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Observations of President Ma Ying-jeou upon the 24th anniversary of the June 4th Incident

Seize the opportunity to bring about a new era in human rights—Observations upon the 24th anniversary of the June 4th Incident

Many have asked me why I have commemorated the June 4th Incident each year for the past 24 years.

Mainland China's June 4th Incident, just like Taiwan's February 28th Incident in 1947, was an instance where the government then in power dealt improperly with a mass protest, thus causing a tragedy. Both the February 28th Incident and the June 4th Incident remind the leaders who are now in power on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait of the need for self-criticism, and for an ability to learn from the past. We commemorate the June 4th Incident for the same reason we commemorate the February 28th Incident more than 60 years after the fact. I earnestly hope that similar tragedies will never happen again on either side of the Taiwan Strait, and that the universal values of human rights can take root in the Chinese nation.

In May of this year, the mainland authorities issued a white paper titled Progress in China's Human Rights in 2012 to explain the current state of human rights in mainland China. Outside observers have raised many criticisms, but if the mainland authorities are willing to regularly examine human rights issues and submit in good faith to an outside review, this will be a step in the right direction.

As it happens, Taiwan just this past April released a report on its implementation of the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). We got out in front on this issue in 2009 by passing the Act to Implement the ICCPR and ICESCR, ratifying the two covenants, sending them to the UN Secretariat, and undertaking to review all laws and regulations in the ROC by a set deadline to ensure that current legal provisions did not run counter to the two covenants. Where problematic provisions were found, amendments were enacted. We also established a Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee, which issued the aforementioned report on our implementation of the two UN covenants. After getting the report translated into English, we invited a panel of 10 international human rights experts to come to Taiwan and review the report in cooperation with local NGOs. The panel put forward more than 80 recommendations for improvements. The international experts have been unanimously positive in their comments about our serious attitude, and our open approach.

We see the protection of human rights as an established worldwide trend. The impact of the various international human rights covenants is steadily expanding, so human rights issues no longer fall strictly within the ambit of a nation's internal affairs. If the mainland authorities recognize this fact, then they should ratify the ICCPR as soon as possible. And in the future, when drafting a report on their implementation of this covenant, they should adopt an open attitude, and invite international human rights experts to take part in the process. This would lend a great deal of added credibility to any report or white paper they issue, and could not but enhance the mainland's international image as well as its soft power.

Cross-strait ties have improved dramatically over the past five years. Peace and prosperity are now the shared hope of people in Taiwan and the mainland. However, a gap in the quality of human rights protections on the two sides has long impeded efforts to lessen the feeling of "otherness" between people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Even so, I do believe that this feeling can be gradually reduced through cross-strait interaction and dialogue on the subject of human rights.

Our concern for human rights on the,/p> Chinese mainland stems not just from our commitment to a set of universal values. More importantly, the people on both sides are all ethnically Chinese. We are all descendants of the ancient emperors Yan and Huang. Human rights issues on either side should be the shared concern of the people on both sides. The mainland authorities should be more magnanimous. They should be more tolerant toward dissenters, and accord them better treatment. If the mainland authorities will only demonstrate the proper resolve, they absolutely have the ability to narrow the cross-strait gap in human rights protections. We sincerely hope that the new leadership in the mainland will seize the opportunity to bring about a new era in human rights.

【Source: Office of the President】