Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Chen vows change at award bash

POLICY PROMOTION The president used his receipt of a human rights award to tell the rest of the world why Taiwan needs a new constitution

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN NEW YORK

President Chen Shui-bian shakes hands with local overseas Chinese waiting outside the hotel where he was to stay upon his arrival in New York, Friday.

PHOTO: SUNG CHIH-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was honored on Friday night with the 35th International Human Rights Award, for his long-term efforts and achievement in Taiwan's democracy movement and support for human rights.

Chen received his award during a dinner banquet and award ceremony held by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Chen used the occasion to outline what he called as Taiwan's "inadequate constitutional framework," and to make a pitch for his government's plans for the promotion of the right of referendum and the need for a new constitution.

These measures were necessary so Taiwan could realize the concept of "sovereignty to the people" and deep-root democracy and human rights in the country, Chen said.

"As my country's leader, it is imperative that I shoulder responsibility for Taiwan's national development and set a clear vision for the future," Chen said during his 35-minute speech entitled "Taiwan: A Country Embracing Human Rights and Democratic Reform" at the award ceremony.

"I believe that a sound and sustainable constitutional framework can be created through rational debate and engendered by civic consciousness. This is the rationale upon which I have proposed the concept of hastening the birth of a new constitution," Chen said.

Chen used the US' process of creating and amending its Constitution over the past 200 years to stress that the US Constitution also endured continuous debate and amendment to be able to deal with the latest development in society and meet society's needs.

"The hastening of a new Taiwan constitution will determine whether or not our democracy can come into full bloom," Chen said.

"This, strengthened and supplemented by the institutions of direct democracy, such as referendums, would be a necessary step in advancing Taiwan's human rights and the deepening of its democracy," the president said.

"One must not be misled by the contention that holding referendums or re-engineering our constitutional framework, bears any relevance to the `five noes' pledge presented in my inaugural speech," he said. "Neither should matters concerning Taiwan's constitutional development be simplistically interpreted as a political debate of unification versus independence."

"The progression of democracy and human rights in Taiwan not only signifies a triumph of our people in the relentless pursuit for freedom, it is also a torch of democracy for all Chinese societies and has become an indispensable asset to the United States as well as the international society. I have great confidence that by advancing our democracy, we shall show where Taiwan stands in terms of values: a veritable part of the world's democratic community."

Before the award ceremony started, hundreds of Chinese students gathered nearby the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to demonstrate their opposition to Chen, and exchanged abuse with Chen's overseas Taiwanese supporters across the street.

Chen referred to the incident in his speech, saying the Chinese students "went to the wrong place and abused the wrong person," because his reception of the award in New York showed that human rights was an universal value and Taiwan's achievement in democracy and human rights should be able to serve as a beacon for China.

"You [the Chinese students] should go back and ask, if Taiwan can, why can't China?'" Chen said.

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