Taiwan has come a long way since the years of repression and abuses during the period of White Terror. When Taiwan emerged from martial law just a quarter century ago, the struggle for basic rights, including freedom of assembly, speech, and the press, remained fierce. In 1989, democracy activist Cheng Nan-jung famously set himself on fire to protest restrictions on freedom of expression.
Today, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy with a strong two-party system, lively media, and healthy respect for the rule of law. And now, thanks to an ongoing process notable for its creativity and increased civil society participation, the Taiwan government’s compliance with core international human rights norms is receiving increased scrutiny.
In 2009, the Legislative Yuan passed, and President Ma Ying-jeou ratified, two United Nations treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since Taiwan is not a UN member state, the UN Secretary General rejected Taiwan’s request to deposit the instruments of ratification. The government nevertheless passed an “Implementation Act” that gives the human rights treaties special status in domestic law; second only to the constitution, the two covenants prevail over any inconsistencies in ordinary legislation.
The Implementation Act further committed the government to bring all laws and regulations in line with the two covenants by December 2011, as well as to establish a human rights reporting mechanism to monitor progress in implementing the treaties. Pursuant to the Implementation Act, the Ma administration prepared Taiwan’s first official state report, which it released in April 2012. Agreeing to a request from several of Taiwan’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the government then invited a group of international experts to review the official report and evaluate its compliance with the two covenants.
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This article was originally published in Taiwan Business Topics, an American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei publication.