Legal advocates and AIDS hospice operators voiced their shock yesterday at the Taipei District Court's decision that the Harmony Home Association HIV and AIDS shelter must relocate after being required to do so by the management committee of the Chaihsing apartment complex.
"This verdict is utterly unacceptable," said Li Fu-dien (李復甸), the lawyer for Harmony Home, at a press conference that was held in Taipei yesterday by several rights groups.
"Do we really want to allow management committees to exclude whomever they want with no regard for the law? If this precedent is allowed to stand, which disadvantaged group will be next?" Li asked.
The Children Are Us Foundation, which works with children with mental disabilities, faced similar opposition from communities that did not welcome its presence, he said.
According to human rights lawyer Chiu Huang-chuan (邱晃泉), Taiwan has strayed away from international norms with the court's decision.
"Maybe because of our isolation from the international community, we do not recognize what a serious violation of human rights this is. These rights are not negotiable," Chiu said.
May Chyou (邱淑美), the executive director of the Garden of Mercy AIDS hospice, said that staff and residents had been living in fear since the court's decision.
"We are terrified of exposure. I say to my staff `don't let the babies cry at night in case the neighbors hear them,'" she said.
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"Possible AIDS sufferers will become even more reluctant to get tested and registered, making them more likely to keep spreading the virus," he said.
Twu said the rate of infection in Taiwan had gone up sharply in recent years even as the spread of AIDS had come under control in other countries.
"What we need is a wide-ranging information campaign. This society is filled with fear, apathy and prejudice when it comes to the issue of AIDS," he added.
Twu argued that the reason the case had taken such a disastrous turn in the court ruling was "because we're hearing too much from lawyers and not enough from medical professionals."
Twu said that he did not agree with Li's position, which rests heavily on the Constitutional guarantee of the right to reside and relocate.
"He [Li] wasn't serious enough about getting expert witnesses and making this a public health issue," Twu said.
"Instead, it became a matter of pitting the rights of one group against the rights of another," he said.
Twu cited a case in Penghu in 1994 that was decided in the defendant's favor: "That case was a success because it was treated as a public health issue.
Li said he disagreed that a more technical approach would have swayed the judge.