In February, a group of international human rights experts were invited by the government to review Taiwan’s implementation of the two covenants. Citing the forced eviction of the Huaguang residents as an example, the reviewers urged the evictions to be stopped unless alternative housing is provided. The experts also suggested amending related laws and regulations to prevent similar infringements in the future.
In response, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) claimed the right to housing does not extend to people living on government property illegally.
To activists like Shih and Kao, the irony lies in the fact that while the MOJ is in charge of overseeing the implementation of the two covenants since their adoption as domestic law, it takes the lead in breaking them.
Both Liu and Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮), a professor at National Chengchi University’s Department of Land Economics, believe that public land has become a commodity that the financially strapped government easily cashes in on by either selling or leasing it out to big corporations and land developers. Meanwhile, ordinary people can’t afford somewhere to live.
Kao of the JRF points out that the lack of transparency in government development projects suggests a hidden web of political cronyism and corruption.
“They say they need to clear the land first, which is ridiculous because evictions should always be the last resort. And they don’t tell you how exactly the land is used. Who is behind the project is not revealed. You don’t know whom you are fighting against, since the face of the enemy is too vague to be recognized,” the lawyer notes.
Public land or government land
Apart from Huaguang, several government properties in Taipei including Taipei Academy (台北學苑) and the site where the Air Force Headquarters was located have jumped on the build-operate-transfer (BOT) bandwagon. One of the highest-ranking advocates of the land development projects is the Supervisory Team for Cleaning and Reviving State-Owned Land (國有土地清理活化督導小組). Convened by the premier or vice premier and composed of ministers and other top-ranking officials in the central government, the cross-ministry team was set up in 2009 with an aim to revive public land and put it to effective use. But the problem is that despite its considerable influence on land use, the team makes its decisions in closed-door meetings, without any participation or supervision by an independent body, Hsu Yi-fu notes.
Huang Li-ling (黃麗玲), an associate professor at the National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, agrees. In an article, From Public City to Private City: Falling of Taipei in the Fever of Urban Renewal (從公共化到產權化：都更城市淪亡記), Huang says the Supervisory Team promotes development projects on state-owned land. But how the land should be used to benefit the public is rarely discussed, and public land is often merely viewed as real estate for commercial uses.