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The difference is human rights

The difference is human rights

The establishment of December 10 as International Human Rights Day symbolized the effort of the world community to learn the bitter lessons from the global disaster of the Second World War and work to maintain peace through a "United Nations."

The stated purpose of the U.N. was to use rational dialogue and cooperation to promote world peace and foster human progress and development. The United Nations Charter stressed the inseparable linkage between the promotion of world peace and respect for human rights and listed the promotion of protection of human rights and the upholding of international peace and security as parallel objectives.

The enshrinement and realization of the concept of human rights is a crucially important trend in the development of human civilization and respect for human rights has already become a cornerstone of modern international law and a mainstream value in international political development.

The global human rights movement inherits the progress in developing the concepts of human rights and the progressive tradition of striving for respect for human respect, democracy, liberty and equality. The pursuit of human rights also acted as a decisive motive force behind Taiwan's own democratic movement, a role symbolized by the symbol of the Tangwai (non-Kuomintang) movement - the fist of struggle circled by laurel leaves and undergird by the Chinese characters for human rights.

The reasons why the call for human rights has exercised such appeal in Taiwan include both the decades of oppression and violation of human rights under the former KMT authoritarian regime and the related gap between the existing mentalities and institutions in Taiwan and the ideals of human rights and human dignity.

The realization of basic rights of democracy, freedom and protection for fundamental human rights is the most important difference between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.

Mass exploitation of workers

Speaking after viewing a documentary film on the oral history of victims of the Kuomintang's "white terror" period, Chen related that the touted economic "miracle" of the KMT era was achieved at the price of "the tragic fate and blood and tears" of thousands of victims of political oppression, not to mention the exploitation of Taiwan's millions of workers and farmers.

This month's tragedy of the slaughter of tens of farmers in Shanwei, Guangdong Province by PRC security forces while demonstrating against a power plant illustrates that the PRC is following the same tragic path, written on an even vaster scale.

After decades of struggle, the Taiwan people have achieved a democratic society, while far from perfect, is governed based on the consent of the people as expressed in regular elections, while in China, Hong Kong and several other Asian neighbors, the people enjoy only the tenuous rights that are "given" to them by their respective regimes.

This gap remains the fundamental gulf between Taiwan and the PRC, but while the people of the PRC are faced with the question of whether they will achieve democracy or fall into deeper chaos, the questions faced by Taiwan's democratic society are becoming more complex.

In the wake of the realization of Taiwan's basic democratization, the concept of human rights has naturally expanded its operation range from the political sphere, but there remain major misunderstandings about what constitutes respect or fostering of human rights.

For example, many people may believe that extensive reporting in news media about the poverty of individual disadvantaged families and a resulting influx of charitable donations is a sign of respect for human rights, but that is not quite the case. Besides measures to promote employment, more to the point would be the promotion of reasonable working environments with protection for the rights of workers, including the so-called "three rights of labor" to assemble and organize trade unions, engage in collective bargaining and, if necessary, to strike.

Private businesses can also violate freedoms

Otherwise, the fostering of the provision of considerable income to people who do not work when employment opportunities are available would create other types of inequities. For example, the discussion of the campaign by the governing Democratic Progressive Party and media reform groups to realize the goal of effecting the withdrawal of political parties, notably the KMT, the government and the military out of direct ownership and management of electronic media has neglected the fact that the intervention of private businesses can also violate the values of news freedom and accuracy in reporting.

Therefore, whether news media should be state or publically owned or financially supported by political parties or the government is no longer the only or most decisive issue as it appeared to be during the decades of monopoly control by the KMT over the print and electronic media.

What is now more critical is whether the function of the news media as a "fourth estate" of society, particularly in terms of the objectivity and autonomy of news reporting and editorial content, is really free from external interference from both political censorship and no less improper domination by corporate interests.

Realizing the liberation of news media from political control only to leave journalistic functions vulnerable to improper and unethical manipulation by private enterprises would make a mockery of the goal of media reform and violate in substance, if not in form, the human rights of citizens for the provision of knowledge and channels for free expression by autonomous, fair and ethical news media. The complexities of protecting human rights in a complex democratic society such as Taiwan needs to be faced by our society.

We therefore support the call issued on December 10 by the "21st Century Constitutional Reform Alliance" for the inclusion of a wide range of human rights issues in the next phase of constitutional reforms, including issues such as rights in the field of equality, social welfare, political participation, basic administrative and judicial procedures, the right of asylum rights for foreigners and the right of resistance.