Fri, Dec 12, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Isolation leaves nation at risk, rights group says

Scott Horton, president of the New York-based International League for Human Right, visited Taiwan this week. Horton spoke with 'Taipei Times' staff reporter Debby Wu on Wednesday about President Chen Shui-bian's winning the league's International Human Rights Award this year, Taiwan's status and the Taiwan-US relationship

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei Times: Could you talk about President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) winning the International Human Rights Award?

Scott Horton: He had been a candidate for several years, and he was first considered before he was elected president. We thought the whole situation in Taiwan, with its really remarkable movement toward democracy, hasn't gotten enough attention in the world.

Second, there's an attack on the human rights movement coming from the so-called "Asian values," especially led by Beijing, but also Singapore and Kuala Lumpur taking this view.

For us, it's particularly interesting to see that here in East Asia we have a country that has thrown off its authoritarian roots and become a vibrant democracy. It embraces human rights, and sees nothing culturally European or Western about it.

We spent some time looking at his [Chen's] program and his personal records, and we thought they absolutely merited being honored and recognized, so we decided to do this.

But what happened is SARS intervened. We were originally going to do this [give Chen the award] at the beginning of the year. In fact, we looked at the schedule for election, and thought we'd do it at the beginning of the year because we don't want people thinking this has anything to do with the president's election campaign.

Then the SARS epidemic happened, and we had scheduled an award dinner earlier in the year and it had to be cancelled because travel was cancelled.

It wound up being rescheduled to the end of October, and we, frankly, weren't so happy about the delay because it began to move into the election period. But we can't say that we were going to give you an award but now we are taking it back because you're going on a political campaign.

Looking at the Kuomintang [Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT] here -- it is a party with an authoritarian tradition, almost a totalitarian tradition, which has been strongly criticized by us for as long as we have existed.

But this party is transforming itself from this model of authoritarianism into a more modern pluralistic party, and that's one of the things we see as extremely positive here on Taiwan.

We are a bit concerned that things become a bit too politicized, and the whole human-rights issue becoming a political issue between the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] and KMT. From that perspective it's extremely unfortunate. We don't want that.

We want all the political parties to embrace this cause, and there should be no reason for differentiation.

TT: Could you talk about Chen's high-profile reception in the US?

Horton: Every time I talked to the State Department, it was always, "Well of course we think very highly of President Chen," "We're delighted to see he gets this award," "he deserves this" and then, a-ha, "So what will we say to the PRC diplomats because they will be very concerned?"

So they're [the State Department] concerned to work out something to appease China and to show that they adhere to the basic notion of sole representation of China.

But I think it's quite clear that everyone in the foreign policy community in the US recognizes Chen Shui-bian as a democratically elected head of state of a country of 23 million people, and PRC is not a democratically elected government.

TT: Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) [who attended a human-rights roundtable held by Academia Historica together with Horton] said that the status quo in cross-strait relationship is that Taiwan is a sovereign independent nation. What do you think of that?

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