Taiwan’s government is recently becoming one of the more progressive Asian nations in recognizing its citizens human rights. Just this spring, it is debating legalizing same-sex marriage, and doing so would make it the first asian nation to recognize the union of same sex couples. Taiwan has had a difficult run with human rights, though, both in its past and as recently as yesterday.
Throughout its struggle for independence from other Asian powers, the Taiwanese people have been denied their human rights in effort to make them more submissive and cooperative of first Japan, and then China. While under the control of the Japanese, they were educated and ruled under the idea of assimilation and the attempt to “fully Japanize Taiwan.”
After China took control of Taiwan, Taiwanese people further struggled to obtain and maintain their human rights through their efforts to create a democratic government outside of Chinese rule and
maintain their Taiwanese culture in spite of China’s assimilatory efforts.
China heavily enforced the idea Noor introduced to us, the “Asian Values” argument. In Taiwan’s case, the idea of Asian values not only impacted the human rights of its people, but also its environment. The Chinese held that “political and cultural traditions of Asia justify a certain degree of autocratic rule to enable the rapid economic development of society” within Taiwan. Several Taiwanese scholars and even former leaders, such as former President Lee Teng-hui argue that “asian values” is just a nicer way of explaining the suppression of human rights, such as freedom of speech. The fact that Taiwan and other democratic asian societies (such as Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong) have thrived is a common criticism of “asian values,” because these societies have rejected the phrase and the mentality it supports.
The rapid economic development of countries like Taiwan without regard for the environment has caused a significant amount of pollution. The air is barely breathable in many of Taiwan’s major cities, and is almost always above levels that are healthy to breathe. However, Taiwan’s expanded human rights agreements and furthered efforts to ensure the freedom of speech of its citizens has allowed Taiwanese people to protest the quality of its air and the need for environmental change. These protests include those I mentioned in my blog post #4. Recently, the people of Taiwan have held protests in efforts to secure better worker’s rights and the rights of same-sex couples to marry.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsay mentioned that we live in a world that is “posturing before false gods of consumption and commerce,” which has led to ignorance of both non-European cultures and of the environment. This is where Taiwan finds itself, now having to address not only the environmental decay their country is in, but the newfound political stamina to combat human rights violations and attempt to progress beyond both issues.
As of March 2010, Taiwan did ratify an international human rights covenant, called the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” However, because the ROC (Taiwan) lost its seat at the UN in 1971, and China never ratified the covenant, the UN rejected Taiwan’s deposit.
Most recently on Taiwan’s human rights plate is a March 4th report from the US which cites a violations of worker’s right and corruption by Taiwanese officials. While these were the top concerns of the report, other violations during 2016 included, “some media self-censorship with regard to China, vote buying, violations of legal working hours, lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems for persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei, gender-biased sex selection, and a rise in child abuse.” So far this year before this report was even released, Taiwan has seen several protests for worker’s rights, particularly in regard to denied time off and strikes by transportation workers.
According to spokesperson Sidney Lin, in response to the report, “President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration is firmly committed to the protection of workers’ rights and interests and has already made several regulatory changes in that regard.” The government has implemented a maximum 40-hour work week, and has made efforts to improve the conditions of workers within the industrial sector. Lin also noted Taiwan’s efforts to adopt international human rights legislation and the steps it has taken to enforce the laws.