President: Lee Teng-hui
Head of government: Vincent Siew
Population: 21.6 million
Official language: Mandarin Chinese
Death penalty: retentionist
The government demonstrated its commitment to improving human rights protection and advancing social welfare by introducing several new laws and reforming existing legislation. However, the authorities made increasing use of the death penalty, claiming that they were responding to public concern about levels of crime. At least 24 people were executed during 1999.
A major earthquake in September claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people and left 100,000 people homeless. The authorities continued to seek international recognition, a policy which perpetuated hostile relations with the People's Republic of China. Taiwan's application for UN membership was unsuccessful, but the authorities anticipated joining the World Trade Organization in 2000.
At least 24 people were executed during 1999. Grave doubts continued to surround the conviction of the "Hsinchu Trio" who were sentenced to death in February 1992. There was widespread concern that there was a lack of evidence against Su Chien-ho, Liu Bin-lang and Chuang Lin-hsun, and that they had been convicted solely on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. The Ministry of Justice advised AI in August that it had reviewed the evidence and referred the case of the three men to the prosecutor general to reconsider a fourth extraordinary appeal. AI urged President Lee Teng-hui in October to ensure that the convictions were reviewed.
In January the authorities repealed legislation which had been used to control the media during the 40-year period of martial law (1947-1987). In February the Council of Grand Justices (CGJ) ruled that compensation for breaches of civic rights should be extended to cover those detained without indictment during the martial law period.
Amendments to the Criminal Code in February made rape an indictable offence and empowered prosecutors to press charges against alleged rapists without the victim's consent. The amendments also covered sexual harassment, the use of threats or coercion to obtain sexual favours, and the use of drugs to render others defenceless for sexual purposes; they were applicable to men and women in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.
The National Police Administration submitted an amended version of the Assembly and Parade Law to the Ministry of the Interior in April which would decriminalize the acts of advocating a communist system of government for Taiwan or calling for formal independence from China.
The Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act was amended in May to allow maximum prison terms of 10 years for people convicted of paying to have sex with children under the age of 14, and shorter prison terms for those convicted of having sex with minors under the age of 18.
The Domestic Violence Prevention Act, introduced in June, established protection for victims of domestic violence. The new law allowed judges to issue restraining orders and provided for those acting on behalf of victims of domestic violence, such as police officers, social workers and prosecutors, to seek court orders. It also required local government to establish domestic violence prevention centres.
It was announced in January 1999 that men reporting for their compulsory two years of national service could apply to serve outside the military. From January 2000 conscripts would have the option of applying to spend their two-year period of service in the police force or the fire service, as workers participating in environmental projects, or as carers to the elderly and the handicapped. The issue of exemption from compulsory national service on religious grounds was still under consideration by the Ministry of National Defence (MND) at the end of 1999.
The MND established a military human rights protection commission in March, in response to the demands of the families of conscripts who died in military accidents. The MND also agreed to form a special military accident investigation committee to ensure impartiality and transparency in investigations into the causes of the accidents.
Proposed amendments to the Military Tribunal Law were submitted to the legislature in May. Under the amendments officers and servicemen would be granted the right to be tried not only in a military court but also in the Taiwan High Court or Supreme Court. Capital cases, or cases of life imprisonment, would be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Asylum-seeking and immigration
Laws and procedures governing asylum-seeking and immigration continued to lack transparency. A new Immigration Law, passed in May, enabled the foreign spouses and children of Taiwan nationals to apply for residency status, provided they could prove that they had lived in Taiwan for a certain length of time. The new legislation established entry requirements for people of Chinese descent, mainly from Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia and Thailand, who were not covered under previous immigration laws. It also lifted restrictions on Taiwan nationals wishing to travel abroad.
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