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.

Chomsky: it was a misunderstanding

Noam Chomsky holding sign opposing media monopoly in Taiwan

Lin Ting-an (林庭安) is a Taiwanese student who visited Noam Chomsky and several other academics in the USA and asked them to support the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She took the photograph above of Chomsky holding a sign written in Chinese opposing media monopoly. The photo was widely republished in the Taiwanese media.

Now the Chinese-language China Times is claiming Chomsky was misled about was written on the sign. China Times is owned by the Want Want Group which is part of the consortium seeking to purchase the Taiwan assets of Next Media and create a media monopoly. They have an obvious interest in discrediting the student led campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan.

The Taipei Times has covered the story over the past two days. Yesterday they printed an article in which Lin Ting-an explained her meeting with Chomsky. Lin has published the full text of the email she sent to Chomsky to arrange the meeting. You can see the text of the email here. In the email Lin clearly explained the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She also provided an English translation of the sign she photographed Chomsky with.

Today the Taipei Times published another article saying the China Times had intensified its attacks. The China Times claimed Chomsky and another US academic, Ned Block, were misled by Lin Ting-an. This was based on an email Chomsky had sent to Liu Shih Diing (劉世鼎), an associate professor at the University of Macau.

The China Times has an obvious interest in discrediting the movement which is trying to stop it from expanding its control of the Taiwanese media. They previously attacked NTHU student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a leader of the anti-media monopoly movement who famously criticised the Minister for Education in the legislature.

I contacted Noam Chomsky by email with a few questions about the issue and he replied within a few hours. He said a “stream of journalists” had written to him from Taiwan. He provided the following statement which he also sent to journalists from Taiwan.

I have been in touch with my friend Ned Block, a philosophy professor at NYU, who was also photographed holding a poster. His experience was the same as mine. Both of us were under the impression that the poster called for freedom of press and opposed monopoly, and said nothing about China. I don’t charge anyone with deceit or misrepresentation. I assume it was simply a misunderstanding, resulting from the fact that neither of us reads Chinese.

I must add that I first became aware of Chomsky about 20 years ago via his book Manufacturing Consent. This is an influential tome about how the media in the United States acts as a propaganda machine to defend the political and economic interests of the state and large corporations.

Chomsky has consistently advocated for freedom of the press for many decades. He has also been a victim of  the US media’s self-censorship as they have consistently ignored the views of Chomsky and others from the left. It should be obvious what Chomsky stands for even if he cannot read Chinese.

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

Taiwan needs to embrace clean energy

I co-signed the following letter which was published in the Taipei Times today.

Is there an unfortunate misunderstanding about German politics and history among some Taiwanese?

After two of us had to clarify the path Germany took to abolish the death penalty, (“Real deal behind abolition,” March 17, 2011, page 8), we now have to clarify a misrepresentation of the anti-nuclear stance of Germany’s Green Party (“Anti-nuclear protesters confronted by Taipower ‘thug’ police: DPP lawmaker,” Sept. 10, page 3).

Contrary to allegations made in an article on Taipower’s Web site, the German Green Party was partly founded by people emerging from the popular anti-nuclear movement formed during the 1970s. It always had a staunch and unwavering anti-nuclear platform, and, most importantly, has been a key factor in pushing Germany toward a path of sustainable energy based on clean renewable energy and away from dirty coal and potentially calamitous nuclear fuel.

Germany is now a world leader in producing and installing renewable energy, such as wind power, thanks in large part to the Green Party’s insistence of giving clean energy a chance during its stay of power in German’s national government in the early 2000s. Continue reading