Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So much for Human Rights Day

Perhaps the Ma administration should spend a few NT dollars re-educating its officials on Democracy and Human Rights 101

By a chilly Dec. 10 day, the skies over Taipei covered in a thick pall of particulates from China, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) once again waxed philosophical about the benefits of peace and human rights in a speech held to coincide with international human rights day. Outside in the real world, his administration would once again remind us that action, not mere rhetoric, will ensure that everybody’s human rights are respected.

Where to begin...? Just as Ma was delivering his speech, a 37-year-old Vietnamese woman who had married to a Taiwanese in Keelung was seeing her Republic of China (ROC) citizenship revoked after it was revealed that she had had an extramarital affair. Citing Article 19 of the Nationality Act, the Ministry of the Interior determined that her actions constituted a failure to demonstrate her “good character.”  (Working in a hostess bar and engaging in criminal activity are other types of misbehavior that can lead to the cancellation of a naturalized citizen’s citizenship in Taiwan.) Under the current law, which legislators have been dragging their feet trying to revise, foreigners who obtain ROC citizenship must demonstrate their “good morals” over the subsequent five years, or risk seeing their citizenship revoked.

Of course, Taiwan’s race-based concept of citizenship means that the requirements for “good morals” do not apply to ROC citizens. After all, the philandering — pardon, “good morals” — of Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), the man who heads the very ministry that is threatening to strip the woman of her citizenship, is very well known to the public.

As she had forsaken her Vietnamese citizenship, the woman, who arrived in Taiwan eight years ago, now finds herself stateless. As do her two young daughters.

But more clouds hung over Taiwan on that fateful day. Later in the afternoon, a small group of individuals from the Black Island Youth Alliance, along with academics, activists and friends, gathered in front of the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office to show their support for Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Wei Yang (魏揚). The pair had recently been indicted for violations to the (antiquated) Assembly and Parade Act during a July 31 protest against the controversial cross-strait services trade agreement outside the Legislative Yuan, a protest organized after members of the organization were barred from attending public hearings for the agreement.

Wei being hospitalized following a motorcycle accident in late November — which he blamed on fatigue after following ARATS Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) around — his mother, Yang Cui (楊翠), filled in for him.

A mother speaks out
In a brief speech prior to going into the prosecutors office, Yang, a professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, pointed out the irony of serving as emcee for President Ma during human rights day just last year (her grandfather, a famous writer, was a victim of 228 and the white terror). One year later, here she was, standing in the cold outside the prosecutors’ office, defending her son’s actions.

Besides her, legal experts and activists held placards detailing how Article 29 of the Assembly and Parade Act (“where an assembly or a parade is not dispersed after an order to disperse by the competent authority is given, and is still in progress in disobedience of an order to stop, the chief violator shall be subject to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years”) violated the two U.N. covenants signed by Taiwan, a fact that the Ma administration has itself acknowledged but refuses to amend or strike out altogether.

Ma having requested that all hearings about the services trade agreement be completed by the end of this year, we should expect more “violations” to the Law over the coming weeks as activists continue to pressure the government. Need more irony? Criminals like Chang An-le (張安樂) walk freely, but student activists like Lin and Wei (and many others) are indicted and must fight in the courts…

As if this wasn’t enough, an official from the Water Resources Agency sent out to meet protesters in the morning who were calling on the WRA to prevent a foreign wind turbine firm (InfraVest) from continuing construction along coastal areas in Miaoli County showed nothing but contempt for people’s right to protest and to assemble. After grabbing the microphone (this from the account of someone who was present at the scene) the official all but said that the demonstrators were able to hold their protest because the government had allowed it. As if protests were not a democratic right, but government charity. Perhaps the Ma administration should spend a few NT dollars re-educating its officials on Democracy and Human Rights 101.

Human rights are everyday matters, not just vague concepts and words thrown about by state leaders on human rights day. While Taiwan’s human rights situation is far, far better than in many other places within the region, there is reason to worry. There are ample signs of regression, and if nobody does anything about it, it will get worse. (Photos by the author)

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