Taiwan urged to scrap death penalty, improve migrant and gay rights

Taipei, March 1 (CNA) International experts on Friday urged the Taiwanese government to scrap the death penalty and protect the rights of former president Chen Shui-bian, as well as the rights of indigenous people, migrant workers, prisoners, gay people and other groups in the country. Taiwan is among a small minority of only 20 states worldwide that imposed capital punishment in 2011, said Manfred Nowak, professor of international law and human rights at University of Vienna, one of the 10 international panelists invited to review Taiwan's first human rights report over the past week. "The experts, therefore, strongly recommend that the government of Taiwan intensifies its efforts towards 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 announce 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, although President Ma Ying-jeou has said that he respects the Ministry of Justice's decision to carry out executions according to the law. However, Ma has also stressed that he personally favors the decreased use of death penalty. Meanwhile, the human rights experts believe all the 15 executions carried out in Taiwan over the last three years have violated the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Taiwan adopted in 2009 along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The report also urges the Taiwanese government to reduce the number of prisoners by introducing less restrictive provisions on pre-trial bail and parole, and to improve prison health services by transferring this 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," according to the report. 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 planned referendum on the 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 recommended that labor protection laws, such as the Labor Standards Act and Labor Safety and Health Act, cover migrant workers, domestic workers, and dispatched workers, and that the government reject the proposals to delink the basic wages of foreign workers from those of Taiwanese workers. Foreign workers employed in the manufacturing, construction and other industries are currently covered by the Labor Standards Act, but those who work as domestic helpers and caretakers are not. In response, Taiwan's Council of Labor Affairs has drafted a domestic workers protection act to ensure better rights for domestic workers. The experts also urged better corporate responsibility and transitional justice, more transparency in government decision-making on human rights issues, and carefully targeted human rights training for professionals such as prosecutors, police officers and prison administrators. 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 non-governmental organizations from Feb. 25 to March 1. (By Christie Chen)