"In that era, how many mothers spent long nights crying for their children locked up on Green Island?" The Green Island Human Rights Monument, which was formally unveiled on December 10, 1999, bears this question-simple words that expose deeply felt pain and suffering.
December 10 is internationally observed as Human Rights Day. Human rights groups consequently schedule many activities and reports for the end of every year. Some aim to make a clear record of past crimes, others to assess the current human rights situation. And they don't, of course, neglect to shed light on the proper direction for future work.
On the invitation of the Human Rights Education Foundation, ROC president Lee Teng-hui went to outlying Green Island for a December 10 ceremony to mark the completion of the Green Island Human Rights Monument, the first monument to human rights in both Taiwan and Asia as a whole.
In the early years of ROC rule in Taiwan, the government sent political prisoners to Green Island. Those inmates lucky enough to survive that era of oppression and return to their normal lives, as well as family members of prisoners and other citizens concerned about human rights, joined together to create the foundation. So that the suffering of that period would not be forgotten, they raised money to establish this memorial, which bears witness to the government's past mistakes and the pain of those who suffered under its oppression.
In his speech at the opening, Lee Teng-hui solemnly declared, "On the govern-ment's behalf, let me convey to the foundation the highest of respect, and to the victims of repression let me offer the deepest of apologies!" He had, in fact, already shown his personal support when he donated NT$20 million from the royalties from his book With the People Always in My Heart, which enabled the memorial to be built within a year.
The planning and soliciting of funds for the monument fell largely to Po Yang, the chairman of the foundation, who spent nearly ten years in a Green Island prison for angering the authorities with his translation of a Popeye comic strip. He drew from his well of deep feelings about his time spent there to write the monument's inscription: "In that era, how many mothers spent long nights crying for their children locked up on Green Island?"
At the same time as providing a teary release for years of pent-up pain, he also affirmed Taiwan's new successes in the realm of human rights. "We are now as a nation seeking to observe basic human rights for the first time in the history of Chinese culture, and are therefore living in the most fortunate age of Chinese history," he said. "Building on this foundation, we will continue striving to protect this resource. Human rights are dependent on more than merely political and legal struggle. Rather, they involve independent thinking and respect for people as individuals. We've got to take our conception of human rights and make it an integral part of people's basic moral fiber, so that it is fully manifested in everyday life." Toward this end and in conjunction with the unveiling of the monument, the Human Rights Education Foundation has scheduled "Human Rights Educational Seed Seminars" for teachers. Teachers who work on Green Island itself will be the first batch of seeds prepared to disseminate human rights knowledge.
Regrettably, although the "white terror" has ended, many of its victims still live under its shadow. Architecturally, the memorial is basically just an extended arc-shaped wall. Originally, the names of all of those who were political prisoners here were supposed to be inscribed on it, but the foundation encountered resistance from many of the victims and their families, so the plan was scrapped.
Chien Jung-song, chairman of a support group that helped to bring about the creation of the monument, was responsible for collecting the names and obtaining approval. Because many government agencies are still unwilling to make relevant documents public, and because many of the victims have already died or are impossible to track down, the foundation was able to compile a list of only 3,000 names. "And among these 3,000, just 510 of the victims or their families consented to have the names on the monument," Chien says. "Many refused, saying something like, 'Life is hard to predict. Who knows, having a name on the monument might bring trouble.'"
Chou Pi-se, the foundation's executive director, explains that they will work on communicating with the victims and their families, helping them to free themselves from their terror and encouraging them to join the ranks of those willing to stand up and bear witness. After the foundation gets their consent, it will then engrave their names into the wall.
Kaohsiung Incident remembered
Last year was also the 20th anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident, which was an important milestone in the push for democracy in Taiwan. Both the Taipei and Kaohsiung city governments put on various activities in commemoration. The founders of Formosa Magazine (including Huang Hsin-chieh, Hsu Hsin-liang, Annette Lu and Shih Ming-te), who were calling for freedom of speech and Taiwanese independence, were imprisoned as a result of the incident. They and their lawyers (including Frank Hsieh, Chen Shui-bian and Yu Ching) would devote themselves in following years to the struggle for democracy. All would later be among the founders of the Democratic Progressive Party. Twenty years have passed, but those involved in the Kaohsiung incident haven't forgotten the suffering of those years. Now they are enjoying the fruits of victory. As mayor of Kaohsiung, Frank Hsieh has helped to refresh people's memories of the incident. He had relevant documents exhibited at the Kaohsiung History Museum, a replica made of the "democracy truck" used during the original protests, and memorial activities held at the traffic circle on Chungshan and Chungcheng roads, where the demonstration occurred. In Taipei, the "Committee to Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident" worked in cooperation with Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT mayor. One night a commemorative rally entitled "Formosa Love Song" was held at Ta-an Forest Park.
Yet while the victims of the February 28 and Kaohsiung incidents and Green Island's political prisoners have all found some redress, many other victims who died as a result of the "white terror" have received no acknowledgement whatsoever. For instance, to escape the communists in 1949, several secondary schools banded together and sent their students to Taiwan's outer islands of Penghu, where they continued their studies in a combined school whose principal was Chang Min-chih. They never expected that the army would forcibly conscript them. Principal Chang, who protested to the authorities on the students' behalf, was sentenced to death, and many students who refused to do military service were likewise executed. The government has yet to issue any formal statement about the "Penghu Incident."
What's more, whereas Taiwan's government has made great strides in the area of political rights, there are other human rights areas, such as treatment of disadvantaged groups and physical safety, where the record is not so good.
The Chinese Association for Human Rights, which has been in existence for more than 20 years, began to formally assess Taiwan's progress in human rights in 1991. At the end of every year it issues its "indices of human rights in Taiwan." The association's Chai Song-lin says that this year Taiwan earned failing marks in all eight categories of human rights: political, children's, elderly, economic, judicial, educational-cultural, social and women's rights.
As in past years, the lowest score was earned in the area of women's rights. Data collected by the Peng Wan-Ru Foundation, which works on women's safety issues, show that from 25 to 36 women are raped every day in Taiwan, and that one out of five female students at Taiwan's universities has been sexually harassed. According to National Police Administration statistics, 19 women are robbed in Taiwan every day.
"Every time a woman's personal safety is threatened by violence," states a foundation spokesperson, "a family is potentially being fractured or destroyed, and both the victim and her family members may suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome." Only if women can go when and where they please without fear can a society be said to be truly friendly toward women.
A slip in the index for children's rights is another point of concern. The foundation's report pointed out that in Taiwan this year there were several cases of parents killing their children before taking their own lives. These show how domestic violence is a grave threat to children's right to life. "Although the Children's Welfare Act was passed seven years ago, there is still inadequate care for children in unfortunate circumstances-such as children of single parents or children who are sexually or otherwise abused." The Chinese Association for Human Rights points out that although children in Taiwan are generally well provided for materially, they are not encouraged to develop as individuals and have few available cultural and leisure activities and few media outlets that serve them.
Peter Huang, the chairman of the Taiwan Human Rights Association and the founder of the National Human Rights Advocacy Alliance, has written that he doubts whether human rights work in Taiwan can continue to rely upon piecemeal efforts. He argues that a lack of information about human rights and a lack of stress placed on it by the educational system here are the main reasons there is so little consciousness about human rights among both the ruling and opposition parties. "In Taiwan's seven largest libraries there are less than 200 Chinese language works about human rights, and at all of Taiwan's universities and colleges, only a few courses are offered on human rights. Education in the field is pursued by only a few interested academics and individuals."
It is clear that future work on behalf of human rights cannot rely entirely upon the struggles and self-reflection of important persons and competition among political parties. For a firm human rights foundation, legislation and systematic long-term education are also needed.
An opening ceremony was held on December 10 at the Taiwan Human Rights Monument, which is both a memorial for political prisoners and a reminder for future generations about Taiwan's era of "white terror." ROC president Lee Teng-hui and Human Rights Education Foundation chairman Po Yang together unveiled this milestone of human rights progress in Taiwan.
The Kaohsiung Incident of December 10, 1979 shook the world and ended up accelerating the development of democracy and human rights here. Leading figures in the incident have become stars in today's political arena. DPP presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (left) was a defense lawyer in the subsequent trials. His running mate is Annette Lu, Taoyuan County chief executive, who was one of those convicted. (photo by Huang Tzu-ming)