Amid widespread public outrage over possible abuse and disregarding of human rights in the military catalyzed by the death of army conscript Hung Chung-chiu’s (洪仲丘), Chen Pi-e (陳碧娥), the mother of Huang Kuo-chang (黃國章) said: “As a mother of a victim [Huang also died while doing his compulsory military service], I can truly feel the Hung family’s pain.”
Hung, who was set to be discharged on July 6, was placed in detention barracks on June 28 for having brought a camera-equipped phone onto the base without permission, which is normally seen as a minor infraction.
He collapsed on July 3 while doing punishment drills and died the next day. An autopsy showed that the 24-year-old died of a heatstroke.
“The tragedy of Hung’s death can be used as an opportunity to push the military to improve its adherence to human rights,” Chen said in an interview with the Taipei Times on Monday.
“Hung’s death exposes dark sides in the military,” said Chen, who now runs the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights in the Military.
Chen recounted how one day in 1995, she received a letter from her son while he was completing his military service on a naval vessel, asking her “to rescue him.”
Chen got in contact with Huang’s vice captain and was told that her son was being bullied by senior officers. The vice captain promised to take care of the matter, Chen said.
Shortly after the vessel went to sea, Chen received a telephone call from the navy saying that Huang could not handle the pressure and hardship of serving on a vessel and had he jumped into the sea and drowned.
A couple of months later, a Chinese fisherman discovered Huang’s body along the beach of China’s Fujian Province. Chen went to Fujian and had the authorities perform an autopsy on the body, which revealed a big nail in his head.
Chen said she then asked the navy to investigate Huang’s death, but years passed and she never received an answer.
Her son’s death launched Chen on her quest to ensure the protection human rights in the military.
In 1997, Chen found the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights in the Military, designating her cellphone and home phone numbers to serve as complaint hotlines.
“On average, I receive more than 100 complaint cases each year,” Chen said.
“When I receive a complaint, I try to bring the family of the soldiers to meet with the solder’s superiors. We go over the problem carefully and negotiate with military officials reasonably,” she said.
“After having doene this for many years, I have gained military’s trust and established a good cannel of communication with it that helps me to assist those who need help,” Chen said.
“In the military, political warfare officials take care of the soldiers’ everyday lives and deal with their complaints. In some cases, we meet good political warfare officials who really cared about their soldiers and did things to resolve their problems,” she said.
However, in other cases in which the superiors involved genuinely do not care about their soldiers, or who are going to transfer to other position or retire from the military soon, they have no intentions of resolving the problems and as a result, serious incidents might follow due to possible negligence, she added.
Chen acknowledged there were also cases where soldiers made fake complaints to either get revenge on their superiors, because they could not handle military life or other reasons.
“So we have to review each case very carefully,” she said.
Saying that there are always good and bad superiors in the military, Chen said that “we can not depend on people to just change, we need to implement a set of policies.”
Only with the full separation of the military judicial system from the military could a justice be established in the military, she added.
“For years I have though that separating the judiciary from the military is the key for human rights reform in the armed forces and I have tried to persuade lawmakers to establish an independent judicial system for the military, but no one has shown any interest in such an establishment.”
“Now, the case of Hung’s suspicious death could be a turning point in propelling efforts to have military abuse cases investigated and tried by a civilian judiciary,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chen questioned the effectiveness of the military’s promise to reform its 1985 hotline system by having its discipline and ethics sections in legions replace the section in companies so they can handle complaint cases directly.
“The military’s discipline and ethics section is responsible for probing complaint cases, but since Taiwan’s military has conducted a large-scale downsize, manpower in the discipline and ethics section has been significantly reduced,” Chen said, adding that “As I know, not many experienced officials still stay in these sections, only a very who are able to handle tough cases and pass their experiences to new comers.”