Cabinet to communicate with legislature on human rights covenants

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday to actively seek negotiations with legislators to win their long-delayed endorsement of two international human rights covenants.
Liu issued the directive at a weekly Cabinet meeting, during which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a report on the progress in promoting ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Liu's directive came one day after President Ma Ying-jeou openly called for an early ratification of the covenants to highlight the importance Taiwan attaches to human rights protection.
The covenants were introduced by the United Nations in 1966 and came into force in 1976. The Republic of China became a signatory to the covenants in 1967, when it was still a member of the United Nations.
At a news conference held after the Cabinet meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco H.L. Ou noted that the government did not proceed immediately with the ratification of the covenants in the 1960s because at that time, the human rights situation in Taiwan was not in compliance with the requirements set forth in the documents.
The procedure was suspended after the country lost its U.N. membership in 1971, Ou said.
During the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, the Cabinet submitted the covenants to the legislature for endorsement, first in 2001 and again in 2002 and 2005, but because of differences among legislators, there was no decision on the issue, he said.
The treaties were last presented to the Legislative Yuan in February 2008, but were again excluded from the legislative agenda, Ou said.
A major bone of contention was a clause in the covenants promising self-determination of all peoples, which some feared could fuel a bid by pro-independence activists to promote a plebiscite on the issue of independence versus unification with China and thereby escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
The covenants therefore failed to win the support of the then-opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party, which together held a majority in the legislature during the eight years the pro-independence DPP was in power.
With Ma's strong support for the ratification of the covenants, it remains to be seen whether his ruling KMT, which now controls two-thirds of the legislative seats, will change its stance on the issue.