A total of 1,505 people who were unjustly convicted during the authoritarian era were yesterday exonerated in a traditional Atayal ritual attended by Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁).
Of the people exonerated, 27 were Aborigines who were unjustly tried in the aftermath of the 228 Incident or during the White Terror era, Chen said at the event held in New Taipei City’s Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park.
Many of them were very young when they were convicted and some were executed, he said, adding that it was deeply humiliating and traumatic for the victims and their families.
Photo: Chen Yu-fu, Taipei Times
Although many of the exonerated people have passed away, the government still has to ensure that the guilty verdicts from the unjust trials are revoked, Chen said.
Taiwan should be a nation of justice and integrity, and the government must tackle the history of injustice head-on, he added.
The event coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it even more significant, Chen said.
Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times
Promoting transitional justice demands not only exonerating the victims of political persecution, but also restoring historical truth clarifying responsibilities and promoting human rights education, he said.
To realize transitional justice, the government has established the Transitional Justice Commission, passed the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義條例) and built human rights museums, Chen said, adding that it would also clarify responsibilities for human rights violations.
Taiwan must learn from its past and improve its human rights record, as well as laws and education, he said, adding that he hopes Taiwan can become “a beacon of human rights in Asia.”
A Sbalay ritual was held at the event, with Atayal Watan Tanaga singing a traditional song in the Atayal language and blessing the attendants.
The ritual could be understood as the pursuit of truth, which is similar to the government’s goal of achieving transitional justice, the commission said.
Reconciliation cannot be achieved by offering a one-time apology, but rather requires a process of sophisticated negotiations and meaningful dialogue, it added.
Novelist Yang Kui (楊逵), best known for his work The Newspaper Man (新聞配達夫) — which was first written in Japanese — was among the people exonerated.
Yang was imprisoned for 12 years for publishing “The Declaration of Peace” in 1949, in which he called for freedom of speech and urged the government to release political prisoners.
Although Yang passed away in 1985 at the age of 79, his granddaughter, acting commission chairperson Yang Tsui (楊翠), said that his exoneration means a lot to her family, especially her parents.
They can “now make peace with themselves,” Yang Tsui said, adding that Yang Kui’s five children, some of whom are in their 80s, have been haunted by their experiences during the White Terror era.
The commission, established in May, on Oct. 5 exonerated 1,207 people who had been unjustly convicted.
Over the next four months, the commission is to exonerate about 10,000 more victims of political persecution.
Additional reporting by CNA
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