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Freedom House sounds a warning

More than a month has passed since Freedom House released its annual report in Taipei. Freedom House’s report on the state of political rights and civil liberties did not make any changes to Taiwan‘s score based on events that happened during 2008. However, the staff of Freedom House did express concern and said, “2009 is really a critical year for Taiwan in our evaluation.”

Freedom House did not escape criticism for its evaluation from within Taiwan. Michael Turton labelled their report, “A missed opportunity, and absolutely shameful” for its failure to censure the government over the events that occurred in the latter half of 2008. A Taiwan News editorial (15 January 2009) also noted, “it is quite possible that Freedom House’s decision to refrain from even delivering a symbolic wrist slap… will foster a sense of impunity among KMT leadership ranks”.

My own impression of Freedom House is that it takes a conservative academic approach rather than being activist in nature. It is hesitant to make statements unless there is a strong body of evidence not only of human rights problems, but of a failure by government to adequately address the problems. In 2008 the problems arose, now it is becoming more obvious in 2009 that the government is failing to to take sufficient measures to address these problems.

Christoper Walker and Sarah Cook, two staff members of Freedom House, have written an article in today’s Taipei Times that further reiterates the concerns expressed last month.

On a recent visit, however, it was clear that while democracy continues to flourish, a number of serious concerns have arisen that threaten to shake public confidence in the country’s democratic institutions.

Our meetings with senior officials of both major political parties, as well as leaders of Taiwan’s diverse non-­governmental organizations and academic community, revealed a palpable sense that the political system is becoming less transparent and more exclusive.

The article goes on to details concerns about the impartiality of the judicial system and the lack of transparency of investigations into police actions during the visit of Chen Yunlin. It then clearly spells out how the government can take action to address Freedom House’s concerns. In reference to investigations of the Chen Yunlin Incident it says,

Comprehensive reports and regular status updates should be published of any investigations carried out by key government bodies, including the Control Yuan, the police and other agencies, irrespective of the political orientation of their subjects.

This article from Freedom House should be a warning to the government that Freedom House is not merely concerned about the situation in Taiwan but is actively monitoring it. Although it may be another 11 months before Freedom House releases its next annual report the government needs to act on these issues with greater haste.

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Comment from cfimages
Time 17 February 2009 at 3:19 pm

David, the link to the article isn’t working. It should be

To be fair, both sides of politics need to shoulder part of the blame. Threats to freedom are not only coming from the blue side of town. RSF reported on the violence committed by DPP supporters late last year.

This needs to be condemned equally – especially after talk today about shoe-throwing protest against Ma in a couple of weeks.

Comment from David Reid
Time 17 February 2009 at 4:03 pm

cfimages, the link is fixed thanks.

I think it is unfair to put too much blame on the DPP. It just shifts attention away from the real issue. The DPP were responsible for organising a number of protests during the week of Chen Yunlin’s visit, but they can’t be held responsible for the actions of every individual protester. Some of the protests occurred spontaneously without organisation anyway. Some of the improper police actions were against small groups of people who were not acting violently or breaking any laws.

The point of the Freedom House article and my comments on it is that the government needs to take effective measures to respond to these problems. There is little evidence that it has done so. As the opposition party the DPP can only call on the government to take these measures, it has very little power to do anything itself.

Of course the threat to throw shoes at the President concerns me too. But it was not the topic of this article.

Comment from cfimages
Time 17 February 2009 at 4:53 pm

I agree that they can’t be responsible for every protestor, but when the govt are talking to China like they said they would, and like the voters of Taiwan voted for; and when a poll released this week shows that 67% of the public approve of strengthening links with China; it’s hard to find justification for the protests in the first place. The police response wasn’t really any different to what it would have been in a western democracy – don’t forget that one of the main reasons there was such a huge police presence was because a DPP counciller assaulted a Chinese official in Tainan, and then during the week Chen was here, Tsai herself said she couldn’t guarantee that the protests would be non-violent. If an opposition leader in any other democracy anywhere in the world said something like that, they’d be out of a job by days end.

Comment from David Reid
Time 17 February 2009 at 5:41 pm

The following is a quote from an article by Tsai Ing-wen published in the Taipei Times, 6 November 2008.

I would especially like to make it clear to all the members of the DPP that you cannot resort to violence, regardless of the time or situation. Democracy is the DPP’s only weapon and peace is the only method we can utilize. This is my only request and my only order.

She may well have said that she couldn’t guarantee the protests would be non-violent, but in no way did she ever promote the use of violence. What you have said in your comment is a very unfair misrepresentation of her words.

On the issue of China it is not that people are opposed to links per se, the problem is that it should not be done in a way that undermines national security and sovereignty. Negotiations need to be conducted in a more open and transparent manner in accordance with the principles of democracy.

While you are free to critique the DPP it is off topic from this article and distracting from the real and important issues raised by the article.

Comment from cfimages
Time 17 February 2009 at 6:07 pm

In interests of staying on topic, I’ll say no more.

Pingback from Independent investigation of police needed – David on Formosa
Time 2 April 2009 at 1:42 pm

[...] about the way the Control Yuan operates. Freedom House wrote an article in February this year (discussed on this blog) mentioning this concern. The Control Yuan is undertaking its own investigation, but the extent to [...]