Rights experts call for end to death penalty

HUMAN RIGHTS REVIEW::The group called for better protection of Aborigines, migrant workers and gays, and appealed for action on Chen Shui-bian’s health

By Rich Chang  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

Sat, Mar 02, 2013 - Page 1

A group of international human rights experts yesterday urged Taiwan to scrap the death penalty and protect the rights of Aboriginal people, migrant workers, prisoners, gay people and other minority groups, as well as former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Taiwan was also urged to take more measures to reconcile the gross violations of human rights which occured in the 228 Incident and the White Terror era.

The group of experts were invited by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to review the English and Chinese versions of its first national human rights report, which was published last year.

The report described the nation’s progress in implementing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that Ma signed in 2009.

Taiwan is among a minority of only 20 states worldwide that carried out executions in 2011, said Manfred Nowak, a professor of international law and human rights at the University of Vienna and one of the 10 international experts who visited Taiwan to review the national report.

“The experts, therefore, strongly recommend that the government of Taiwan intensifies its efforts toward abolition of capital punishment and, as a first and decisive step, immediately introduces a moratorium on executions in accordance with the respective resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly,” Nowak said at a press conference to present the group’s observations and recommendations.

The Taiwanese government has listed the abolition of capital punishment among its long-term goals. However, public opposition remains high.

A survey conducted in July last year by Master Survey and Research Co showed that nearly 80 percent of Taiwanese respondents opposed the abolition of the death penalty and that more than 85 percent believed that scrapping capital punishment would be detrimental to public order.

The report also urges the government to reduce prisoner numbers by introducing less restrictive provisions on pre-trial bail and parole, and to improve prison health services by transferring the responsibility to the Department of Health, among other changes.

“In this context, the experts also appeal to the government of Taiwan on humanitarian grounds to take appropriate action in relation to the serious health problems of former president Chen Shui-bian,” the report said.

Chen is serving an 18-and-a-half-year term for corruption during his presidency from 2000 to 2008.

The experts also called for improved rights for migrant workers, Aborgines, women, gay and transgender people, and people with disabilities.

They recommended that a referendum on a proposed nuclear waste site in Daren Township (達仁) in Taitung County and Wuciou Township (烏坵) in Kinmen County be put to a vote only by Aboriginal residents directly affected by the matter — instead of the two counties’ entire population.

They also suggested that labor protection laws, such as the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and the Labor Safety and Health Act (勞工安全衛生法), be extended to cover migrant workers, domestic workers and contract workers, and that the government reject proposals to delink the basic wages of foreign workers from wages of Taiwanese workers.

Foreign workers employed in the manufacturing, construction and other sectors are currently covered by the Labor Standards Act, but those who work as domestic helpers and caregivers are not.

Although certain measures have been taken for the sake of healing and reparation in the 228 Incident and the White Terror era, the experts said the period of transitional justice has not ended and more work is needed to reconcile Taiwanese society.

They said the right to reparation should include measures such as the social and psychological rehabilitation of victims, and should be accompanied by the right to seek truth and justice.

The government should undertake measures to reveal the whole truth behind the White Terror era, duly recognize the sufferings of the victims and guarantee victims’ families and researchers full access to the national archives.

Increased transparency in government decisionmaking on human rights issues is also needed, they said.

On the issue of freedom of expression, the government should take steps to block mergers or acquisitions of news channels or newspapers that could result in a concentration of media ownership, they said.

On freedom of assembly, the government should relax rules governing the holding of demonstrations and rallies, they added.

The Legislative Yuan should, without further delay, adopt required amendments to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), they said.