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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
- Earlier this week a coalition of rights organisations issued a ‘shadow report’ on Taiwan’s compliance with two international human rights covenants, which it incorporated into domestic law in 2009, probing the country’s track record on human rights.
Liao Fu-teh, associate research fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Law, who edited the shadow report, said, “The government itself thinks it is in fine health, but from the standpoint of civil society we find that its body may have high blood pressure and even some worrisome tumours.”
The ‘Taiwan Human Rights Report 2011: Shadow Reports on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) from NGOs’ published by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and Covenants Watch, a coalition of over 60 civil organisations, was formally released on May 22.
“We probably set a record in responding to a national human rights report with a shadow report within one month,” said Covenant Watch Convenor Kao Yung-cheng.
The official report was released Apr. 20, by President and ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, just over three years after Taiwan’s national legislature ratified the ICCPR and ICESCR and enacted an “implementation law” for their domestic application, effective Dec. 10, 2009.Liao said the official report failed to incorporate the numerous “general comments” drafted by the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the ICCPR and by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for the ICESCR, which provide concrete interpretations of the content of human rights provisions on major thematic issues.
“The government thus is unable to have a complete understanding of how these covenants are supposed to be applied to many substantive issues,” Liao added, noting that the Taiwan government has yet to even publish a full Chinese-language edition of the general comments for use by government agencies.
Kao said the civil shadow report responded to numerous shortcomings in the KMT government’s official report, raised human rights issues not mentioned in the government’s review and offered specific recommendations for improvement on each article.
With regard to the ICCPR, the shadow report reviewed the KMT government’s human rights performance in the fields of: the right to self-determination, the right to life, prohibition of torture, prohibition of human slavery, personal freedom, the rights of liberty of movement and residence, the right to privacy, the rights of freedom of expression and news freedom, the rights of assembly and association, the rights of children, the right of political participation and the rights of minority peoples.
With regard to the ICESCR, the shadow report dealt with human rights problems in the fields of: the rights of work, working conditions and labour rights, the right to a suitable standard of living, the right to health and the right to receive education and the need to address various types of discrimination.
With regard to the right to self-determination, enshrined in the first article of both covenants, the shadow report related that the government had failed to grant equal treatment for Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, that the KMT government had even violated many if not most of the articles of the ‘Indigenous Peoples Basic Law’ and that a draft bill introduced by the KMT for indigenous peoples self-government would actually abrogate the land rights of indigenous peoples.
Moreover, the shadow report noted that the stiff 50 percent voter turnout quorum and the vetting of referendum topics by a referendum review committee in January 2004 had “added difficultly on to difficulty for the exercise by people of the right to direct democracy.”
Such rules have effectively stymied citizen efforts to use referendums to resolve major public policy controversies – such as whether to continue construction of a fourth nuclear power plant – and have blocked efforts by the Dawu indigenous people on Orchid Island (Lanyu) to secure the removal of a low- level radioactive waste storage facility established without permission of the residents.
With regard to the right to life in Article Six, the report urged the government to respect the U.N. “Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of those Facing the Death Penalty,” including by prohibiting the execution of psychologically or mentally impaired convicts; establish a clear and complete procedure for appeals for clemency; and review whether current procedures and standards for determining death sentences are in keeping with the ICCPR.
Citing capital punishment cases in which convictions and sentences were based on confessions extracted using torture, the shadow report reminded the government that States bound by the ICCPR are obliged to prohibit mistreatment or torture of suspects, provide channels for appeal and reparations for torture victims and improve the provision of medical care for convicts or other persons under detention.
The shadow report also stated that Taiwan’s attempts to prevent human trafficking were “full of problems”, including grossly inadequate shelter facilities and interpretation and protection services for victims and insufficient training of staff in related labour affairs and judicial agencies.
With regard to the right of liberty and security ensured by Article 9 of the ICCPR, the shadow report called on the government to expunge current rules that permit extended (and in some cases indefinite) detention for persons suspected of “serious crimes”.
The shadow report devoted considerable space to Article 19 of the ICCPR and noted that the government document “did not seriously address the problems encountered in Taiwan regarding freedom of expression and news freedom.”
“Although Taiwan is disadvantaged by being isolated from the U.N. system, we have an opportunity to show some leadership in innovation and obtain a deeper and more profound review of our human rights situation than can be done by the overburdened UNHRC,” said Peter Huang Wen-hsiung, former president of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
Huang stated that a seven-person committee of civil organisation representatives and members of the presidential human rights advisory commission has been formed to map out procedures for the review and to choose a panel of prominent human rights specialists to review Taiwan’s national report and submissions of shadow and alternative NGO reports.