Homophobia must be condemned

I had a short letter published in the Taipei Times today. The letter was written in response to a group of so-called religious leaders in Taiwan campaigning against same-sex marriage. The Taipei Times have also made the issue the subject of its editorial today.

I would also like to remind people of the positive example set by Ven. Chao-hwei (釋昭慧) who hosted a wedding for a lesbian couple at Hongshi Buddhist College last year. That is a true example of religious leadership.

I was disturbed to read of some Taiwanese religious leaders speaking out against same-sex marriage (“Same-sex marriage criticized,” Sept. 19, page 2). The claims they make about same-sex marriage and homosexuality are not only ridiculous, they are a form of hate speech.

The homophobic views being promoted by these religious organizations create hatred and division within society. They cause real harm to gay people who are the target of their attacks.

Fortunately not all religious groups in Taiwan share these extreme views. However, it is important that they condemn the words of these so-called religious leaders. A clear message needs to be sent that preaching homophobia is totally unacceptable.

David Reid

DFAT documents on human rights in Taiwan

Last year I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) via the website Right to Know. The purpose of the request was to find out about Australian government’s attitude toward and monitoring of human rights issues in Taiwan. In particular the request focused on information regarding the detention and trial of former president Chen Shui-bian and other officials from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on corruption related charges.

After several months the documents have been released by DFAT. There were a total of 24 cables from the Australian Office Taipei in the release. They cover the period from May 2008, when President Ma Ying-jeou took office, to January this year.

The cables reveal several matters which were of particular interest to Australia. The first of these was the PNG bribery scandal. This involved a payment of US $30 million dollars to two middlemen in Singapore in an attempt to gain “diplomatic recognition” from PNG. The scandal resulted in then Vice-Premier Chiou I-jen and Minister for Foreign Affairs James Huang resigning in May 2008, shortly before President Chen Shui-bian’s term expired.

The cable dated 7 May 2008 notes that, “the most likely explanation for the whole affair would seem to be that [Huang and Chiou] were taken in by two conmen.” This analysis has proved correct although it was not until June 2012 that Chiou was found not guilty in the High Court. Continue reading

My letter to the Taipei Times about Chen Shui-bian

My letter urging the government of Taiwan to grant medical parole was published in the Taipei Times today. I have been concerned about the treatment of Chen Shui-bian for some time. The recent reports issued by the Control Yuan and international group of human rights experts* highlight that the government has treated Chen poorly and must redress the situation. The text of my letter is below. Please also read this excellent polemic on the disgraceful state of Taiwan’s justice system published in the Taipei Times a couple of days ago.

For many months now, I have been closely following reports in the Taipei Times about the health of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). I have felt dismayed by the decline in his health in recent months.

Video released recently provides evidence of the deterioration of Chen’s condition. I was also shocked to read that Chen was unable to attend a court hearing because he could not speak properly (“Church lambasts Ma over treatment of Chen Shui-bian,” March 2, page 3).

An international group of human rights experts has just issued a series of recommendations on improving human rights in Taiwan. These included the recommendation that the government take “appropriate action” concerning the health of Chen Shui-bian. (“Rights experts call for end to death penalty,” March 2, page 1).

The experts did not specifically recommend what action the government should take, but it is clear that they regard Chen’s treatment in prison and current situation in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital as unsatisfactory.

A week earlier, the Control Yuan issued a report recognizing “flaws” and “negligence” in the way in which the Ministry of Justice and Taipei Prison have handled Chen’s health problems (“Control Yuan OKs report on ‘flaws’ in A-bian’s care,” Feb. 23, page 1).

Both the Control Yuan and the group of international experts have made recommendations based on consideration of the available evidence.

It is time that the government acted on this evidence by granting medical parole to Chen.

*I have posted a copy of the recommendations of the international groups of human rights experts on my other Taiwan blog. The recommendations cover a broad range of human rights issues. Even if the government doesn’t take effective action on these issues, the document provides a strong base from which activists can argue for improvement of human rights in Taiwan.

Data and the death penalty

Chart comparing number of murders and executions in Taiwan 1992-2011

Michael Turton posted some statistics on the number of murders in Taiwan on his blog. I thought it would be interesting to graph this data alongside the number of executions carried out under the death penalty. I have used this data to create the chart above. The data pretty much speaks for itself. The number of murders peaked in 1996 while the number of executions peaked in 1997. The murder rate has steadily declined since while the number of executions has also fallen with a moratorium in place from December 2005 to April 2010.

At the moment Taiwan is facing considerable international pressure to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International are actively campaigning for death row inmates Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) and Cheng Hsing-tse (鄭性澤). Both these cases involve the use of torture by police to extract confessions, an issue which I highlighted in my recent letter to the Taipei Times.

Additional pressure has come from two members of an international committee invited to Taiwan to assess the implementation of the two United Nations human rights covenants. Manfred Nowak and Eibe Riedel wrote to President Ma Ying-jeou in November asking him to guarantee no executions would be carried out before they visit Taiwan in February.  Joelle Hivonnet, a senior diplomat in the EU, also recently called on Taiwan not to resume the death penalty and to strive for its abolition.

*If you would like to create your own visual representation of the data you can use this spreadsheet. The data on the number of executions came from Wikipedia.

Reflecting on human rights

Today is Human Rights Day. It also marks 33 years since the Kaohsiung Incident, a key event which set Taiwan on the path to democracy. While Taiwan has made many advances in human rights since the days of White Terror and Martial Law it is worth taking some time to reflect on the state of human rights in Taiwan today.

Many of Taiwan’s human rights problems are rooted in a transition to democracy without transitional justice. The legacy of the authoritarian party-state that governed Taiwan during Martial Law still influences the politics of the present.

The case of Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) has spanned almost the entire post-Martial Law period. In many ways Chiou’s case is symbolic of Taiwan’s human rights problems.

Chiou was first sentenced to death in 1989. The case against Chiou was based on confessions under torture which were later retracted. In 1994, two prosecutors and ten police officers were convicted for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases. Chiou remains on death row and Amnesty International are campaigning for a re-trial of his case. Continue reading

Time to speak out against injustice

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
– Elie Wiesel

Taiwan’s courts have handed down not guilty verdicts in two notable cases this week. Former president Chen Shui-bian was found not guilty in the Supreme Court in the special diplomatic funds case. The verdict was only briefly reported by most media, however its significance should not be ignored.

The verdict further vindicates A-bian’s claims that he is innocent and a victim of political persecution. In November last year A-bian and his co-defendants were all found not guilty in the financial mergers case. However, just one week later the Supreme Court ruled that A-bian and his wife Wu Shu-jen were guilty in the Longtan land deal case. Continue reading