Taiwan’s ratification of ICCPR & ICESCR – thoughts and implications

14 Apr

Taiwan has ratified two UN human rights treaties: International Convenent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on 31 March. This is good news not just for the development of human rights in Taiwan, but also for the human rights regime.

While the conventions were signed by Taiwan as early as 1967, it was not ratified by an authoritarian government and has since been forgotten.

According to chairman of Amnesty International Taiwan and a consultant to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Peter Huang, in a Taipei Times article, noted there is cause for celebrations:

… First, the ratification is a breakthrough from the previous situation, in which two successive administrations called for the conventions to be ratified but the legislature had reservations on three major clauses. Legislators also sought to modify the text regarding self-determination that features in both covenants to the effect that peoples should be able to “declare” this right rather than actually exercise it.

It should be noted that China’s legislature did not make such changes in wording when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Now Taiwan’s lawmakers have ratified the conventions without reservation — undeniably a sign of progress.

Second, and more importantly, the legislature did not just approve the conventions, but also passed a law on their implementation, clearly ruling that they will have legal effect domestically whether they are deposited with the UN or not. The enforcement law gives priority to providing funds for implementation, and gives all levels of government two years in which to review their laws, regulations and practices and to amend or reform those that do not comply with the covenants. This sets a precedent for Taiwan’s ratification of and accession to other international conventions.

Third, the implementation law calls for the forming of a national human rights reporting system to regularly monitor the implementation of covenants. When this system gets off the ground, Taiwanese civic groups will be able to produce a counter-report, or shadow report, as do their counterparts in mature democracies, with which they can monitor the government’s performance.

Fourth, government policy should be implemented continuously and cumulatively. Work on the two conventions, which was initiated by the previous administration, is now being carried through by the current one. While the previous government instituted a trial implementation report on human rights, the reporting process will now be formal. This is a good example of how things should be done…

While this move should be applauded, the ratification may prove problemmatic given Taiwan is not a member of the UN. This is because only UN state members can be held accountable to the treaties.

To just provide one simple example: a state party with the ICCPR may submit a written complaint against another state which is also party to ICCPR, in which the specified UN committee will have to look into the matter.  Hypothetically speaking, if Taiwan wants to lodge a report against another state for not fulfilling its obligations under the convention, they will not be looked into because of its non-membership status in the UN.

With this in mind, it is time to appeal to the UN to reconsider Taiwan’s membership to the international body. The latter has proven itself worthy of self-governance as it sheds itself of its authoritarian past and commits to improving its human rights. By shunning Taiwan, the UN is doing itself a major disservice for making a mockery of its own principles, charter, and letters.

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