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Taiwan Quietly Forging Ahead in Human Rights Protection

Authors: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, and Yu-Jie Chen, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University
March 29, 2013
South China Morning Post


For over four decades after the Allied victors in the second world war allowed Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese government to reclaim Taiwan from Japan, the generalissimo's Kuomintang maintained a ruthless Leninist-style dictatorship over the island. Yet KMT propaganda hoodwinked many outside the island to believe that it, unlike the Maoist regime that chased it from mainland China in 1949, was the defender of democracy, the rule of law and human rights for Chinese people.

During the past generation, since the end of martial law in 1987, Taiwan has experienced a gradual, peaceful political revolution that established genuine democracy, government under law and respect for many internationally guaranteed human rights. This monumental achievement, unprecedented in Chinese history, is a tribute to both the adaptability of the decreasingly authoritarian KMT and the increasing maturity of its major domestic rival, the Democratic Progressive Party. Yet, because of Taiwan's continuing exclusion from the United Nations, from which it was ousted as the representative of China in 1971, and because, until recently, both DPP and KMT administrations proved less adept than Chiang in foreign propaganda, Taiwan's achievement has been too little noticed and supported by the world community.

Four years ago, however, President Ma Ying-jeou's new KMT government, with DPP co-operation, finally adopted the UN's two major human rights treaties - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the Chiang regime had signed but never ratified.

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