US rights report says Taiwan has room to improve

CORRUPTION::The US Department of State report said that placement of ads packaged to look like news and police ties to organized crime were still problems

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in WASHINGTON

Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - Page 1

Despite giving Taiwan good grades for its overall human rights record over the past year, the US Department of State reported on Friday that there were still problems with corruption, violence and discrimination against women and children, as well as human trafficking.

In its encyclopedic 35th annual report on human rights practices in 190 countries, the department had particularly harsh words for China.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, presenting the report, said: “In China, we’ve seen negative trends that are appearing to worsen in the first part of 2011.”

“We remain deeply concerned about reports that since February, dozens of people, including public-interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals and activists, have been arbitrarily detained and arrested,” Clinton said. “Among them most recently was the prominent artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), who was taken into custody just this past Sunday. We urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all the citizens of China.”

Taiwan, which has one of the best human rights records in Asia, was not mentioned by Clinton, but it nevertheless stood out in stark contrast to China.

However, the report made clear that there was room for improvement.

“Although the [Taiwanese] authorities made efforts to eliminate corruption and to diminish political influence in the judiciary, some residual problems remained,” the report said. “During the year, judicial reform advocates pressed for greater public accountability, reforms of the personnel system and other procedural reforms. Some political commentators and academics also publicly questioned the impartiality of judges and prosecutors involved in high-profile and politically sensitive cases.”

The report said that while there was a “vigorous and active” free press in Taiwan, critics said that the authorities increased their placement of advertisements packaged as news reports in local newspapers and television.

Such placement of advertising may have deterred some media outlets from criticizing the authorities.

There were also allegations of official corruption during the year.

“Police corruption, while limited, was a problem. In June, nine ranking police officers in Taipei City were indicted for taking bribes from organized crime figures. In September, a former police officer in Taipei County was sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in jail for taking bribes from a -human-trafficking ring,” the report said.

Violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, remained a “serious problem,” the report said.

“Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Because victims were socially stigmatized, many did not report the crime, and the MOI [Ministry of the Interior] estimated that the total number of sexual assaults was 10 times the number reported to the police,” the report said.

Women’s groups, the report said, said that despite laws against sexual harassment in the workplace — and increased awareness of the issue — judicial authorities remained “dismissive” of complaints.

“Child abuse continued to be a widespread problem. A reliable NGO [non-governmental organization] reported sexual abuse was more prevalent than the public realized, with the estimated number of victims reaching approximately 20,000 annually, while only approximately 3,000 were reported,” the report said. “The extent to which child prostitution occurred was difficult to measure because of increased use of the Internet and other sophisticated communications technologies to solicit clients.”

According to the report, 8 percent of all Taiwanese marriages included a foreign-born spouse — primarily from China, Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand — and these foreign-born spouses were targets of discrimination both inside and outside the home.

Problems involving trafficking in persons will be dealt with in a second report to be issued later in the year.