Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Authors examine UN human rights law

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Human rights advocates yesterday said that while the government claims it is making every effort to protect human rights, its results remain unsatisfactory.

“It might seem that Taiwan is doing well at protecting human rights. We have had a woman as vice president and there does not seem to be any obstacle stopping a woman becoming president. You might also think that we are doing well in protecting gender rights,” National Taiwan University associate law professor Chang Wen-chen (張文貞) said at a book launch in Taipei.

“However, I would say that the protection of human rights is rather superficial in Taiwan,” the coauthor of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said.

The book examines UN human rights covenants that have been adopted into law by the government.

“Take gender rights for example. You cannot say that men and women enjoy genuine equality in this country just because women can do things that men can do; you have to look into the socioeconomic structure in our society to determine whether we are doing a good job in delivering gender equality,” she said.

Chang said that beyond the traditional sense of gender equality that focuses on people’s biological makeup, gender equality must not overlook the rights of same-sex couples and people who do not identify with their biological gender.

“Unfortunately, nowadays, students still make fun of their classmates over gender orientation or identification with the opposite sex, not to mention that same-sex marriage is still illegal,” Chang said.

Such issues are everywhere, she said. The problems with the underground gas pipelines exposed by the fatal explosions in Greater Kaohsiung on July 31 and Aug. 1 are seen as safety or environmental issues, “but they are actually human rights issues as well,” she said.

“Knowledge about underground pipelines that pass under or near your property is a matter of privacy in many countries,” Chang said. “In Europe, there have been court rulings that ordered underground pipelines to be moved because they constituted a violation of privacy.”

National Dong Hwa University’s Institute of Financial and Economic Law associate professor Hsu Hui-yen (徐揮彥) said that although “cultural rights” laws are not stated as clearly as many others, he is glad to see more judges willing to respect cultural rights, especially when a lawsuit involves Aboriginal culture.

“There was a case in which an Atayal family was accused of illegally burying a deceased family member on a plot of land belonging to the government,” said Hsu, coauthor of the book. “The judge took the initiative to research Atayal funereal culture and history, and ruled that the family was not guilty, since the plot of land has long been used as a burial site for local Atayals and they were merely following tradition.”

He was happy to see the Supreme Court citing the human rights covenants in its ruling, he added.

“The book can serve as a very good reference, since many of my friends working in the judiciary complained that they do not know how to deal with the two UN human rights covenants after they were adopted as domestic laws by the legislature,” Hsu said.

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