On Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International released its annual report for 2014/15, detailing the condition of human rights in states around the globe. While the report points to freedom of assembly, the death penalty, and prison conditions as top problems in Taiwan, the report also shows progress in the last two decades.

The report, which covers 160 individual countries as well as global overviews, says that overall 2014 was a “devastating year” for human rights, and that governments have “justified horrific human rights violations” in the name of public safety. For the Asia-Pacific region, the report first highlights that social activism is on the rise. The report not only mentioned Hong Kong’s demonstration for universal suffrage, but also elections in Indonesia, Fiji, as well as protests in Myanmar and Cambodia. Asia-Pacific also saw the rise of ethnic intolerance, lack of corporate accountability, and LGBTI rights remain weak.

For Taiwan in particular, the report mentions first and foremost the Sunflower Movement, saying that “the police used excessive force while dispersing [student protesters]. To date there has been no independent and impartial investigation into the police conduct.”

The report also points to the death penalty and ill-treatment as long-standing issues, when compared to the reports from 2004 and 1994. Since two decades ago, the question of abolishing the death penalty remained a central issue for Amnesty International reports, including the use of a fire squad over lethal injections.

Looking back the past two decades, ill-treatment was also a continuing issue, such as treatment of  asylum seekers from China, which was criticized. In a case strikingly similar to the 2013 death of corporal Hung Chung-chiu that was related to undue punishment, a conscript Chen Shih-wei died in 1993 after being imprisoned and tortured to death because he reported late to his training unit.

Nonetheless, Taiwan’s government has also made progress in legislative changes in the midst of some discouraging events. In 1994, the Prison Law was revised and in 2004, the cabinet drafted the Human Rights Law, which was intended to incorporate several crucial rights (civil, political, social and cultural rights) based on international institutions such as the International Commission of Jurists.

Furthermore, besides attempts in legislative reform, previous annual reports highlight another trend—the broadening of the scope of social issues in the Taiwanese society, such as the LGBTI movements.

From a comparative perspective, Taiwan’s neighbor South Korea had a similar developmental path since the 1950s in politics, economy, and democratization. Problems regarding the rights of assembly, political detention, prison of consciousness as well as the arrest of trade union activist and migrant workers’ right stayed as the dominant matters in Korea; meanwhile, Taiwan in recent years has gradually diversified their social focus on various groups.

Both Taiwan and South Korea have only recently opened the door to allow underprivileged groups to voice their frustration at state-led development and patriarchal traditions. Over time, Amnesty International’s report may give a glimpse into the trajectory of efforts to incorporate human rights ideals into Taiwan’s and the Asia region’s still-evolving societies.

(Feature photo of Sunflower Movement’s 3/30/14 rally, by Betty Wang)


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