An important passage in the history of the Tai Ji Men case highlights the pioneer role of the Association of World Citizens.
by Massimo Introvigne
An article already published in Bitter Winter on September 27th, 2021.
Bitter Winter has reported about the efforts of CAP-LC, the ECOSOC-accredited NGO Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience, to bring the Tai Ji Men case to the attention of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, together with other similar cases of limitation of freedom of religion or belief (FORB) in different countries through the improper and illegal use of taxes.
Taiwan is not a member state of the United Nations for well-known political reasons, and what the United Nations can do for Taiwan cases is but limited. However, the fact that the Tai Ji Men case is discussed at the United Nations has a moral, political, and even historical value.
In fact, CAP-LC’s interventions do not represent the first attempt by an ECOSOC-accredited NGO to present the Tai Ji Men case at the Human Rights Council. There is an historical precedent involving the Association of World Citizens (AWC).
The AWC was founded in 1975 by Douglas Mattern (1933–2011), a well-known American peace and disarmament activist. Mattern believed that, by joining forces in an international association, common citizens may effectively assist the United Nations institutions and cooperate in the work of conflict resolution and promotion of peace. In 2000, Mattern appointed the leader of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, as a member of the AWC’s Advisory Board and Honorary Vice-President. After Mattern died, in 2012, the new AWC President, René Wadlow, a US-born French academic specialized in Development Studies, appointed Hong as Vice-President of the organization.
On November 9, 2010, Wadlow, as the then AWC Vice-President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, submitted a 1503 procedure to the Human Rights Council about the Tai Ji Men case. A 1503 procedure is a complaint denouncing a case of violation of human rights and inviting the Human Rights Council to investigate. It is named after the resolution by which it was created: Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Resolution 1503 (XLVIII) of 27 May 1970. The procedure has since been amended several times.
The AWC acted on behalf of Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy, which it called “a member organization” of AWC, and the Association of World Citizens in Taiwan.
Wadlow reminded the Human Rights Council that “the Tai Ji Men case began as a legal court case during which there were human rights abuses. These abuses were later highlighted by government investigations, and compensation was paid to those so abused. However, the court case dragged on for 10 years [now (2021) 25] and took a heavy moral and psychological toll on many in the Tai Ji Men.”
The 1503 complaint did not deal with the court cases, but with their by-product, the illegal tax case against Tai Ji Men. Tax issues against Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, Wadlow summarized, were “first raised as part of legal proceedings and normally should have been dropped at the end of the appeal to the highest court. However, the tax authorities have continued in their tax demands, although the base for these demands was undermined by the court decision.” The 1503 complaint was about a case of “abuse of tax processes to hinder, and possibly destroy a non-governmental organization and thus abuse human rights.”
Wadlow noted that the case should have been of special interest to all UN member states, since “violation of human rights through tax policies and practices is a relatively new subject in UN human rights practice, and thus merits serious consideration.” The Tai Ji Men case, Wadlow said, “is related to the excessive power of the tax authorities to use coercive methods such as auctions to collect funds, and a ban on travel from Taiwan of persons involved in tax conflicts.”
But why, Wadlow asked, was a tax case so important as to be taken to the level of the United Nations? “While these are many tax conflicts between the tax authorities and individuals, firms and associations in Taiwan, Wadlow answered, they are usually settled by ‘a compromise’ with only a percentage of the tax demanded being paid. Thus both sides ‘keep face’—the tax authorities receiving something and the individual or firm paying less than was originally demanded. The Tai Ji Men has refused such proposals of a compromise for reasons of principle.” Since they were not guilty of tax evasion, Tai Ji Men refused to admit the contrary by settling.
The AWC, Wadlow concluded, was “encouraged by the ratification by the Parliament of Taiwan of the two basic U.N. human rights covenants [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)], on 10 December 2009.” Now, it was time to enforce the covenants and give justice to Tai Ji Men.
It was a bold, brave move, supplemented by letters Wadlow personally wrote to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the President of the UN Human Rights Council Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the Director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development Sarah Cook, the President of Taiwan Ma Ying-Jeou, the Director General of the Trade Office of Taiwan in Geneva Hsieh Wu-Chiau, and other authorities. He expressed the hope that the government of Taiwan would spontaneously cooperate with the 1503 investigation.
In fact, scholars disagree whether a 1503 investigation may be performed with respect to what the UN documents call “Taiwan, Province of China.” The UN have no direct relations with the government of Taiwan. Perhaps that government might have seized the opportunity offered by the 1503 complaint to rectify the Tai Ji Men case. Taiwan’s President at that time was a member of the same party who had been responsible for the human rights violations of 1996, and did not take advantage of the opportunity nor answered Wadlow’s letter.
No action was taken on the AWC’s complaint. However, as all masters of wisdom teach, no righteous action is ever wasted. The 1503 complaint filed by the AWC remains as a bright historical precedent, the starting point of a process that is leading to the internationalization of the Tai Ji Men case. It will be one day remembered as the proverbial snowball that started an avalanche.