High Court delivers not guilty verdict in Smangus case

The High Court yesterday passed down a not guilty verdict to three men from the Atayal village of Smangus. The verdict follows the Supreme Court decision in December last year that sent the case back to the High Court for another hearing.

The case concerned the use of wood from a tree that fell over on the road to Smangus in a September 2005 typhoon. The Forestry Bureau later removed the main part of the tree. The three men from Smangus then took the remaining tree stump for use in their village following a decision made at a community meeting. They were subsequently charged with theft of forest products under the Forestry Act.

Regarding the decision the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會) wrote on their blog:

This is not only victory and justice for Smangus after a long battle. It will also have major influence on the autonomous development of all indigenous communities. It also means that the nation’s justice system attaches importance to the basic human rights of indigenous peoples. [translated from Chinese by David]

The decision ends a legal battle that has gone on for more than four years. During this time the community of Smangus has consistently asserted its rights under the law, in particular Article 15 of the Forestry Act and the Indigenous Peoples’ Basic Law. The decision to bring the tree stump back to the village was also in accordance with the gaga, their system of traditional law.