US Report: Taiwan Infringes on Foreigners’ Rights

human rights memorial
Green Island Human Rights Memorial. Photo by Wilsonpeng via Wikimedia Commons

Taiwan is accused of exploiting foreign workers as well as other human rights violations in the US Department of State’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016” (full report) The report notes that the exploitation of foreign workers is among the major human rights violations in Taiwan; other abuses include official corruption and domestic abuse.

In relation to corruption, the paper notes that “as of June, authorities indicted 201 officials, including 23 high-ranking officials, on corruption charges.”

The report mentions that lesser human rights abuses include “some media self-censorship with regard to China, vote buying, violations of legal working hours, lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems for persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei, gender-biased sex selection, and a rise in child abuse.”

In addition to the abuses mentioned, the report indicates that while Taiwan’s prison system meets international standards, there is a problem with overcrowding. Prisons operated at 113% capacity in 2016.

With respect to freedom of speech, the Department of State report mentions the sentencing of pro-independence activists to three months in prison for removing and damaging Taiwanese flags. It did, however, mention that the  Executive Yuan withdrew its lawsuit against participants in the 2014 Sunflower student protest movement. It also cited “concern about the impact of the concentration of media ownership on freedom of the press.”

While there were rare attacks on journalists in the year, “local media reported incidents of police obstruction and violence directed at journalists who were covering protests against administration policies.” There were also reports from academics and media activists alleging continued self-censorship with some media presenting news stories in favor of China due to political considerations and the influence of local businesses with close ties to the China.

Despite the guarantee of fair trials, a Crime Research Center of National Chung Cheng University survey found 85% of respondents distrusted the objectivity and fairness of judges, up 7% from the previous year.

As for child abuse, “according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the percentage of abused children under age six increased from 21% to 27% over the past four years.” There is no mention of international abduction of children because “Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.”

In reference to human trafficking, a separate related report notes “Most trafficking victims are migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, individuals from China and Cambodia.” Taiwan, however, meets minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. The nation initiated prosecutions against 30 suspected traffickers, compared with 71 in 2014, and convicted 22 traffickers, compared with 17 in 2014.

It further indicates:

Brokers in Taiwan often assist employers in forcibly deporting “problematic” foreign employees should they complain, enabling the broker to fill the empty positions with new foreign workers and continually use debt bondage to control the work force. Documented and undocumented fishermen on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels, mostly from China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, experience non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food, and poor living conditions, which are indicators of trafficking. Women from China and Southeast Asian countries are lured to Taiwan through fraudulent marriages and deceptive employment offers for purposes of sex trafficking.

As this report is for 2016, there is no mention of the recent case in which four foreign workers were held captive for up to 14 years in Kaohsiung to work in a tofu factory.

In addition to human trafficking cases, some legal foreign workers also reported abuses, with NGOs saying that many are unwilling to report abuses for fear of contract termination and ending in debt. There were numerous reports of exploitation and poor working conditions of foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels. “NGOs said that complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation” of  the online Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center, “and they advocated lifting restrictions on foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers.”

There is a mention of discrimination against foreign-born spouses, who account for 2% of the population, but no specific details were provided.

Not all was negative in the report, however. There were mentions of free elections, uncensored internet, and no reports of torture or detention of political prisoners.

This is the 41st year that the US Department of State has released its report on human rights. The annual reports are used to help shape US policy and diplomatic relations worldwide.

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