TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The U.S. Department of State accused Taiwan of various human rights abuses in its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016” (full report).
The report states that the exploitation of foreign workers is among Taiwan’s major human rights violations, with other abuses including official corruption and domestic abuse. The report adds that lesser concerns include “some media self-censorship with regard to China, vote buying, violations of legal working hours, lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems for persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei, gender-biased sex selection, and a rise in child abuse.”
The report notes that “as of June, authorities indicted 201 officials, including 23 high-ranking officials, on corruption charges.” Taiwan ranked 31st on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016 published in February. It ranked fourth in East Asia.
The report also indicates that while Taiwan’s prison system meets international standards, there is a problem with overcrowding, with prisons operating at 113% capacity in 2016. It did note, however, that there are no reports of political prisoners or incidents of torture by authorities. The report also mentions that Taiwan allows independent observers to inspect prison conditions.
The Department of State report mentions in relation to freedom of speech that pro-independence activists were sentenced to three months in prison for removing and damaging Taiwanese flags. It did, however, note that the Executive Yuan withdrew its lawsuit against participants in the 2014 Sunflower student protest movement. It also cited “concern about the impact of the concentration of media ownership on freedom of the press.”
While attacks on journalists were rare during the year, “local media reported incidents of police obstruction and violence directed at journalists who were covering protests against administration policies.” There were also reports from academics and media activists alleging continued self-censorship, particular with news stories in favor of China that were published due to political considerations as well as the influence of local businesses with close ties to the China.
The report highlights that human trafficking remains a problem. Such abuse has come under the spotlight recently with the most recent case in which four foreign workers were held captive for up to 14 years in Kaohsiung to work in a tofu factory. The factory owners were fined NT$1.2 million (US$38,760) for the violation and the employment broker was fined NT$500,000.
In the department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2016,” it notes that “most trafficking victims are migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, individuals from China and Cambodia.” There have been reports of Taiwanese operating illegal businesses abroad as a means to attract sex workers to Taiwan as well as to the U.S.
Taiwanese authorities identified 278 victims of human trafficking in 2016 (197 sex trafficking victims and 81 forced labor victims), down for 292 in 2014. The National Immigration Agency (NIA) operated three shelters dedicated to trafficking victims, and the Ministry of Labor subsidized an additional 20 shelters and a 24-hour hotline for victims.
Taiwan, however, meets minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. The nation prosecuted 30 suspected traffickers in 2016, compared with 71 in 2014, and convicted 22 traffickers, compared with 17 in 2014. The report claims that while Taiwan has sought to prosecute more such cases, the legal system treats human trafficking as a lesser crime and doles out more lenient sentences.
Taiwan’s Human Trafficking Prevention and Control Act (HTPCA) recommends sentences of up to seven years in prison. “Despite the anti-trafficking law, authorities prosecuted the majority of trafficking cases under other laws, such as the criminal code, and the Children and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act,” according to the report.
While local officials have been accused in some cases of human trafficking, authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions or convictions of Taiwanese officials complicit in such offenses. In October, Chiayi City Councilman Hong Youren (洪有仁) was accused of running an illegal club called Drunk Beauty (醉美人) in which Thai transsexuals were employed via a broker using allegedly fraudulent documents. Hong was officially charged last month.
The report states that those most vulnerable to exploitation in Taiwan are domestic workers and caregivers because they most often reside with their employers. And brokers often assist in deporting workers who are considered “problematic.” The brokers also use debt bondage as a means to control workers hired abroad.
In July, an Indonesian caregiver was allegedly raped by her employer. The case didn’t come to the public’s attention until after a cell phone video of one sexual assault incident recorded by the victim was released by Indonesian media. That case came after another employer was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting an Indonesian caregiver multiple times.
The report further indicates:
Brokers in Taiwan often assist employers in forcibly deporting “problematic” foreign employees should they complain, enabling the broker to fill the empty positions with new foreign workers and continually use debt bondage to control the work force. Documented and undocumented fishermen on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels, mostly from China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, experience non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food, and poor living conditions, which are indicators of trafficking. Women from China and Southeast Asian countries are lured to Taiwan through fraudulent marriages and deceptive employment offers for purposes of sex trafficking.
In addition to human trafficking, there were also reported abuses of legal foreign workers. NGOs said that many workers are unwilling to report abuses for fear their contracts will be terminated and they will incur debt. Most reports of exploitation and poor working conditions involved foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels.
“In May the Kaohsiung Prosecutor’s Office arrested 11 people, including four fishing boat owners…for allegedly confining 81 fishing boat crewmen from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tanzania and Mozambique….The court released all 11 suspects on bail ranging from NT$30,000 to NT$100,000, and the investigation continued as of November.”
In an effort to eliminate abuses by recruiters, the Ministry of Labor began operating a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center (DHSC) and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. However, “NGOs said that complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation” of the system, “and they advocated lifting restrictions on foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers.” On November 5, the government also eliminated the stipulation that foreign workers must exit the country every three years between re-employment contracts.
While the majority of problems foreigners face remains in the workplace, the report mentions discrimination against foreign-born spouses, who account for only 2% of the population, but no specific details were provided.
As for child abuse, “according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the percentage of abused children under age six increased from 21% to 27% over the past four years.” There is no mention of international abduction of children because “Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.”
Additionally, despite the guarantee of fair trials, a Crime Research Center of National Chung Cheng University survey found 85% of respondents distrusted the objectivity and fairness of judges. The distrust of judges increased 7% from the previous year.
Not all was negative in the report, however. There were mentions of free elections, uncensored internet, and no reports of torture or detention of political prisoners. The report also notes the rights afforded by Taiwan’s constitution and legal codes.
While Taiwan has no established policy regarding refugees, there were cases of granting permanent resident status to asylum seekers from China who resided in Taiwan for an extended period. The law, however, requires that all Chinese citizens in the country illegally to be returned to China.
In June, President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan is willing to aid in the global refugee crisis, despite not being a member of the UN. The Rising People Foundation and a non-profit organization launched a project called "Casa di Love" to build a refugee facility on Lampedusa, a 20.2-square kilometer island in southern Italy that has taken in nearly 100,000 refugees.
Despite the report, Taiwan scored 91 of 100 points in the “Freedom in the World 2017” report by non-governmental organization Freedom House, setting itself two points ahead of the U.S. It also ranked 11th in the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index in February, in which the country again surpassed the U.S.
This is the 41st year that the U.S. Department of State has released its report on human rights. The annual reports are used to help shape US policy and diplomatic relations worldwide.
In response to the report government spokesman Sidney Lin (林鶴明) said that Taiwan places great importance on protecting the rights of workers. He emphasized the revised labor laws pertaining to days off and overtime pay.
Some Taiwanese netizens responded to the report with accusations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. and claims that Taiwan’s recent record of human rights is superior. Others echoed the report’s mentions of the poor treatment of workers around Taiwan.