaign tool for the DPP.

Despite the many challenges, it has soldiered on and vowed to meet the public’s expectations.

The Transitional Justice Commission, founded in May, has faced similar or even greater challenges, because it has to shoulder far more important tasks than the assets committee, including removing authoritarian symbols, redressing miscarriages of justice, investigating political persecution and restoring historical truth.

Transitional justice has always been an extremely sensitive political topic, that is why the project requires absolutely uncompromised independence, objectivity and impartiality if its task is to be completed with minimal impact on society and without serious political complications.

Without such awareness, the collective credibility of those endeavoring to bring transitional justice to the nation could be undermined, nullifying the efforts, just as Chang did.

The Chinese-language Mirror Media magazine on Tuesday published a partial transcript of a recording of an informal commission meeting Chang called on Aug. 24.

According to the transcript, Chang asked the participants to brainstorm how to enforce a lustration law that the commission had planned to draw up and, specifically, how to use it against Hou, whom Chang called the “most despicable case [of concern] in transitional justice.”

Chang insinuated that as Hou is running for office, it would be easier to manipulate public opinion and media coverage against him.

Whether Hou was a willing participant in the KMT regime’s crackdown on democracy activists like Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) — who set himself alight to refuse a 1989 arrest attempt led by Hou, then the head of the Taipei Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division — is certainly something that needs to be carefully examined.

However, once someone tries to entangle such an effort with elections, any attempts to hold Hou accountable to his past would be perceived as a political persecution.

It also unfortunately provided the KMT with the ammunition it needs to further delegitimize the endeavor for transitional justice.