Taiwan urged to scrap death penalty, improve rights (update)
Central News Agency
2013-03-01 05:23 PM
Taipei, March 1 (CNA) International experts on Friday urged Taiwan to scrap the death penalty and protect the rights of indigenous people, migrant workers, prisoners, gay people and other minority groups as well as the rights of former president Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan is among a small minority of only 20 states worldwide that carried out capital punishment in 2011, said Manfred Nowak, a professor of international law and human rights at the University of Vienna and one of 10 international experts in Taiwan to review the country's first human rights report. "The experts, therefore, strongly recommend that the government of Taiwan intensifies its efforts toward abolition of capital punishment and, as a first and decisive step, immediately introduces a moratorium on executions in accordance with the respective resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly," Nowak said at a press conference to present the experts' observations and recommendations. A poll conducted last July by Master Survey and Research Co. showed that nearly 80 percent of the polled Taiwanese were opposed to abolishing the death penalty and that over 85 percent believed that scrapping capital punishment would be detrimental to public order. The Taiwanese government has listed the abolition of capital punishment among its long-term goals, and President Ma Ying-jeou has also stressed that he personally favors the decreased use of the death penalty. Ma has also said, however, that he respected the the Ministry of Justice's decision to carry out executions according to the law. The human rights experts believed that all 15 executions carried out in Taiwan over the last three years seemed to have violated the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers have accused the Ministry of Justice of executing death row inmates in December last year before the inmates even knew if their appeals for amnesty made in 2010 had been approved by the president. The Ministry of Justice said that had the president granted amnesty, he would have quickly informed the ministry. Taiwan adopted the covenant in 2009 along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The report also urges the government to reduce prisoner numbers by introducing less restrictive provisions on pre-trial bail and parole, and to improve prison health services by transferring the responsibility to the Department of Health, among other changes. "In this context, the experts also appeal to the government of Taiwan on humanitarian grounds to take appropriate action in relation to the serious health problems of former president Chen Shui-bian," the report said. Chen is currently serving an 18.5-year prison term for corruption committed while he was president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008. The experts also urged improved rights for Taiwan's migrant workers, indigenous people, women, gay and transgender people, and people with disabilities. They recommended that a referendum on a proposed nuclear-waste site in Daren Township in Taitung County and Wuchiou Township in Kinmen County be voted on by the indigenous people most directly affected, instead of the entire population of the counties. They also suggested that labor protection laws, such as the Labor Standards Act and Labor Safety and Health Act, cover migrant workers, domestic workers, and contract workers, and that the government reject proposals to delink the basic wages of foreign workers from those of Taiwanese workers. Foreign workers employed in the manufacturing, construction and other sectors are currently covered by the Labor Standards Act, but those who work as domestic helpers and caregivers are not. To deal with the issue, Taiwan's Council of Labor Affairs has drafted domestic workers protection legislation to ensure better rights for domestic workers, but the bill still has to clear a number of hurdles. On the issue of freedom of expression, the experts called on the government to take steps to block mergers or acquisitions of news channels or newspapers that would result in the concentration of media ownership. Meanwhile, on the right to housing, the experts mentioned the cases of Shaoxing and Huagang communities and the Airport MRT and advised that forced evictions be stopped unless alternative housing is provided in line with the general comments of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The experts also urged better corporate responsibility and transitional justice, more transparency in government decision-making on human rights issues, and targeted human rights training for professionals such as prosecutors, police officers and prison administrators. Frederic Laplanche, head of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, said in a statement that though there was still room for improvement on issues such as the death penalty, Taiwan's implementation of the two international conventions and the drafting and reviewing of its human rights report "are very positive." "We are also very happy to see that substantial conclusions have been made as the result of this process, which will no doubt benefit the development of Taiwan's human rights protection," he said. The members of the review panel also include Philip Alston, law professor at New York University; Eibe Riedel, former member of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Jerome Cohen, law professor at New York University; and Nisuke Ando, professor emeritus at Kyoto University. The panel held discussions with government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations from Feb. 25 to March 1. (By Christie Chen)
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