Legislators and academics deliberated on the need for a draft bill on transitional justice for Aborigines at a legislative meeting yesterday, with several speakers calling on the government to allocate funds to save Aboriginal languages, return traditional territories taken by past government administrations and grant official status to Pingpu Aborigines.
The hearing was held to address Aboriginal issues after draft legislation on transitional justice last month cleared review at the legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, which some lawmakers said mainly focused on human rights abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government during the Martial Law era, and did not go far enough on historical injustices suffered by Aboriginal communities.
In yesterday’s first of two hearing sessions, most participants agreed on the need to set up a special committee to promote the restoration of rights for Aborigines, which would be placed under the authority of the Presidential Office and have the power to make recommendation reports.
However, they could not agree on which of the five versions of the bill on transitional justice for Aborigines submitted by various political parties and groups of lawmakers to support.
Tai Pao-tsun (戴寶村), a professor of Taiwanese history at National Chengchi University, said that Taiwan is a multicultural society, with different Aboriginal groups inhabiting the land since the earliest times.
He urged the government to look at the plight of lowland Pingpu Aborigines, who are still excluded and denied official Aboriginal status.
He said the draft legislation must be inclusive to protect and promote the cultures and languages of the various Aboriginal groups, and should also consider restoring the original names of villages and landmarks across the nation, since most of them were changed during the Japanese colonial rule and were changed again by KMT regime after 1945.
Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a professor at National Dong Hwa University’s Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, called for the creation of a presidential special committee to conduct independent investigations into past rights abuses and other historic injustices against Aboriginal communities over the past 400 years of foreign rule, with the power to subpoena, access government documents and present the results.
Jolan Hsieh (謝若蘭), a colleague of Shih, endorsed President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stated policies on Aboriginal issues, including a promise to issue an official apology to Aborigines on behalf of the nation at an event on Aug. 1, recognize historic injustices against Pingpu Aboriginal groups and set up legal mechanisms to help them gain official status and save their culture and language.
Linguist Bo Hong-ming (波宏明) said it is most important to promote Aborigines’ mother tongues and urged the government to spend NT$5 billion (US$154.29 million) each year on language teaching and other education programs for Aboriginal groups across the nation.
There were differences in opinions on the issue of returning traditional territory to Aborigines and how far it should go.
Some lawmakers argued for fixing it in the late 1940s, with the beginning of KMT authoritarian rule over Taiwan after its military defeat and retreat from China.
Others said it should date back to 1895, at the start of Japanese rule in Taiwan, or even the Dutch occupation era, with its regional government in Tainan area commencing in 1624.
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