Foreign minister defends human rights diplomacy

A WORTHY POLICY: Tien Hung-mao said that Taiwan's foreign policy will be tailored to maintain the nation's status as one of the world's freest countries

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 4

Rejecting criticism of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) "human rights diplomacy" as "empty sloganeering," Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) said yesterday that the government had already begun to put the vision into practice.

Tien made his remarks during a speech at an international conference on national human rights commissions yesterday, outlining measures the government has taken to include the "universal values of human rights" into Taiwan's foreign policy initiatives.

He said that these values had "become an integral part of our national values over the last two decades."

Although some local critics have rejected the idea of human rights diplomacy -- first announced during Chen's inauguration speech on May 20 last year -- Tien made an effort in his speech to clarify what he termed as "misconceptions" regarding this approach to foreign policy.

Through bilateral channels, for instance, Tien said Taiwan could learn a lot from its 29 diplomatic allies about promoting human rights.

Although a recent Freedom House survey upgraded its rating for Taiwan to the highest level of political freedom, Tien said some of Taiwan's allies already outshine Taiwan in this aspect.

"The first thing I noticed was that, according to the report, Taiwan, after all these years of reform, is finally catching up with our ally, Costa Rica," the foreign minister said.

The report categorized half of Taiwan's allies as "free" and 10 percent as "not free."

These ratios, Tien said, were higher than for the world as a whole, where less than 45 percent were labeled "free" and around one-quarter were identified as "not free."

"Quite to the contrary of what cynical critics often claim, we have every right to be proud of our allies in this respect.

"Even though most of them are not as wealthy as Taiwan, they too have been greatly improving their human rights records," Tien added.

As for multilateral approaches, Tien said the government has already begun to expand its links with international civil society, noting its increasing participation in the World Movement for Democracy.

Furthermore, the government is still making efforts to ratify the two major international human rights instruments, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and to enact legislation to put their provisions into Taiwan's domestic law.

Officials also said that human rights is one of the five fields to be represented soon by selected ambassadors-at-large, the other five being medicine, women's rights, business and Aboriginal rights.

Ambassadors-at-large were first appointed by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), but the posts were mostly of an honorary nature. The current government has said its purpose in appointing ambassadors-at-large is to inject private sector resources into diplomatic channels.

"This ambassador-at-large for human rights ... will serve as a point man for developing human rights diplomacy, including coordinating activities among the various geographic and functional departments in the ministry," Tien said.

In the long term, the minister said the foreign ministry would be "putting a priority on human rights content as a key part of the training programs for Taiwan's diplomats."

Meanwhile, Tien admitted yesterday afternoon that the selection of Taiwan's new ambassadors-at-large had been delayed slightly as the foreign ministry has to ensure that new appointees do not violate the rules governing tenure of the positions -- such as the possession of dual nationality and occupation of government positions.