The Supreme Court last month ruled on the Smangus Beech Tree case sending the case back to the High Court for a reexamination. The news seems to have been almost ignored by Taiwan’s media, but Taiwan Indigenous Television provided some good reporting. In addition to embedding a video of the English news report from TITV Weekly, I have also translated a report (中文) from Taiwan Indigenous Television which provides more details.
On 7 December the Supreme Court repealed the verdict of the second hearing in the Smangus Beech Tree Case. The original verdict in the second hearing found the three Atayal men who moved a wind fallen beech tree back to their village were guilty. In addition the Supreme Court emphasised that there should be respect for indigenous peoples’ traditional customs. It was the first time since the beginning of the Smangus beech tree case that the judge’s verdict had included the wording of “indigenous peoples’ traditional territory”. It affirmed indigenous peoples’ right to use their traditional territory. It also raised the spirits of the Smangus community.
…the Supreme Court repealed the original verdict and sent the entire case back to the High Court for reexamination.
The Supreme Court’s verdict especially emphasised that indigenous peoples’ traditional customs possess historical origins and distinct cultural features. In order to promote equality and good relations between ethnic groups and sustainable development there needs to be consideration of pluralism and different cultures. Especially within “indigenous peoples’ traditional territory” activities conducted according to traditional customs should be given suitable respect, within a reasonable limit, to guarantee indigenous peoples’ basic rights. This was the first time the wording “indigenous peoples’ traditional territory” had been used to emphasize that indigenous peoples lifestyle and customs must be respected. The members of Smangus believe that although the entire case has still not overturned the guilty verdict, after more than three years of efforts there has been some result.
In addition the judge’s verdict stated that according to Article 15, Section 4 of the Forestry Act that in forest areas in indigenous peoples traditional territory, indigenous people could take forest products for the requirements of their lifestyle and customs. The area, type, time should be in accordance with the management regulations decided by the central government in conjunction with the central authority of the indigenous peoples. The verdict also cited the Article 19, Section 1 of the Indigenous Peoples’ Basic Law that indigenous people in indigenous areas could collect wild plants and fungus according to the law.
The important point is that the judge has recognised that the previous court hearings didn’t give proper consideration to the existing laws which recognise the rights of indigenous people to collect forest products on their traditional territory. The verdict stated that the Forestry Bureau and Council of Indigenous Peoples had not had not set down regulations to specify the rights of indigenous peoples in Article 15 of the Forestry Act and Article 19 of the Indigenous Peoples’ Basic Law. This is a major step towards the recognition of indigenous rights in Taiwan’s courts.