On the afternoon of December 29, President Tsai Ing-wen attended the 25th meeting of the Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC). The president encouraged all the people of Taiwan to "set standards higher while getting more deeply involved in society," so that human rights in Taiwan will become the gold standard for other countries.
In remarks, President Tsai noted that the proceedings that day marked the first meeting of the fourth HRCC. After thanking the committee members for being willing to work together toward human rights progress in Taiwan, the president stated that human rights may be a universal value, but they will always require local action to be truly achieved.
President Tsai also shared past stories about Taiwan's struggle for human rights. During Taiwan's period of authoritarian rule, she said, the people regarded democracy and freedom as the most important of all human rights. On Human Rights Day (December 10) in 1979, many veterans of the dangwai (meaning "outside the ruling party") movement organized a human rights rally and protest march in Kaohsiung City, "and this sparked the Kaohsiung Incident, which catalyzed the development of democracy in Taiwan." The president also mentioned Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who sacrificed his life in pursuit of freedom and was noted for the inscription that he kept on the wall of his office: "Fight for freedom of speech! Maintain human rights and dignity!" The president added: "For Mr. Cheng Nan-jung, freedom was human rights."
Thanks to the struggles and sacrifices of an earlier generation, said the president, Taiwan has a mature democracy today, and freedom of speech is constitutionally protected. However, there is no "finish line" in enhancing human rights. Some countries are more advanced with respect to human rights, while others are still struggling. Human rights standards can only get higher as time goes by, "so there are actually a lot of areas where we still need to strive for improvement."
Stressing that human rights are not limited in scope to democracy and freedom, President Tsai noted that the fourth HRCC includes members who specialize in environmental, housing, gender, labor, children and youth, and disability issues, so she called upon the committee members to engage in comprehensive discussions on human rights issues, establish new standards, and provide suggestions to government agencies in order to implement actual policies.
President Tsai indicated that, where human rights are concerned, we must continually set standards higher while getting more deeply involved in society. Commenting on the recent furor over a group of students who dressed up as Nazis in a school parade, the president stated: "That was not the students' fault. The blame falls on us adults." This is because our human rights education has not gone beyond the superficial. It's because we've failed to face up to the seriousness of prejudice and bias in daily life. And we haven't educated students about past human rights abuses in their own country in such a way that they would learn the true lessons contained therein.
President Tsai said that each person should reflect upon this incident and make sure that such a thing will not happen again. This incident reminds people from all walks of life of the importance of enhancing human rights education. Human rights topics should be incorporated into a variety of different subjects at school. We need to make students understand the pain that others have suffered, and respect the rights of others. They need to be willing to step forward when necessary to fight for what is right. "Our education will not be truly successfully unless we can do this."
President Tsai stated that she would invite officials from the Executive Yuan and other government agencies to submit special reports to the HRCC regarding the current state of human rights education in Taiwan's 12-year public education system. She also called upon the HRCC committee members to provide the government with suggestions for improvements, and urged people throughout the nation to work together and "set standards higher while getting more deeply involved in society," so that human rights in Taiwan will become the gold standard for other countries.
After concluding her remarks, President Tsai personally presented the letters of appointment for committee members to Professor Mab Huang (黃默) of the Soochow University Department of Political Science, who accepted the letters on behalf of his fellow members.
Vice President Chen Chien-jen then delivered remarks of his own in his capacity as HRCC convener. In addition to thanking the committee members for helping the government to promote human rights, the vice president also expressed hope that they can tap into their respective areas of human rights expertise and experience to provide valuable recommendations and pass their knowledge on to a new generation while continuing to push for human rights progress in Taiwan.