Sunday, December 28, 2008

Taiwan removed from rights Web site [UPDATED]

By J. Michael Cole and Jenny W. Hsu

Last month Taiwan was removed from the list of countries appearing on the Web site of the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch. Prior to the removal, Taiwan had appeared under the “Asia” rubric of the site. At present, 23 countries are listed in the “Asia” section, with China and Tibet appearing under the same head. Other prominent rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, continue to monitor Taiwan and have in recent weeks published reports on such matters as excessive use of force by police and threats to the independence of the media.

Human Rights Watch wrote on its Web site that: “In assessing trouble spots, we take into consideration the severity of the crimes being committed, the numbers of those affected and our potential to have impact.”

Taiwan has been listed throughout the 2000s, although reports of human rights violations were scarce. Its removal coincided with warnings by rights watchdogs, religious organizations, non-profit organizations, academics and various governments of possible human rights violations by the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration.

Requests from the Taipei Times for comment by Human Rights Watch on the removal have not been answered.

Full article, with section by Jenny W. Hsu, continues here.

I also sent a series of e-mails, using both my personal and Taipei Times account, during the violence and rights violations that surrounded the visit to Taipei last month of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chen Yunlin (陳雲林). All went unanswered or as much as acknowledged.

In the “How do we decide which countries to focus on” FAQ section (partly quoted in the article), HRW asserts that “Although we outline a plan of action each year, we stay flexible, knowing that unforeseen crises will unfold and that we will sometimes need to quickly deploy emergency researchers. The more resources we have, the more trouble spots we cover.” The key phrase in this excerpt is “we stay flexible, knowing that unforeseen crises will unfold.” If flexibility and the assumption — sadly a correct one — that crises will emerge unexpectedly are part of HRW's planning, then why remove Taiwan? It is one thing not to write regular reports on Taiwan for lack of resources, but quite another to altogether remove the country from its list of potential trouble spots, as if the place didn’t exist anymore. The timing is a little conspicuous.

Two theories:

(a) While HRW does not receive direct funding from governments, private citizens and organizations provide it with about US$23 million annually. It is not impossible that some governments use front organizations, or quasi-governmental organizations, to provide funding. Given the focus HRW has paid on rights abuses in China in past years, it is not unlikely that Taiwanese donors, or indirectly the Taiwanese government, has been a donor. Seeking to avoid bad publicity as it commits rights abuses in the name of engineering better ties with Beijing, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, or donors under its influence, may have threatened to withhold donations should HRW continue to list Taiwan as a potential rights abuser. As HRW is not bound by law to reveal the identities of its donors, this theory cannot be proven (in my view, this is the least likely scenario);

(b) As mentioned above, HRW has been very active in China. In light of Beijing’s tight control on who can and cannot visit the country, interview people and write critical reports on what’s going on in China, it is very likely that Beijing would have used that influence to impose conditions on HRW — if you want to continue to have access in China, you must stop mentioning Taiwan, which dovetails with its “one China” policy and its continued efforts to “internalize” Taiwan by whittling away at its international presence. As there are far more rights abuses in China than in Taiwan, HRW’s choice would have been an easy one to make.


David said...

I thought (b) was probably the likely reason too. Has HRW responded at all to the Taipei Times article?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...


No response whatsoever to my TT article, despite the fact that it appears to have been widely circulated. I have gotten in touch with some of my contacts within the HR/humanitarian assistance community in seeking answers.