Lawmakers and people affected by urban renewal projects lashed out at Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) yesterday for saying that the right to housing does not extend to people living on a property illegally.
Jiang made the remarks last week as he responded to the conclusions drawn by members of an international human rights organization who were invited by the government to review Taiwan’s implementation of and adherence to the tenets of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In their report, the rights experts suggested that the government needed to better protect the right to housing, citing the ongoing forced eviction of residents of the Huaguang Community (華光) as an example.
Jiang said that this right is not guaranteed for those who are living illegally on government-owned land, adding that the reviewers cited the Huaguang case because they are not familiar with Taiwanese law and thus do not understand the context of the evictions.
“It’s the premier who does not know the context or the law, not the foreign experts on human rights,” Huaguang resident Lin Ya-chi (林雅琪) told a press conference at the Legislative Yuan. “The experts were well-prepared for the review; some of them came to Taiwan a month in advance to research the country and its legal system. They have visited our community and spoken with us, but Jiang has never even set foot in our community.”
Most Huaguang residents are former soldiers or descendants of former soldiers who escaped to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime in 1949, when the regime lost the Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communist Party.
Because they did not have a place to stay, the soldiers and their descendants have been unofficially allowed to live on the government-owned plot of land for decades.
However, the Taipei City Government recently told the residents they had to leave to make way for an urban renewal development and were handed a lawsuit by the Ministry of Justice — the property owner — for “illegally occupying” government land.
“We’ve lived here for generations, we’ve never owed a penny in taxes, but now the Ministry of Justice is kicking us out, and it’s not just kicking us out, it’s suing us, asking us to pay NT$510,000 a month in back rent for the past five years,” Lin said. “The Ministry of Justice is supposed to be in charge of overseeing the implementation of the two covenants since their adoption as domestic law, yet it is taking the lead in breaking the very laws it is charged with upholding.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said that the government was handling the issue in accordance with the principle of respecting private property.
“But the point is that the protection of the right to housing, as stated in the two covenants, enjoys a higher status than protecting private ownership,” he said. “Protection of ownership and protection of the right to housing are two separate things — the government should stop mixing the two up.”
DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) said Huaguang residents are willing to move if the government devised a satisfactory resettlement plan for them, as they have asked it to.
Wang Jui-ying (王瑞霙), who was also affected by urban renewal projects, said Jiang’s remark were only an excuse. Wang Jui-ying is a member of the Wang (王) family, whose two houses in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) were torn down last year against their will by a construction firm to make way for new apartment buildings.
“Jiang said that protecting the right to housing does not extend to illegal residents, but then why were our legally owned houses torn down just because a construction firm wanted the land for an urban renewal project?” Wang said.
“The two cases prove that, as long as the government or a construction firm wants the land, your house could be taken from you, whether it’s legal or illegally owned,” he added.