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President Ma meets Mark Lagon, President of US-based Freedom House

President Ma Ying-jeou met on the afternoon of February 16 with President Mark Lagon of Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental organization. In addition to praising Freedom House for its contributions to the pursuit of freedom and human rights, President Ma also stated that the ROC has become an important example of "democratic consolidation" in an emerging democracy. Taiwan, he said, will continue on the path toward a deeper democracy, thereby contributing to stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

In remarks, President Ma noted that this was Mr. Lagon's first visit to Taiwan, and that his primary purpose was to take part in the Asia-Pacific Religious Freedom Forum, jointly hosted by the US-based human rights organization China Aid and Taiwan's Democratic Pacific Union. In addition, Mr. Lagon was taking advantage of his trip to visit government agencies, NGOs, and leading corporate foundations in Taiwan, and President Ma expressed confidence that he will get a good first-hand feel for the vibrant development of Taiwan's civil society, as well as everything the nation has done to uphold freedom and human rights.

President Ma pointed out that Freedom House was founded in 1941 by US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, human rights lawyer Wendell Willkie, as well as other political leaders and social luminaries concerned about peace and democracy. For many years now, said the president, Freedom House has defended democratic values and resolutely opposed autocracy.

President Ma further noted that Freedom House stresses that freedom can only be safeguarded with a democratic system of government, and it encourages the US, other governments, and international bodies to pursue policies that will promote human rights and democracy. In fact, he said, Freedom House played a key role in the founding of the Community of Democracies.

President Ma further mentioned that Freedom House has published its Freedom in the World report annually since 1973 to track global trends in freedom and democracy. Focusing on the dual indicators of political rights and civil liberties, the report has assigned numerical ratings for more than 40 years to well over 100 countries around the world, and the international community has come to rely on it as an important basis for determining whether any given country is free and democratic.

President Ma stressed that Taiwan has been rated as a democracy for the 17th consecutive year in Freedom in the World 2016, receiving a score of 1 for political rights and 2 for civil liberties (on a scale of 1 to 7; 1=most free and 7=least free), a Freedom Rating of 1.5, and an Aggregate Score of 89 points (out of 100). Taiwan trailed only Japan among Asian nations, and was also among the top-rated nations globally.

The president stated that the ROC has been unable to join or sign United Nations (UN) covenants since losing its UN seat in 1971. But as a member of the international community, the ROC has been working to abide by international standards. In 2009, the second year of his first term, said the president, he ratified two UN human rights covenants—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In the same year, the ROC promulgated an act implementing those two covenants, thus incorporating them into domestic law, and delivered their instruments of ratification for deposit with the Secretary-General of the UN. Although they did not accept those instruments, that had no impact on our determination in implementing those two covenants.

President Ma further explained that the ROC also promulgated the Enforcement Act for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Enforcement Act of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Act to Implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Act to Implement the United Nations Convention against Corruption. We have thus incorporated six UN covenants into domestic law, serving as a legal basis for the actions of our administrative and judicial organs.

The president also noted that since taking office in 2008 he has worked hard to improve the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. For the past eight years, Taiwan and mainland China transformed an erstwhile killing field into a peace boulevard, and have signed 23 agreements. The leaders from both sides also met in Singapore on November 7 of last year, and held consultations about consolidating peace in the Taiwan Strait.

President Ma then mentioned that after he unveiled the East China Sea Peace Initiative in 2012, Taiwan and Japan signed a fisheries agreement, successfully reducing maritime conflict between the two countries. Based on the success of our East China Sea Peace Initiative, he also proposed the South China Sea Peace Initiative last year in the hope that all parties concerned will replace antagonism with dialogue and negotiation, resolve disputes by peaceful means, and ensure freedom of navigation and overflight.

President Ma further stated that after numerous rounds of negotiations, the ROC and the Philippines signed the Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters last year, the first concrete achievement of the South China Sea Peace Initiative. The agreement establishes the following three principles: avoiding the use of violence or unnecessary force in maritime law enforcement actions; establishment of a mutual notification system for Taiwan and the Philippines for law enforcement actions against each other's fishing vessels; and prompt release of detained fishing vessels and arrested crew members. We hope that agreement will ease the fisheries disputes that have occurred between the two countries in their overlapping exclusive economic zones over the past few decades, and will effectively safeguard the lives and property of Taiwan's fishermen.

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