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Taiwan Human Rights - History

Taiwan Human Rights - History

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A new minimum wage of NT$21,009 ($690) per month, or NT$133 ($4.36) per hour, will take effect in January 2018. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic workers.

Authorities defined the poverty level as 60 percent below the average monthly disposable income of the median household in a designated area. By this definition, the poverty level was a disposable monthly income of NT$15,544 ($509) per person in Taipei, NT$13,700 ($449) per person in New Taipei City, NT$12,941 ($424) per person in Kaohsiung, and NT$11,448 ($375) per person in all other areas.

As of January 2016, an amendment to the law stipulated new legal working hours of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, a reduction from the previous limit of eight hours per day and 84 hours biweekly. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the ministry are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, and hospital workers.

The law for health and safety standards was amended in 2013 to expand coverage from workers in 15 categories to employees in all industries, better protect female workers and those younger than age 18, prevent overworking, impose higher safety standards on the petroleum and chemical industries, and impose higher fines for violations.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the wage law. Violations of legal working hours were common in all sectors. In response authorities increased the number of inspections in 2016. The labor ministry’s 2016 labor inspection report found that 18.8 percent of inspected firms violated the law.

The Ministry of Labor increased the number of labor inspectors and also subsidized local authorities’ hiring of contract inspectors. NGOs and academics stated that the number of inspectors and labor inspection rate was still too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, although the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions said the situation had somewhat improved. Authorities can fine employers and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates announcing the names of offending companies to the public. Critics complained that violations continued and that the labor ministry did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.

As of November 2016 the law eliminates the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts. Advocates for this amendment said it would help alleviate the burden of brokerage and other fees foreign workers have to pay.

Household caregivers and domestic workers are not protected under the law and are not covered by a mandated minimum wage, overtime pay, limits on the workday or workweek, minimum breaks, or vacation regulations. Brokerage agencies often require workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs reported that the monthly take home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level.

Religious leaders continued to raise concerns that the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the island’s 231,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, who include a number of Muslims and Catholics who want to or believe they must attend religious services on a certain day of the week.

The approximately 600,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, were vulnerable to exploitation. Locally operated service centers to brief foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance, and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies. The Ministry of Labor may also permit foreign workers’ transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse. NGOs asserted, however, that foreign workers often were unwilling to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to reimburse debt accrued during the recruitment process.

The Ministry of Labor operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center (DHSC) and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Employers could also renew foreign workers’ employment contracts at the DHSC. NGOs said that complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation, and they advocated lifting restrictions on foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association complained that after 10 years of DHSC operation, the government was still unable to complete the direct recruitment objective for foreign workers. Red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to exploit profits from foreign workers.

There were numerous reports of exploitation and poor working conditions of foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association and other civil groups urged authorities and ship owners to better protect foreign fishermen.

Taiwan Fails to Learn From Its Own History

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The leader of China's ethnic Uyghur minority, Rebiya Kadeer, was recently banned from entering Taiwan for three years. Kadeer, a human rights advocate and spokesperson for millions of China's repressed Uyghurs, had been invited by a Taiwanese arts organization to attend screenings of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about her life story.

Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) government claimed its rejection of Kadeer was "based on security needs." Ostensibly, the KMT was pressured by the Communist Party in Beijing. The party has long tried to delegitimize Kadeer's campaign to expose the severe human rights violations that China commits against its ethnic Uyghurs. Chinese authorities have called Kadeer a "terrorist"--a term they frequently use to describe human rights advocates.

Such capitulation coming from Taiwanese leadership is disappointing. Their country is home to a remarkably free society with vibrant media, a strong civil society, and the rule of law. It has gone through a remarkable transition from autocracy to democracy. And given its shared culture and proximity, it is the brightest beacon for communicating progressive ideas to mainland China. Sad, then, that the KMT would send a disheartening signal to human rights activists by banning Ms. Kadeer.

Historically, the KMT governed with martial law under strongman Chiang Kai-shek. For 60 years it presided autocratically over the Republic of China, which was driven from China's mainland to Taiwan. At times its crackdown on dissent was so brutal that its predations became known as the "White Terror."

But over the last 25 years, the KMT opened up dramatically by building rule of law and allowing free elections. In 1986, Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed by an outspoken group of Chiang Kai-shek's critics, many of whom were former political prisoners. In 2000, for the first time in the Republic of China's 90-year history, this opposition came to power.

The DPP twice won the presidency and ruled until 2008. Its eight years in power were highlighted by unprecedented rhetoric and action on human rights--and new heights in cross-strait tensions. Today the KMT is back in power, led by President Ma Ying-jeou.

The primary debate between the two parties is over the relationship Taiwan should have with mainland China.

The DPP wants complete independence from China. It is highly critical of China's Communist Party, speaking out against Chinese human rights abuses and the thousands of Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan.

The KMT takes a diametrically opposite position, wanting to thaw a long-frozen diplomatic relationship with Beijing. It shares a status quo "one China, two governments" outlook with the Communist Party. President Ma is only able to interact with Chinese officials under the pretense of being the leader of just another Chinese party, rather than the leader of another country. Mockingly, they refuse to use the term "president" and instead refer to him as "Mr. Ma." The KMT, once engaged in a civil war with Mao Zedong, now sells figurines of the communist leader in Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

In seeking rapprochement and a better business relationship with Beijing, the KMT has been willing to remain silent about Chinese human rights abuses. In a speech last summer, President Ma praised the Communist Party for its human rights "improvements."

The KMT's recent behavior toward human rights defenders shows it has de-prioritized human rights. President Ma has cut off relations with some activists, rebuffing prominent Tiananmen Square protest leader Wang Dan last May. He also refused to meet the Dalai Lama on the spiritual leader's visit to the island last fall, and now his administration has forbid Kadeer from visiting.

The Uyghur leader explained to us that "it is unfortunate to see that KMT policy is increasingly mirroring Chinese policy on human rights. Under the Ma administration, all Chinese officials can freely travel to Taiwan. However, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was snubbed and I am prohibited from going there to attend a film screening."

The KMT can argue that by mending cross-strait relations and increasing Taiwanese interaction with mainland China, they will have a positive impact on human rights in China by forcing Beijing to liberalize.

But the true driver of KMT policy is mercantilism. China is a gigantic market for Taiwanese business, and better relations will undoubtedly create more wealth in Taiwan.

Kadeer warns that "downplaying human rights issues in pursuit of economic interests with the Chinese government is a mistake. At a time when the Ma administration is warming up to Beijing, the Communist Party is in the process of increasing the number of missiles targeting Taiwan to nearly 2,000 by the end of the year."

She believes, and it seems the case to us, that the DPP is "definitely more progressive on human rights issues."

Surprising, then, that we were invited to Taiwan not by the DPP but by the KMT's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the idea of building a human rights gathering in Taipei. The Taiwan Freedom Forum would be akin to the conference we organize in Norway each year that allows human rights defenders to share experiences and strategize. Our speakers are not known for pulling any punches--Kadeer gave this year's keynote address.

As soon as the MFA realized that our programming was openly critical of the Chinese government, however, their interest disappeared. Over the course of an hour-long lunch in Taipei with the head of the foreign ministry's NGO unit, we often talked human rights but the diplomat did not once raise the issue of China. In any other country this omission would not be too strange--but in Taiwan, where everything is seen through the lens of China, the silence was deafening.

Our MFA handler told us that the KMT "would not continue any discussion of a Freedom Forum," and that if we persisted we would be "troublemakers."

In response, we arranged to meet DPP officials and independent journalists who were more interested in hearing about our work. An hour after we visited the DPP's headquarters, the handler who had escorted us everywhere and taken notes on everything we said suddenly evaporated. Initially having been assigned to us for our entire stay, he had been "reassigned."

We met some whose agenda wasn't merely to ignore human rights, but to attack them. Our organization presented at Taipei's 6th East Asia NGO Forum, attended and endorsed by President Ma. Here we met a Belgian who leads an NGO regionally focused on aiding the handicapped. He told the audience that concern for human rights and democracy in China was "neo-colonialist" and was disrespectful to Chinese "customs."

In the same way other dictators around the world try to defend their rule, Chinese government officials argue that Chinese culture has special values, where elections and individual rights are unimportant.

The fact that Taiwan exists as an open democracy exposes this deceit. If the Taiwanese speak louder about their own experience and continue to compare their free society with China's, they can help dispel this myth altogether.

The Ma administration might turn its back on human rights because of narrow realpolitik, but it shouldn't discourage or prevent Taiwanese civil society from promoting these values by interacting with global activists such as Ms. Kadeer. It's thanks to human rights, after all, that Taiwan is as free, as open, and as prosperous as it is.

Thor Halvorssen is president of the Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Alex Gladstein is its vice president of strategy.


Taiwan under Japanese rule

Taiwan under the Republic of China

Some of the autocracy in early Nationalist China also reflects a continuation of the political attitudes of Taiwan in the early decades after its founding in 1912. Many Chinese leaders, following the thought of Sun Yat-sen, held it necessary to maintain strong centralized control, including a militarized regime, during the early part of the regime's history, feeling that the populace was "not ready" for full democracy. Political repression was heavy during the early Kuomintang-Taiwan period in the mainland under Chiang Kai-shek, who would retreat to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War.

Additionally, the history of Taiwan after 1945, in terms of political situation and human rights, displays multiple similarities with that of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Between the end of World War II and the 1990s, a similar degree of autocratic dictatorship and centralization existed, followed by some eventual democratization by two states. Even so, corruption remains a major issue in both countries.

The Asian values debate, which holds that the political and cultural traditions of Asia justify a certain degree of autocratic rule to enable the rapid economic development of society puts Taiwanese human rights in interesting perspective. These ideas were prevalent among many important leaders in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea, and elsewhere with seemingly democratic constitutions coupled with authoritarian one-party rule, in the 1990s. Moreover, some in mainland China, including Peking University scholar Pan Wei Bo, feel the most effective and appropriate political structure for the Chinese people is a relatively centralized state under rule of law, with some degree of popular consultation. There are also debates as to the government's right to police social behaviours. For instance, a Taiwanese municipal councillor suggested that Taiwan's low fertility rate could be alleviated by making employers penalise unmarried and childless workers this suggestion was widely rebuked for its infringement of the rights of the individual. [8]

Capital punishment exists in Taiwan and is still widely enforced. National police and security agencies are, however, under effective civilian control ever since the end of martial law, although isolated reports of human rights abuse still surface occasionally. Although the government has nominally generally respected the human rights of citizens however, there are still widespread problems in some areas. Instances of police abuse of persons in police custody, official corruption, violence and discrimination against women, child prostitution and abuse, and trafficking of women and children has occurred. [4] [5] [6] [7]

In recent years, Taiwan's laws have focused on combating sexual discrimination, granting greater accommodation to some conscientious objectors (Republic of China has obligatory national service), and upholding cultural and linguistic pluralism. [9] In 2001, the Ministry of Justice issued a draft version of the Basic Law On The Guarantees of Human Rights that was however not officially passed into law. [9]

For significant periods of Taiwan's history, both before and after 1949, when the Republic of China lost control of mainland China while only maintaining control of Taiwan, linguistic and cultural rights for minorities or non-power holding groups were often harshly repressed. For example, local dialects such as Taiwanese Minnan or Austronesian languages of the indigenous Taiwanese (or any other non-Mandarin spoken variants spoken by the Taiwanese) were censored and restricted in the state mass media to promote the use of Mandarin as the common and only language on the island. This policy is similar to what was practiced in Francoist Spain with the Spanish language. [10]

Biden raises human rights and Taiwan in his first call with China’s Xi

Then&ndashU.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping share a toast during a September 2015 luncheon at the State Department.

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President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held their first telephone call on Wednesday night, engaging in a wide-ranging conversation during which Biden said he had notably raised the question of “human-rights abuse” by Beijing.

  • Biden shared his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair practices, its crackdown in Hong Kong, reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” according to a summary of the call published by the White House.
  • “I told [Xi] I will work with China when it benefits the American people,” Biden later said on TwitterTWTR, +1.82% .

The outlook: The two leaders could be expected to lay down their views in their first phone call — and more important, in the accounts of it they chose to publish. But Biden confirms the U.S. policy toward China is likely to remain on the hard-line side on most issues at hand.

The China Daily recalls that the two men had met head-to-head a decade ago in China when both were still their countries’ respective vice presidents. The least that can be added is that the bilateral context, both economic and political, has changed since then.

Book on Taiwan and human rights, co-edited by William Alford, wins American Society of International Law award

&ldquoTaiwan and International Human Rights: A Story of Transformation,&rdquo edited by Harvard Law School Professor William P. Alford &rsquo77 Jerome A. Cohen, professor at New York University School of Law and Chang-fa Lo LL.M. &rsquo87 S.J.D. &rsquo89, former dean of the National Taiwan University Law School, was recognized by the American Society of International Law, also known as ASIL. In March at its annual meeting, ASIL awarded the book the 2021 Certificate of Merit in a Specialized Area of International Law.

The book&rsquos collected essays from a wide range of contributors tell the story of Taiwan&rsquos transformation from an authoritarian regime to a constitutional democracy. They point to what they report are the high standards of Taiwan&rsquos human rights protections even as Taiwan is barred from joining international human rights conventions.

According to the ASIL citation, the collection &ldquoaddresses a fascinating, challenging and understudied story in international human rights law &mdash how Taiwan, whose very status as a party to human rights treaties remains contested, engages with and internalizes human rights and domestic laws and practices.&rdquo

The volume also represents a collaboration between three generations of HLS affiliates, as Alford points out. Cohen, an expert in Chinese law who was formerly a professor at HLS, created the East Asian Legal Studies program at the school more than 50 years ago and was Alford&rsquos teacher. Alford, an expert in Chinese law and legal history, who heads EALS, now holds the Jerome A. and Joan L. Cohen Professorship of East Asian Legal Studies at the school. And Lo, who is now ambassador from Taiwan to the World Trade Organization and had been grand justice on Taiwan&rsquos highest court, studied with Alford at HLS.

Watch a discussion of the book featuring Alford, Cohen and Lo, hosted by the HLS library.

Mass surveillance

In January, the government introduced a series of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, some of which threatened the right to privacy. The government established a digital framework of mass surveillance and connected government databases, such as travel and health insurance records, for the purposes of tracking and tracing. Over 35 government departments were able to constantly monitor people’s movement and other activities, including the purchase of surgical masks, through this platform. The government provided few details about its use of the platform, nor specified when the data collection measures would end. 1

Why Taiwan’s Assistance to Hong Kong Matters

On July 1, Taiwan formally launched a new humanitarian assistance and resettlement program for Hong Kong residents. The move comes as Beijing tightens its grip on the city, most recently through the passage of a new national security law that allows mainland security forces to operate in the city and grants mainland courts jurisdiction over national security-related cases. The law was unanimously approved and promulgated by the Chinese government earlier this week, and Hong Kong police have already made their first arrests under it.

Shortly after beginning her second term in late May, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered assistance to people seeking to leave Hong Kong, calling on Taiwan’s legislature to develop a “humanitarian assistance action plan.” Last month, the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s governmental office for relations with the mainland, announced details of the program, framing it as Taiwan’s support for Hong Kong’s people in their defense of democracy, freedom, and human rights. That announcement prompted a stern response from Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which warned that “taking onto the island the rioters and elements who bring chaos to Hong Kong will only continue to bring harm to Taiwan’s people.”

On July 1, Taiwan formally launched a new humanitarian assistance and resettlement program for Hong Kong residents. The move comes as Beijing tightens its grip on the city, most recently through the passage of a new national security law that allows mainland security forces to operate in the city and grants mainland courts jurisdiction over national security-related cases. The law was unanimously approved and promulgated by the Chinese government earlier this week, and Hong Kong police have already made their first arrests under it.

Shortly after beginning her second term in late May, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered assistance to people seeking to leave Hong Kong, calling on Taiwan’s legislature to develop a “humanitarian assistance action plan.” Last month, the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s governmental office for relations with the mainland, announced details of the program, framing it as Taiwan’s support for Hong Kong’s people in their defense of democracy, freedom, and human rights. That announcement prompted a stern response from Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which warned that “taking onto the island the rioters and elements who bring chaos to Hong Kong will only continue to bring harm to Taiwan’s people.”

In fact, what Taiwan is doing solidifies a particular nationalist path that differs from others in Asia and has the potential to fundamentally alter the region’s power dynamics.

Taiwan’s recent move might look like a straightforward humanitarian response to the intensifying crisis in neighboring Hong Kong, but there’s more to the emerging policy framework than meets the eye. In fact, what Taiwan is doing solidifies a particular nationalist path that differs from others in Asia and has the potential to fundamentally alter the region’s power dynamics.

A comparison helps to make the distinctiveness of Taiwan’s approach clear. Taiwan has framed its assistance program as humanitarian, aimed at aiding the fight for democracy and human rights. While that might seem obvious, it contrasts with the way another democracy in the region, South Korea, characterizes its resettlement program for North Korean refugees: assisting ethnic brethren.

These differences reflect the divergent paths taken by Taiwan and South Korea in framing their national identities in recent years. Taiwan nationalism—the notion of Taiwan as a national community distinct from China—was forged during the period when the island was under martial law and ruled by the Kuomintang (KMT), the party that had fled mainland China after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party.

Despite shared Han roots, many islanders saw major cultural differences between themselves and the mainlanders (waishengren, or “out-of-province people”). But with democratization and generational turnover, the ethnic cleavage between mainlanders and islanders has largely faded, leaving a growing consensus in support of maintaining the status quo with China and a shared civic identity focused on Taiwan’s democratic status.

In recent years, the percentage of citizens who identify as solely Taiwanese, rather than Chinese or both, has reached an all-time high. Although that identity crosses party lines, it is particularly strong among the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the long-standing opposition party that pushed the KMT toward democratization and whose leader, Tsai Ing-wen, now holds the presidency. Tsai’s latest move further solidifies the civic basis of this identity: Rather than taking an ethnic or pan-Chinese approach, as it once did, Taiwan sees itself as a democratic nation, first and foremost.

In recent years, the percentage of citizens who identify as solely Taiwanese, rather than Chinese or both, has reached an all-time high.

South Korea, meanwhile, is stuck between old and new identities. The country is moving toward a “multicultural” Korea in many respects—something it acutely needs, as a dramatic decline in fertility has prompted an increased need for immigration and foreign labor. But when it comes to North Koreans, the state strictly upholds a co-ethnic principle: North Koreans are often spoken of as having “automatic citizenship” and receive preferential resettlement benefits not offered to multicultural immigrants or even to Korean-Chinese immigrants, or joseonjok.

The resettlement center for North Korean refugees is named Hanawon, or “house of unity,” a reference to the idea that Korea is a single nation based on shared Korean lineage and only temporarily divided into two opposing systems of governance by the tragedy of the Korean War. The ethnic dimension of Korean identity has remained durable, in part because it was how the nation survived when political autonomy was lost to Japan during the first half of the 20th century. But looking to the 21st century, South Korea’s ethnic exception toward North Koreans creates a dual-track approach, and it holds back its national identity from evolving to include the growing influx of foreigners, a trend that is inevitable given the country’s demographic realities.

The different paths taken by Taiwan and South Korea come with domestic and international trade-offs. Domestically, research shows that strong identity linkage between nation and state drives a greater sense of civic duty among citizens. At a moment when both democracies face integration challenges from their resettlement programs, they will need high levels of civic cooperation from native citizens. Taiwan’s identity consolidation toward civic nationalism stands to fare better at incorporating a diverse array of newcomers than South Korea’s approach, which uses multicultural rhetoric, but, in practice, remains fragmented and at least partly reliant on an ethnic conception of nationhood.

Human Rights Internet and China

Lulu Peng is a graduate student in the Communications Department at the University of Connecticut. She interned at the Archives & Special Collections in the fall of 2014. Her project utilized her skills in Mandarin Chinese to identify and describe content on China in the Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection.

The Collection is so extensive and to some extent, invaluable in that it records the human rights predicament and movements in different corners of the world. The correspondence, flyers, reports and publications altogether sketch a unique part of the human rights history. These materials, dating back to the late 70s, 80s and the early 90s, demonstrate each aspect of human rights struggle, against death penalty, extrajudicial execution, violence towards minorities, gender inequalities and so on. It is intriguing to observe the encounter of the essentially obscure history and the honest pieces that compose it, as shown in the letters written by the former Vice President of Taiwan, Lu Hsiu-lien to Laurie Wiseberg, and the letters to the Human Rights Internet (HRI) concerning the June Fourth Incident in Beijing 1989, for instance.

Taiwan’s human rights progress a matter of ‘facing history’: Tsai

President Tsai Ing-wen said Saturday that Taiwan had deepened its commitment to human rights over the past four years, but said the country must continue facing up to the past if it is to build a better future.

In a ceremony at the National Human Rights Museum in Taipei ahead of international Human Rights Day on December 10, Tsai laid out the progress her administration has made to guarantee human rights and redress historical wrongs since taking office in 2016.

First, she said, Taiwan has established an organisation to promote transitional justice, which has worked to overturn the convictions of victims of political persecution, published historical investigations, and popularised the concept of transitional justice among the general public.

At the same time, the government has announced the Political Archives Act, providing a legal basis for the inventory and release of political and intelligence documents from Taiwan’s period of authoritarian rule and martial law, she said.

Second, Tsai said, Taiwan has founded the National Human Rights Museum, which has won international renown not only for its for static exhibits and research, but also its collaborations in the fields of literature, art,music and theater.

Taiwan has also set up the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which fully adheres to the United Nations’ Paris Principles on the responsibilities of national human rights institutions, she said.

NHRC head Chen Chu is herself a former political prisoner, Tsai added, making her uniquely capable of understanding the pressure and pain that many victims of government prosecution and their family members face.

Speaking of the significance of the three institutions, Tsai said: “Only when we face up to the pain in our history and resolve to stop repeating it can we come together to build a common future.”

During her own remarks, Chen recalled the six years and two months she spent as a political prisoner in the 1980s, and said it fills her with hope to see the government treating historical human rights abuses with the seriousness they deserve.

A Look Back at Taiwan’s 1979 Kaohsiung Incident

The Kaohsiung Incident of 1979 was a watershed in Taiwan’s political and social history. At the time, it was barely noticed internationally, but it has since been recognized as one of the key events that helped the island transition to democracy. Perhaps most importantly, it galvanized both local and overseas Taiwanese into political action and awareness.

The incident started out as the first major Human Rights Day celebration of Taiwan. Until that year, the authorities had never allowed any public expression of discontent, but in the summer of 1979, they relented, at which time two opposition magazines were established: Formosa Magazine and The Eighties. Formosa Magazine quickly became the rallying point for the budding democratic movement and a means to resist the government.

During the fall of 1979, Formosa Magazine had become increasingly outspoken and the upcoming Human Rights Day was an obvious opportunity to further express its views on the lack of democracy and human rights in Taiwan. Before the event even started, the atmosphere had become tense because of increasingly violent attacks by right-wing extremists on offices of the magazine and homes of leading staff members.

The first three issues of Formosa magazines. (Photo by Christopher Adams)

The magazine’s Kaohsiung Center had applied several times for a permit to hold a human rights forum at an indoor stadium, but all the requests were denied. In response, it was decided to hold the demonstration at the Kaohsiung headquarters instead. Unofficial estimates said the demonstration involved between 10,000 and 30,000 people, and it was always intended as a peaceful call for human rights. However, several hours before the event had even started, the military police, the army, and the police had already taken up positions.

When the event took place during the evening, the military police marched forward and closed in on the demonstrators, and then they retreated back to their original position. This tactic was repeated two or more times with the purpose of causing panic and fear in the crowd. Despite calls for calm by the protest leaders, the crowd of protestors was eventually goaded into retaliating. There are several reports that pro-government instigators were also responsible for inciting violence between the two groups. Regardless of how exactly it started, the police encircled the crowd and started using teargas and violent physical force.

Newspaper reports right after the event stated that in the ensuing confrontations, more than 90 civilians and 40 policemen were injured. However, the authorities produced figures of 182 policemen and one civilian injured. Although most injuries were relatively minor, the authorities played up the injuries on the police side, sending high officials and actresses to the hospitals to comfort the injured policemen to create a publicity stunt.

More seriously, three days later, the authorities used the incident as an excuse to arrest virtually all well-known opposition leaders. They were held incommunicado for two months, during which time reports of severe ill-treatment filtered out of the prisons.

Seven of the “Kaoshiung Eight” in court for their sentencing (from left to right: Chang Chun-hung, Huang Shin-chieh, Chen Chu, Yao Chia-wen, Shih Ming-teh, Annette Lu, Lin Hung-hsuan).

The arrested persons were subsequently tried in three separate groups: In March–April 1980, the eight most prominent leaders (the “Kaohsiung Eight”) were tried in military court and were sentenced to terms ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment in April–May 1980, a second group of 33 persons (the “Kaohsiung 33”), who had taken part in the Human Rights Day gathering, was tried in civil court and sentenced to terms ranging from two to six years.

A third group of ten persons associated with the Presbyterian Church was accused of helping the main organizer of the demonstration, Mr. Shih Ming-teh, when he was in hiding because he feared torture and immediate execution. Most prominent among this group was Dr. Kao, the general-secretary of the Presbyterian Church. Dr. Kao was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and the others received lesser sentences.

The importance of the incident is the fact that it totally changed the political landscape of Taiwan. Taiwanese generally became more politically aware, and the public was forced to take a side in the incident. The movement that grew out of the incident subsequently formed the foundation for the present-day democratic opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and its overseas support network of Taiwanese organizations in North America and Europe. Virtually all leading members of today’s democratic opposition had a role in the event, either as defendants or as defense lawyers.

Looking at the history of this event, it’s not hard to draw parallels between Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Incident and Gwangju’s May 18 Democratic Uprising. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky: The way things change is by lots of people working [and suffering]. They’re working to build up the basis for popular movements that are going to make changes. That’s the way everything has always happened in history, whether it was the end of slavery or a democratic revolution, anything you want, you name it, that’s the way it worked.

The Author
Stephen is a South African who has been living and working in Korea for the past six years. He’s lived all over Korea, from the smallest towns in Jeollanam-do to the center of Seoul. He’s passionate about education, history, and language.

Watch the video: Η ιστορία των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων (May 2022).


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