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  • President Ma holds press conference on the release of Taiwan's first human rights report
  • Date
2012/04/20
President Ma holds press conference on the release of Taiwan's first human rights report. President Ma Ying-jeou holds press conference on the release of Taiwan's first human rights report. President Ying-jeou Ma holds press conference on the release of Taiwan's first human rights report.
President Ma Ying-jeou held a press conference on the morning of April 20 to discuss the government's release of Taiwan's first national human rights report based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The president stressed that the government will work to ensure that human rights standards in Taiwan adhere to international standards. In the future, the government will continue to review domestic laws and regulations to ensure that they comply with the content of the two United Nations covenants, thereby further improving human rights here, he said.

What follows is an English translation of the complete text of the president's remarks:

This is the first human rights report issued by a government-established human rights commission in the 100 years since the founding of the ROC. I am deeply pleased to see the preparation and release of this report. After taking office in 2008, I immediately began working to make the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights binding documents here. On April 22, 2009, an act to implement the two covenants was formally passed and promulgated, thus incorporating them into domestic law. Today, these two covenants have become part of domestic law and have binding force within our nation. The act by which this was achieved took effect on December 10, 2009. While the ROC lost its representation in the United Nations (UN) in 1971, we nonetheless will continue to work to bring human rights protections here up to world standards.

Under UN regulations, ratified covenants only take formal effect three months after they have been deposited at the UN. Even though the copies of the covenants that we ratified have not been accepted by the UN, we have already incorporated them into domestic law, thereby solving this predicament. Why are these two documents so important? Even though we have lost our representation in the UN, the words "Republic of China" are clearly written in Article 23 and Article 110 of the Charter of the United Nations. Secondly, Article 141 of the Fundamental National Policies section of the ROC Constitution also provides: "The foreign policy of the Republic of China shall, in a spirit of independence and initiative and on the basis of the principles of equality and reciprocity, cultivate good-neighborliness with other nations…" And the next part of this sentence is especially important: "… and respect treaties and the Charter of the United Nations…." In other words, the ROC Constitution also incorporates by reference the Charter of the United Nations. In addition, as the leader of the nation, when I took the oath of office, I pledged to comply with the Constitution. Among all civil and military officials in the ROC, only the president's oath contains this sentence. The Constitution requires us to respect the Charter of the United Nations, so we cannot shirk our responsibility to do so.

Many articles in the Charter of the United Nations touch on human rights. This reflects the tragedy of World War II, in which tens of millions of lives were lost, human rights were trampled upon, and genocide was committed. That is why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into being in 1948, followed by the two aforementioned covenants in 1966. Together, these three documents comprise the "International Bill of Rights." The action we have taken to incorporate the two covenants into ROC law is not only for appearances. Rather, it is undertaken with the hope of truly raising human rights standards in Taiwan to levels seen in the rest of the world. This requires a little bit of pressure, because most human rights infringements are committed by governments. Therefore, the government must first of all police itself. This is why the ROC has adopted a set of internationally acceptable standards. We want to see continual improvement in the ROC's human rights situation.

When the Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee was founded two years ago, one of its primary missions was to produce human rights reports according to the format stipulated by the UN and in accordance with the demands set forth by the covenants. Another goal of the committee has been to carry out a two-year comprehensive review of the ROC's laws and regulations and amend any provisions in domestic laws or administrative directives that contravene the two covenants, so as to achieve compliance with the two covenants. This work has yet to be fully completed, and amendments for some laws are still undergoing deliberations in the Legislative Yuan. However, the Ministry of Justice has clearly explained that ROC courts can directly apply the content of the two covenants. The two covenants are already part of domestic law. Their content is applicable in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government, and if domestic law conflicts with the covenants, the content of the two covenants will take precedence, so there need be no controversy regarding their application.

Even more importantly, government officials, who are the most prone to infringing upon human rights, must undergo training and education. Even today, there are more than a few civil servants who do not have a good understanding of human rights concepts. So we still need time, but we can't drag our feet. We need to expedite education in this area. I am aware that the Ministry of Justice has already held a number of workshops, and hope we can further step up our efforts.

There are a range of different views regarding the report we have issued today, and just like anywhere else in the world, many questions ultimately have to be decided by the courts. For instance, in 1950 Europe passed the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and then established the European Court of Human Rights, which became the world's earliest human rights court. This court has now been in operation for over 50 years, but there are still many disputes that it must settle. Here in Taiwan, we still need to establish various mechanisms and rules, and then we need to operate within these rules to improve the state of human rights in Taiwan step by step.

This is a long-term project, and there are four things we need to continue working on. Firstly, we need to complete our review of all domestic laws and regulations to ensure that they comply with the content of the two covenants. Secondly, there is various language in the two covenants which is not overly clear and leaves room for interpretation. Therefore, we must interpret these documents with an eye to protecting and enhancing human rights, thereby bringing a contemporary relevance to the covenants. Thirdly, more work is required to achieve actual implementation of the covenants. I hope that the Ministry of Justice will continue to step up efforts to coordinate with related government agencies in this respect. And lastly, human rights concepts continually progress with the times. Early on, the term "fundamental human rights" referred principally to personal freedoms. However, the definition of human rights has gradually expanded into the area of social rights and environmental rights. Since there is still considerable room for growth in this aspect, the Human Rights Consultative Committee should refine its own thinking to reflect the changing times.

As president of the ROC, I am very gratified that the ROC since World War II has caught up with the pace of worldwide progress in human rights. However, now is not the time for us to rest on our laurels, for there is still more work to do to strengthen the protection of human rights. There are things we must pay attention to each day, as each day there is the possibility that the human rights of some people have not been protected. Consequently, every effort must be made to bolster the discernment of government officials and make sure the public understands that human rights are ours by right of birth. We must remain aware of this if we are to ensure that our nation will safeguard human rights.

The Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee is to be commended for its hard work over the past two years, as well as for the many valuable suggestions made by the diligent and independent committee members. I hope that all government agencies will appreciate the efforts of the committee members and that they will also work to keep pace with the times this area. It is inevitable that government agencies will be relatively conservative, largely because they have so much responsibility, but government agencies must also advance. Much work remains to be done. But in any case, the ROC's ability to incorporate world-class human rights standards into an ethnic Chinese society and make these standards a part of our lives has been an important accomplishment, just like our realization of democracy. Even if, in the course of Chinese history, our concepts of human rights haven't been entirely the same as those in the West, the fact remains that an important Confucian philosophy is "Heaven sees what the people see; Heaven hears what the people hear." Confucianism further speaks of the need for "benevolence toward all human beings, and compassion toward all living things." These ways of thinking are by no means at odds with the concept of human rights; on the contrary, they are very compatible with it.

I would like to express special appreciation to Vice President Vincent C. Siew for the important role that he has played in this process. Vice President Siew has been extremely respectful of differing viewpoints among committee members and has provided everyone with ample opportunity to air their opinions. To be sure, there are opposing viewpoints within the government agencies, and notes have been appended to the report to reflect this. I welcome this level of inclusivity.

I would hope that this day marks the beginning of a new era in the ROC, one in which our national government treats the safeguarding of human rights as a key objective toward which it must work. After the human rights report is translated into English, the government will invite world-class human rights experts to examine it and provide their suggestions, thereby helping us to progress. In the future, a human rights report will be issued each year. There is still much room for improvement, so I hope to receive continued support and suggestions from a broadly representative cross-section of society. (end of speech)

After completing his remarks, the president then responded to questions posed by the media regarding the human rights report and human rights issues in mainland China. Among the officials attending the press conference were Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee Convener and Vice President Vincent C. Siew, Deputy Convener Professor Chai Sung-lin (柴松林), committee members, Premier Sean C. Chen (陳冲), Judicial Yuan President Rai Hau-min (賴浩敏), Examination Yuan President Kuan Chung (關中), Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien (王建煊), Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫), and leaders of various other government agencies. The participation of so many government officials demonstrated the importance that their agencies place on human rights.
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