The inauguration of the first human rights monument in Taiwan, on an offshore island where political dissidents were jailed, brought a kind of formal closure to the "white terror era" of martial law.
President Lee Teng-hui, and former political prisoners and their families attended the inauguration ceremony on Green Island, off the southeastern coast of Taiwan, on Human Rights Day Dec. 10.
Among those present was renowned writer Kuo Yi-ting, better known by his pen name "Bo Yang." The former political prisoner is chairman of the Human Rights Education Foundation.
The monument is inscribed with a poem written by Kuo and the names of 500 political dissidents who were jailed in the maximum security prison on the island during the martial law era (1949-1988).
After a minute of silent tribute, Lee gave his address, praising those who suffered in the pursuit of democracy and human rights in Taiwan.
The president also apologized on behalf of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government that he now heads and which has ruled Taiwan without interruption since the nationalists fled mainland China in 1949.
Lee said the people in Taiwan "will face the historical trauma squarely." The monument marks a solemn commitment that authoritarian rule will not recur, and that future generations will not know its fear and pain, he added.
The government instituted martial law in Taiwan through an emergency decree May 19, 1949. It lifted the decree 39 years later on Jan. 13, 1988.
The "white terror" of martial law came after Kuomintang troops killed some 20,000-50,000 people, mostly native Taiwanese, during four months in 1947. Many of those killed were intellectuals, and a number were Church leaders.
Lee, who became Taiwan´s first directly elected president in 1996, abolished the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion," which gave the government more powers during politically unstable periods. Lee had been president, although not through direct election, since 1988.
The human rights situation has improved a lot in the past decade as the government has transformed from authoritarian rule to democratic rule, Sister Celia Chua Ai-mei told UCA News Dec. 13.
The provincial of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception added that local people have begun to recognize their responsibility while speaking of their rights.
For instance, amendments to divorce laws give more respect to the rights of women and children, according to Sister Chua.
People have begun to show support for the work of the Good Shepherd sisters, whose apostolate focuses on abused girls, women and their children, she said.
Legislative amendments have also given factory workers the rights to demonstrate and to strike, the Religious added.
However, equality between women and men at work in terms of working hours, salary and benefits, and protection of children need to improve, she said.