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President Tsai attends 14th Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award ceremony
President Tsai attends 14th Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award ceremony

On the morning of December 10, President Tsai Ing-wen presented the 14th Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award to the Diplomacy Training Program and conferred the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon on Mr. Carl Gershman, President of the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In remarks, President Tsai emphasized that safeguarding democracy is our responsibility and supporting democracy is our conviction. She also called on everyone to join hands and continue to work together for democracy, freedom, and human rights.

A translation of President Tsai's remarks follows:

I would like to welcome everyone to this award ceremony. Today is a special day. It is not only Human Rights Day, but also the 40th anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident, a pivotal event in Taiwan's democratization.

A few days ago, I was in Kaohsiung to take part in a march to commemorate the Kaohsiung Incident. I returned to the historical scene of the incident, together with some of the original participants and their defense attorneys. In the 40 years since that time, everyone has taken a different path in life, and perhaps thinks differently about politics or joined a different political party.

This is precisely what is precious and endearing about Taiwan's democracy. That year, our democratic predecessors showed incredible courage in resisting oppression by an authoritarian government and helped give birth to the free and democratic Taiwan of today. The Kaohsiung Incident was a turning point in Taiwan's path to democratization.

The people of Taiwan have not forgotten this historical memory. Because they have not forgotten, democracy has gradually been consolidated in Taiwan, and today we are contributing to global democracy and human rights initiatives through the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award.  

The winner of this year's Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award is an organization devoted to transnational empowerment, the Diplomacy Training Program. The Diplomacy Training Program was founded in 1989 by former Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta and Emeritus Professor Garth Nettheim.

Mr. Ramos-Horta had sought international support and called for global action to stop human rights violations in Timor-Leste before its independence. That experience inspired him to advocate for "people's diplomacy," which links civil society and international human rights mechanisms to seek effective remedial measures. 

Over the past 30 years, the Diplomacy Training Program has provided assistance to more than 3,000 human rights workers from over 60 countries in the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and North Africa. Training topics have included human rights, indigenous peoples' rights, migrant workers' rights, environmental protection, and LGBTI+ rights. The Diplomacy Training Program has made it possible for the seeds of human rights to flourish and bear fruit around the world, and offer mutual support.

We have another distinguished guest here at today's ceremony whose contributions deserve special mention. That is NED President Carl Gershman. For many years, the NED has kept a close and constant watch on democratic development around the world, which has been a great source of encouragement for advocacy groups in many countries. The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) is flourishing today, also due to President Gershman's support.

The Diplomacy Training Program, the NED, and the TFD all share the same objectives: the continuous promotion of universal values of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Today is Human Rights Day and also the 40th anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident, so I want to appeal to like-minded friends in the international community: In the history of mankind, democracies have not been around that long. But history has proven that democracy is the most resilient political system and can best resolve disputes and unite the will of the people.

There are many countries and regions in our part of the world that are not yet on the path to democratization. And there are many people who seek democracy, freedom, and basic human rights, but are being oppressed and attacked by authoritarian governments.

For Taiwanese, even when democracy has become as natural as breathing, we cannot forget that safeguarding democracy is our responsibility, and supporting democracy is our conviction. As Taiwanese have shown, people can change history. When many people unite as one, they have a chance to change the course of history. So let's join hands and continue to work together for democracy, freedom, and human rights. Thank you.

After awarding the Diplomacy Training Program, President Tsai presented NED President Gershman with the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon in recognition of his outstanding contribution to enhancing Taiwan-US relations.

In remarks, President Gershman began by expressing his gratitude to President Tsai for honoring him. He stated that he visited for the first time 25 years ago and encouraged Taiwan to join the community of countries that was fostering democracy. In the quarter of a century since then, he said, Taiwan has become a dynamic, stable, and successful liberal democratic model, exemplified by President Tsai herself as the nation's first democratically elected female head of state.

President Gershman continued by saying that Taiwanese society now embraces universal values like freedom, democracy, civil society, and free media. These principles are perfectly compatible with Confucian culture and are, therefore, truly universal. China's rise and the threat it now poses to countries in East Asia and beyond have made Taiwan's successful democratic system even more significant. Taiwan's example, he said, inspires people to believe in democracy and offers ethnic Chinese worldwide a vision for a better future, and he believes that a day will come when the whole world will enjoy freedom and democracy.

Also in attendance were TFD Chairman Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), National Security Council Secretary-General David. T. Lee (李大維), and Nicaraguan Ambassador to the ROC William Manuel Tapia Aleman (Dean of the foreign diplomatic corps in Taiwan).

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