The 14 officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan make up about 2 per cent of the island's population (collectively referred to as 'yuanzhumin') and mostly inhabit the central mountains and the eastern coastal region. Ami constitute the largest group, and they along with the Paiwan and the Saisiat communities are able to maintain a visible traditional cultural life. Other smaller groups (known as 'pingpu' or lowland tribes) are still fighting for recognition. Other communities on the island include the majority Hokkien/ Minanese (69 per cent), Hakka (13 per cent) and more recent immigrants from mainland China and elsewhere.

While historically Taiwan's indigenous peoples have been discriminated against and deprived of fundamental freedoms including their land rights, in recent years the government has invested more funds to support indigenous peoples' culture. The Taiwanese government has also adopted a number of laws and regulations to protect indigenous peoples' rights, including with regard to political participation, culture and language. However, serious inconsistencies and contradictions in legislation alongside partial implementation of laws guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples have partly thwarted progress towards self-governance.

The government has pursued a policy of economic development which, according to local indigenous activists, has negatively affected indigenous peoples' traditional lands. Forested areas and land with mining potential have been claimed as national property; areas of natural beauty have been designated national parks for tourism; and the government has reportedly also taken large tracts of land from indigenous communities living in mountainous areas under the pretext of national security. At the end of January, members of the Ami indigenous group protested against the government's occupation of their traditional land. Subsequent discussions with officials failed to make any progress. In June, about 300 Paiwan leaders and representatives from other indigenous groups demonstrated in Nantien village in Taitung County against government plans to build nuclear waste facilities. Also in 2011, academics and civil society and indigenous groups successfully managed to stop the construction of a section of coastal highway that would overlap with the ancient Alangyi Trail in south-west Taiwan and pass through previously untouched coastal forest used by indigenous people for hunting.

In June, indigenous groups rejected the draft Indigenous Autonomy Act, which sets out the legal framework and process for establishing autonomous regions for indigenous peoples, saying it was disrespectful, unconstitutional and violated the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law. Indigenous groups are concerned that the Act does not define or grant them rights to indigenous lands, and that if it is passed, they would lose much of their input into decision-making. This prompted activists to criticize the government in December for failing to implement the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, as already passed by Taiwan's highest legislative assembly in 2005.

Ongoing protests are evidence that a number of indigenous communities have not benefited from Taiwan's economic boom, partly due to economic disparities and lack of proper access to education in their areas. Education is still a key issue, with endangered indigenous languages put at great risk of extinction, despite constitutional guarantees and the National Language Development Act.

On a positive note, in 2011 Taiwan's legislature adopted a law to implement the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and followed up by establishing a national Department of Gender Equality in 2012, both key steps to combat gender discrimination. Much remains to be done, since trafficking and child prostitution remain significant issues. To combat such illegal practices, the Taiwanese authorities announced that they will adopt a zero tolerance gender violence policy, as well as judicial measures to strengthen protection mechanisms and improve law and order.

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