President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday vowed to protect freedom and democracy, in the wake of criticism of his administration for alleged human rights violations and restrictions on civil liberties since he took office in May last year.
“We have come a long way, and this is [democracy] something we have to cherish,” Ma said. “This is also a very important experience we can share with other emerging democracies in the rest of the world.”
Free elections, Ma said, are “of course the core of democracy,” but “not the whole of democracy.”
“Free elections are important, but elections are not everything,” he said.
“We still have to protect freedom, human rights and the rule of law. This is what my administration and I will pursue in the future,” Ma said.
Ma made the remarks while receiving foreign guests attending this year’s World Freedom Day celebrations and the 53rd annual convention of the Republic of China (ROC) chapter of the World League for Freedom and Democracy at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.
Many human rights and media watchdogs, both local and international, last year expressed concerns over an increase in human rights violations and restrictions on civil liberties since Ma was inaugurated.
Freedom House has called for an independent investigation into violent clashes between police and protesters during the visit of Chinese cross-strait negotiator Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in November.
Amnesty International has urged the Control Yuan to address serious concerns raised by civil society and that the Ma administration end the practice of using the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) to deny freedom of assembly.
A substantial number of foreign experts on Taiwan have expressed grave concerns about the series of detentions of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians, including former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
They criticized pretrial detentions as a “severe contravention of the writ of habeas corpus and a basic violation of due process, justice and the rule of law.”
The president yesterday said that freedom and democracy are the best remedy for countering communism and 60 years of development of freedom and democracy have made the world realize the value of the democratic system.
The ROC government on Taiwan was no exception, he said, saying that the ROC Constitution, adopted in 1946, enshrines such values.
The Constitution, however, could not be implemented because of the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Despite these obstacles, Ma said, the ROC government made efforts to transform itself into a democracy during the past 50 years.
It was ranked by Freedom House as a country that was “not free” in the 1970s, “partly free” from 1976 to 1996 and has been rated “free” since 1997, he said.
Meanwhile, legislators across party lines yesterday expressed support for Ma’s call on the legislature to pass two human rights conventions.
Ma said on Sunday the UN General Assembly adopted the two covenants in 1966, adding that although both were signed by the ROC, they were never approved by the legislature.
He added that the agreements had been sent to the KMT-controlled legislature for approval four times since 2001, but each attempt to have them approved had been unsuccessful.
Some analysts have suggested that Article 1 of both covenants might be the reason why some pan-blue politicians preferred not to have them ratified, as the politicians worried the article could be used as a “back door” to independence.
The article states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
When asked for comment, KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) said legislators had been discussing the conventions and it remained a goal of the legislature to pass them as soon as possible.
“The Legislative Yuan had been working on them. Passage of the conventions would mark an important development for Taiwan to live up to global [human rights] standards,” she said.
KMT caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said on Sunday that the legislature had not adopted the caucus’ opinion to allow the two conventions to skip a preliminary review, but he said lawmakers across party lines had reached a consensus to pass them.
Yang yesterday also expressed confidence that the two conventions might clear the legislative floor during the spring legislative session following the president’s remark.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋菫) said the party’s caucus supported the passage of the conventions.
If Ma had called for approval of the two UN conventions last week, the legislature might have passed them in the legislative session that has just finished, she said.
Tien said although Taiwan is not a UN member, the country would like to voluntarily comply with UN treaties, which would give it a positive image internationally.
She urged the government to clear all UN treaties to see whether the legislature would also pass them along with the other two.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG
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