EDITORIAL: Empty words on human rights?

2012-04-21 Taipei Times

The government yesterday published its first report on human rights based on the UN covenants that are now part of the nation’s legal system. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the report marked another milestone in Taiwan’s efforts to meet international standards. Ironically, the report, both through its inclusions and omissions, highlights just how far this nation has to go — even as its place on the world stage grows ever smaller and international attention paid to it dwindles.

The Chinese-language report compiled by the Presidential Office’s advisory panel on human rights covers a wide range of issues, from the death penalty to gender ratios to welfare budgets. However, most of the media attention was focused on the issue of capital punishment, and how far away Taiwan is from abolishing it, even though many other issues, such as migrant rights, gender equality and freedom of expression, are equally important.

The government is working to address capital punishment, the report said, highlighting a 67.4 percent reduction in the number of death sentences in the past decade compared with the previous decade. What the government glosses over is that most of that reduction came during the eight years that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in office, and that it was under Ma that the government ended a four-year moratorium on executions begun in 2006 under the DPP. Once again, in the report, the Ma government has used a lack of public consensus on abolishing capital punishment as an excuse to uphold the death penalty.

Ma’s reaction to the divergence between where Taiwan is now and where it should be, based on international standards, was to urge government agencies to set an example by boosting civics education for public servants. Why focus on bureaucrats when there are so many other sectors of society that could benefit from such programs? Also, why is Ma ignoring the fact that Taiwan’s presence on the global stage grows smaller with each passing year, if not month, while its absence from the international limelight goes unremarked?

For example, another report was published on Thursday by the Asia Society and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, titled Rising to the Top, which examined women’s leadership in Asia, their accomplishments, problems and what hinders their economic, business and political advancement. The report warned that women constitute a pool of talent that is still underused throughout much of the Asian region, costing it US$89 billion annually in lost productivity, which could severely hamper its growth.

Most of the statistics in the government report came from private and academic sources, including the UN and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. This report was filled with interesting figures, comparisons and suggestions, ranging from women among Asia’s rich and powerful, to governmental participation, life expectancy and educational attainment, the remuneration gap and political empowerment. There was just one problem, like the Gender Gap reports before it — Taiwan is nowhere to be found in Rising to the Top.

In a report on a key issue of importance to women in this country and to the region, Taiwan plays no role. Its contributions and problems are completely overlooked, though China figures prominently.However, the situation in China is very different from that of Taiwan and the problems, forecasts and solutions cannot just be extrapolated across the Taiwan Strait.

The government plans to publish a human rights report each year from now on to ensure Taiwan’s human rights situation continues to improve, Ma said yesterday. It eventually plans to publish an English-language translation of this year’s report so experts worldwide can read it. While we applaud the ambition, given the lack of attention paid by global experts to Taiwan unless cross-strait matters are at issue, will anyone really care? Or will these reports become just another meaningless achievement of the Ma administration, gathering dust on shelves?