Several countries have recognized that democratically elected Parliaments and serious human rights violations may unfortunately coexist.

by Massimo Introvigne*

*A paper presented at the hybrid seminar “Effective Parliamentarism and the Tai Ji Men Case,” organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on July 1, 2022, at the Renaissance Hotel, Washington DC, after the International Day of Parliamentarism, June 30.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on July 9th, 2022.

The Legislative Yuan in Taiwan. Credits.
The Legislative Yuan in Taiwan. Credits.

In 2022, the International Day of Parliamentarism, celebrated on June 30, is of special importance for Taiwan, as many scholars believe that the 1992 elections for the Legislative Yuan, of which the 30th anniversary will be celebrated this year, were a key passage for Taiwan’s transition to democracy.

The Parliament of Nationalist China was formed in Nanking in 1947–48 with a tricameral system including the Control Yuan (which at that time served as the upper house), the National Assembly, and the Legislative Yuan. This Parliament was  “transplanted” to Taipei after the Communist victory in the civil war. Originally, the Kuomintang still hoped to regain control of Mainland China, and the Judicial Yuan extended the term of the Nanking parliamentarians until this will eventually happen.

Years passed, the Kuomintang did not regain control of Mainland China, and more and more Nanking members of the Parliament died. Starting in 1969, supplemental elections were held, although the Nanking members still maintained the majority.

The building in Nanking where the Legislative Yuan met in 1948–49. Credits.
The building in Nanking where the Legislative Yuan met in 1948–49. Credits.

After the end of the Martial Law in 1987, Constitutional reforms, were introduced, and the surviving Nanking parliamentarians had to retire. In 1991, a Second National Assembly was elected. In 1992, the Control Yuan ceased its role as a chamber of the Parliament and assumed the supervisory functions it maintains today. The National Assembly ceased its functions in 2005. The Legislative Yuan remained the seat of the legislative power, and with the elections of 1992 it came to be entirely composed of members democratically elected.

Although the direct election of the President will follow only in 1996, several scholars both in Taiwan and abroad regard the Legislative Yuan elections of the 1992 as the end of the post-authoritarian period and the beginning of democracy.

This has consequences for the issue of transitional justice, i.e. the measures to recognize and indemnify victims of authoritarian policies and punish those responsible of human rights violations. On May 31, 2018, a Transitional Justice Commission was established in Taiwan, with the mandate to deal with human rights and legal abuses perpetrated during the period between 1945 and 1992—but not after 1992.

The Tai Ji Men case started precisely after 1992, in 1996, as part of a politically motivated crackdown that targeted several religious and spiritual movements. Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) claim, with good reasons, that this proves that limiting transitional justice to cases that happened until 1992 is wrong, since post-authoritarian violations of human rights continued after that date.

There is a broader argument in support of this position. Free parliamentary elections, such as the one that were held in Taiwan in 1992, are a key feature of democracy, but do not guarantee that all aspects of democracy will be implemented and human rights will be respected.

While Taiwan is a “new” democracy, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Switzerland are all countries that have always been democratic. Yet, they have all acknowledged that at times when their Parliaments were freely elected and functioned normally, serious abuses of human rights were perpetrated.

The United States had slavery until 1865, legal racial discrimination until one century later, and together with Canada and Australia perpetrated a number of human rights violations, later defined by their own institutions as “cultural genocide,” against the native inhabitants of their lands. From the 1920s until the 1970s Switzerland, a paragon of democracy, took the children of the itinerant Yenish minority away from their parents, and had them adopted by non-Yenish Swiss citizens or placed in orphanages, in an attempt to eradicate their culture and language.

Yenish family, Switzerland, 1928.
Yenish family, Switzerland, 1928. Credits.

All these cases have been recognized as demanding serious measures of transitional justice. This proves that massive wrongdoings, which transitional justice should rectify, may coexist with the presence of democratically elected Parliaments.

The United States, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia have all recognized that this was the case for their respective countries. The notion of transitional justice has thus evolved. The new notion of transitional justice should be applied in Taiwan as well. The post-1992 human rights violations and their victims, including Tai Ji Men, should be recognized. The consequences of these wrongdoings, including the tax prosecution at the core of the Tai Ji Men case, should be rectified.