Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) on March 24 announced a plan to draft an ethnic equality act amid uproar caused by former Toronto-based Government Information Office staffer Kuo Kuan-ying’s (郭冠英) articles defaming Taiwan and Taiwanese.
However, analysts disagree on whether such legislation would be necessary.
Shih Cheng-feng (施正峰), dean of the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University, said such an act would be significant even though it would be impossible for the act to root out discrimination in the country.
“At least such an act would be able to curb provocative remarks,” Shih said, adding that countries in the West had enacted similar laws in the 1970s and 1980s.
Shih said the proposed legislation should clearly list behavior considered discriminatory, although he said it would be difficult to detail every potential discriminatory act. He also supported introducing severe criminal punishment in the act, saying it would be the most effective way to sanction those who discriminate against people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Chiou Chang-tay (丘昌泰), a professor at the Department of Public Administration and Policy at National Taipei University, disagreed, saying that legislation should be “the last resort” in attempts to curb discrimination.
“We are too confident that enacting a law would be the solution to everything,” said Chiou, former chairman of the Graduate Institute of Hakka Politics and Economics at National Central University. “Many countries rely on moral education instead [when pursuing ethnic harmony] ... Respecting each other should be a very basic everyday attitude.”
Chiou said that including more ethnic education in the elementary school curriculum would be a more suitable approach.
Legislative records show that the idea of an ethnic equality act was first proposed by then-Taiwan Solidarity Union legislator Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) and eight other lawmakers across party lines on April 2, 2003, in a bid to reinforce the Constitution’s anti-discrimination spirit and promote ethnic harmony.
However, the bill did not clear the legislative floor because lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on the proposal.
Different versions of an ethnic equality act were proposed by caucuses during the next few sessions, but none of them were approved by the legislature.
On Sept. 22, 2004, then-People First Party legislators Lin Cheng-yi (林政義) and Shen Chih-hwei (沈智慧) proposed an anti-ethnic discrimination act that sought to punish anyone who discriminated against a specific ethnic group with hostile, humiliating, offensive or threatening language, pictures or behavior to a maximum of five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of NT$500,000 (US$15,000). However, the legislature also failed to pass this bill before the end of the fall legislative session in 2004.
An ethnic equality act proposed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) and six other KMT legislators on Oct. 22 last year is currently awaiting preliminary review by the Internal Administration Committee.
The proposal defines an ethnic community as a group or community that is aware that they have a different history, origin, culture and living environment from other groups.
It defines discrimination as any act of exclusion, harassment, restriction or preferential treatment based on ethnic differences that is intended to or that results in hurting or eliminating political, economic, social, cultural or civil rights.