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

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

Morning tea with Tsai Ing-wen

Tsai Ing-wen speaks to foreign community

Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) spoke to a group of foreign residents in Taipei yesterday morning. She first spent some time outlining her vision for Taiwan before taking questions from the floor.  Tsai is currently on leave from her position as chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as she competes in the party’s primary for the presidential nomination. The primary will be decided by opinion polls conducted in the next few days with the announcement of the result expected on 4 May. Continue reading

Why Taiwan must abolish the death penalty

The death penalty has once again been in the spotlight in Taiwan over the past few days. The issue was brought to the fore after a man confessed* to a crime for which another man was executed in 1997. The wrongful conviction and execution of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) was uncovered by a Control Yuan investigation in May last year. At that time the Control Yuan censured the Ministry of Defense over the case and said there were seven major flaws in the trial.

Since new developments in the case that resulted in the wrongful execution resurfaced there have been apologies issued by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and President Ma Ying-jeou. About 30 officials involved in the arrest, trial and execution of Chiang are now facing administrative and criminal investigation. Those being questioned include two former defense ministers. However, a statute of limitations may prevent those involved from being punished. Continue reading

Taiwan steady in Freedom House rankings

Freedom in the World 2001 map of Asia

Freedom House released its Freedom in the World 2011 report yesterday. The report’s key finding was that freedom declined globally for the fifth consecutive year. Freedom House noted that authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.

Taiwan’s ranking was unchanged from last year. Taiwan scored one for political rights and two for civil liberties to retain its status as “free”. Taiwan’s scores were the same as South Korea and Japan. The Taipei Times has some comments about Taiwan from a researcher at Freedom House.

“Taiwan remained one of Asia’s strongest democracies,” Sarah Cook, Asia research analyst and assistant editor at Freedom House, told the Taipei Times by e-mail yesterday.

“Municipal elections held [on Nov. 27] were widely viewed as free and fair, despite a shooting at a rally the evening before the polls,” Cook said. Continue reading