Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 6 (Fall 1996): The Human Rights Discourse in East Asia: Reports from the Region: Articles: TAIWAN

Sep 5, 1996

For forty years up until 1987, Taiwan's authoritarian government declared any discussion of human rights taboo. Still there has always been considerable human rights activity, especially on the part of NGOs and more recently by scholars working in a variety of disciplines. Human rights study and activism have increased since the advent of democratization and the accompanying political reforms in the mid-to-late eighties—which fueled greater freedom of the press and association. Initially, the primary concern of most NGOs was civil and political rights, namely the plight of political prisoners. The discourse in recent years, however, has broadened to include economic and social rights, a shift evident in the work of academics and NGOs alike.

Where the advancement of human rights is concerned, it is the scholars who lag behind the activists. Nevertheless, a recent conference at Soochow University in Taipei set a precedent for the country's study of human rights. The two-day conference captured the range of concern and level of sophistication of the domestic discourse on human rights, seen at a practical level in the rights being advanced and at a theoretical level in the discussion below of post-modernist human rights theories. The four conference papers selected for review represent the human rights dialogue taking place across the social sciences, and are the latest contribution to a nascent body of scholarly reflections, while the two other publications indicate the range of NGO activism.

"From Protected Factory Employment to Supported Employment: A Preliminary Investigation on the Right to Work of the Disabled" ("Cong bi hu xing gong chang dao zhi chi xing jiu yebao zhang can zhang zhe gong zuo quan yi cuo shi de chu tan") by Professor Yu-Wei Wanne from the School of Public Health at Yang-Ning Mdical College and Mr. Chao-wen Lin, a bureau chief in the Department of Labor Affairs of the City Government of Taipei, 1996.

This article first discusses the evolution of the protection of and support for the disabled in employment, and then gives a detailed analysis of the services provided by the city government of Taipei to help the disabled secure and maintain their jobs. Useful statistics and charts are included. Among the recommendations made are establishing a support network and opening up greater access to employment for the handicapped.

"Proposal for an Educational System for Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan" (Taiwan yuan zhu min jiao yu ti zhi gui hua") by Shou-Jung Yang, professor of sociology at Soochow University.

In this article on the right to education for indigenous peoples in Taiwan, Professor Shou-Jung Yang draws on his experience as a member of a committee set up by the Ministry of Education to formulate an educational policy for indigenous people and argues forcefully for equal access to education. The author's thinking and conclusions are deeply influenced by his firsthand observation of government policy and practices toward the Australian Aborigines, and, to a lesser degree, the policy of the New Zealand government toward the Maori. To achieve the goal of equal access to education, Professor Yang argues that the Legislative Yuan should pass a law guaranteeing indigenous peoples the right to education and stipulate the responsibility of the various levels of government to implement the law.

"Political Tolerance in Taiwan: An Analysis of Mass Opinion" ("Taiwan min zhong zheng zhi rong ren de fen xi") by Hwang Shiu-duan, professor of political science at Soochow University, 1996.

Using data from a survey on social change intended to measure political tolerance in Taiwan, Professor Hwang seeks to find out whether, and to what degree, the people of Taiwan are adapting to the rapid political changes and pluralist trends stemming from democratization. Among her interesting findings is the public perception of communism as the most dangerous political creed, with supporters of the Taiwanese independence movement ranking second most dangerous. Also forty percent of those people who believe that the communists and supporters of Taiwanese independence pose the most serious threat to society are prepared to deny these two groups many of their political rights, especially the rights to assembly and freedom o movement in and out of the country.

"On the Fundamental Principles and Contradictions of the Post-Modernist Theory of Human Rights" ("Lun huo xian dai zhu yi ren quan li lun de ji ben yuan ze ji qi mao dun xing") by Saen Yang Kha, professor of sociology at Soochow University, 1996.

This article analyzes the human rights theories presented by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, among other post-modern thinkers. It then turns to a discussion of what the author calls "the paradox of post-modernist theory." To get at the heart of this paradox, the author poses and explores the following questions: Could we really aspire to the absolute individualist freedom postulated by the post-modernists? How would the post-modernists idea of human rights be implemented in society? Doesn t the repudiation of traditional human rights theories threaten to play into the hands of dictators and communists? Despite his critical questioning of post-modernists ideas, Professor Kha does not deny that the post-modernists offer an "alternative choice, a different approach which is conducive to serious reflection on the human condition."

Special Reports on the Case of Su Chien-ho (Chuan ti pao kao Su Chien-ho). Taipei: Taiwan Association for Human Rights, 1995 and 1996.

The sensational case of Su Chien-ho, one of three men accused of murdering a couple in 1992, has been the subject of two special reports published by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, one in 1995 and another in April 1996. The case is as follows: a man already convicted of the crime implicated three other young men before his execution. These three men, now in jail, were sentenced based on testimony believed to be coerced by torture. Comprised of articles written by scholars, law professors, and defense lawyers, the special reports critically examine the evidence of this case, which is widely believed to represent a violation of the right to due process of law. Criticism of the case centers on the use of torture and the fact that the judiciary took police reports at face value, with no deliberation. The case has attracted the attention of Amnesty International.

Founded in 1984, the Taiwan Association was not permitted to officially register due to its affiliation with the opposition movement and concern for the political persecution of dissidents. Since 1987 the association has re-focused its work on economic and cultural rights, as can be seen in the breadth of human rights issues presented in their Annual Report on human rights in Taiwan.

Awakening (Shin Tze). Taipei: The Awakening Foundation, 1996.

Awakening began as feminist magazine in 1982. After 1987, the women involved gave the name to one of the first women's foundations in Taiwan. The foundation continues to publish Awakening, a popular magazine full of short, expository articles describing the situation of women in Taiwan and urging women to assert their rights. For the past three years, the foundation has been lobbying for the revision of civil law governing family relations in Taiwan. The reforms demanded would give women more rights with respect to their property and children. The foundation is also leading a lobby for passage of an equal opportunity law to benefit women.

The reviewer, Mab Huang, is a professor of political science at Soochow University. He has taught human rights courses in the United States and Taiwan for almost 20 years, and has written extensively on human rights in China and Taiwan. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights in China, a New York-based NGO.

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