The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, was in Taiwan on a high-level visit from 24 June to 1 July. The visit was an opportunity to offer support and solidarity to Amnesty International Taiwan and Taiwanese civil society amid growing global tensions, including between the USA and China, and other developments in the region such as the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. In her end of visit statement, Ms Callamard shared her reflections on the human rights situation in Taiwan and made recommendations for further improvements.
“China’s claims over Taiwan and the great power-posturing between the USA, Russia and China have an undeniable influence on the nature and extent of Taiwan’s human rights protections. Any use of military force by China to bring Taiwan under its control would present a real threat to human rights. Even before an actual armed conflict breaks out, rising tensions can already have serious impacts. Threatening military postures only lead to people living in fear and uncertainty, with vulnerable groups like older people and children especially affected,” Callamard said.
In 1971, the UN General Assembly recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations (UN). Since then, Taiwan has been increasingly excluded from international organizations and UN entities due to pressure from Beijing. Nonetheless, successive Taiwanese governments have sought to abide by and implement international human rights obligations by endowing international human rights treaties with domestic legal status.
“Amnesty International warmly recognizes the unique path to human rights protection for the people in Taiwan established by Taiwanese authorities and civil society in response to the international political, military and legal environment,” Callamard said.
Taiwan also boasts one of the most vibrant civil societies in the region. Human rights organizations and activists have done impressive work to ensure that rights protection remains central to public and political debates.
“Taiwan has made tremendous strides on LGBTI rights in recent years. The 2019 decision to legalize same-sex marriage was a historic moment and an example to the region. The extension of this right last year to almost all foreign nationals living in Taiwan was also hugely positive. That positive direction of travel for human rights in Taiwan must be continued and strengthened through further concrete measures addressing existing loopholes and gaps, and by expanding human rights understanding and education,” Callamard said.
There is still much work to do on various human rights issues in Taiwan, including with regard to violence against women; the right to peaceful assembly; labour rights, including the right to strike; migrant rights; and prison conditions. Taiwan’s retention of the death penalty is another issue that must be addressed.
Taiwan also provides refuge for Hongkongers and others in the region. Regrettably, due to national security and political concerns, refugee protections are lacking.
“The failure to agree on a refugee protection framework exposes asylum seekers to risk of refoulement and other rights restrictions. This can be easily corrected by adopting a protection mechanism required for all nationals seeking refuge in Taiwan,” Callamard said.
“Taiwan can play a leading role in the region on human rights issues but needs to show resolve and continue to cement progress in key areas, such as migrant and refugee rights and the death penalty. It also needs to take steps to ensure full protection of the rights enshrined in the Convention Against Torture and other core human rights conventions in the UN, and implement a National Human Rights Action Plan.”
Amnesty International has been working on Taiwan for almost as long as the organization has been established, including by campaigning on behalf of the many prisoners of conscience held by the Taiwan Nationalist (Kuomintang, or KMT) government from its founding in 1949 until the end of martial law in 1987. The first Amnesty group in Taiwan was established shortly after, in 1989, and Amnesty International Taiwan was formally registered as a national NGO in 1994.
During the five days of this latest visit, the Amnesty delegation held meetings with representatives of the Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Development Counsel, National Human Rights Commission and both major political parties (the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, and the KMT). In parallel, and to inform those meetings, the delegation also met with representatives of civil society organizations, community activists and victims of human rights violations and abuses.