Taiwan should continue addressing its legacy of rights violations, the founding justice of South Africa’s Constitutional Court said in Taipei on Tuesday.
Judge Albie Sachs said that his nation has made progress through transitional justice, which he said is crucial for a nation to move forward.
“It would be very sad if the political conflicts of today resulted in destroying the chances of finding out about the truth of the past,” Sachs told local experts and reporters after a speech on how the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission pursued transitional justice.
Sachs was responding to questions regarding remarks by former Transitional Justice Commission deputy chairman Chang Tien-chin (張天欽) criticizing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) former New Taipei City deputy mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), who is running for mayor.
Chang questioned Hou’s role as the leader of a police team that attempted to arrest Taiwanese independence and democracy advocate Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) before Deng self-immolated at his office in 1989 to avoid arrest.
Chang resigned after facing criticism that he used transitional justice for political gain.
The commission should not seek short-term political advantages by denouncing the opposition for its past, nor should the opposition denounce the commission if it brings to light things it considers uncomfortable, Sachs said.
In South Africa, the court has been careful “not to allow the proceedings to be caught up in the politics of the country,” Sachs said.
Sachs, 83, in 2014 was awarded the inaugural Tang Prize in the Rule of Law for his contributions to the realization of the a free and democratic South Africa, including his role in drafting the postamble to the interim constitution of South Africa that laid down the legal framework for transitional justice, as well as human rights clauses.
In his speech, Sachs outlined how the court from 1984 to 1994 confronted the legacy of apartheid and gross violations of human rights as the African National Congress struggled for liberation in the 1980s.
The approach to restorative justice adopted by the court — which used amnesty as an incentive to encourage people to tell the truth at public hearings about their role in offenses — has seen “big gains” in South Africa, Sachs said.
Recounting one of the hearings broadcast on television at which a soldier cried as he told a person he tortured about the gruesome things he had done to him, Sachs said that the nation came to know what happened through the soldier’s voice and body language, not through evidence from archives or documents.
“His tears are important for our nation and we all remember that,” Sachs said, adding that this experience was the most powerful part of the court’s work.
Through the process, no one can deny that violations of human rights happened, Sachs said, adding that knowledge of history was converted into “acknowledgement” of the suffering that the nation must face.
“These are the big gains that we made in our society,” he said.
Transitional justice is not about punishment or forgetting the past, Sachs said.
“It is about remembering the past, understanding the past, making sure it doesn’t happen again and learning the moral issues and questions about the past,” he said.
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