More than a month has passed since Freedom House released its annual report in Taipei. Freedom House’s report on the state of political rights and civil liberties did not make any changes to Taiwan’s score based on events that happened during 2008. However, the staff of Freedom House did express concern and said, “2009 is really a critical year for Taiwan in our evaluation.”
Freedom House did not escape criticism for its evaluation from within Taiwan. Michael Turton labelled their report, “A missed opportunity, and absolutely shameful” for its failure to censure the government over the events that occurred in the latter half of 2008. A Taiwan News editorial (15 January 2009) also noted, “it is quite possible that Freedom House’s decision to refrain from even delivering a symbolic wrist slap… will foster a sense of impunity among KMT leadership ranks”.
My own impression of Freedom House is that it takes a conservative academic approach rather than being activist in nature. It is hesitant to make statements unless there is a strong body of evidence not only of human rights problems, but of a failure by government to adequately address the problems. In 2008 the problems arose, now it is becoming more obvious in 2009 that the government is failing to to take sufficient measures to address these problems.
Christoper Walker and Sarah Cook, two staff members of Freedom House, have written an article in today’s Taipei Times that further reiterates the concerns expressed last month.
On a recent visit, however, it was clear that while democracy continues to flourish, a number of serious concerns have arisen that threaten to shake public confidence in the country’s democratic institutions.
Our meetings with senior officials of both major political parties, as well as leaders of Taiwan’s diverse non-governmental organizations and academic community, revealed a palpable sense that the political system is becoming less transparent and more exclusive.
The article goes on to details concerns about the impartiality of the judicial system and the lack of transparency of investigations into police actions during the visit of Chen Yunlin. It then clearly spells out how the government can take action to address Freedom House’s concerns. In reference to investigations of the Chen Yunlin Incident it says,
Comprehensive reports and regular status updates should be published of any investigations carried out by key government bodies, including the Control Yuan, the police and other agencies, irrespective of the political orientation of their subjects.
This article from Freedom House should be a warning to the government that Freedom House is not merely concerned about the situation in Taiwan but is actively monitoring it. Although it may be another 11 months before Freedom House releases its next annual report the government needs to act on these issues with greater haste.