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Prof. Huang Song-lih on the Paris Principles and the National Human Rights Institution

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Prof. Huang Song-lih on the Paris Principles and the National Human Rights Institution

On October 14, 2016, Professor Dr. Huang Song-lih of the Institute of Public Health at National Yangming University was invited to deliver a talk on the Paris Principles and National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).

As a driving force pushing forward the establishment of a NHRI in Taiwan, Dr. Huang is the convener of Covenants Watch and concurrently a member of the Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee. In his talk, Dr. Huang not only briefed the audience on the Paris Principles, but also, from the civil society’s perspective, provided insights to the history and current progress of setting up a NHRI in Taiwan. He compared the different proposed draft plans, and discussed the role and functions of the Government and the Control Yuan.

Dr. Huang also pointed out the wording preference of “Commission” over “Institution” in our local scenario, which changes the NHRI to NHRC (National Human Rights Commission). He emphasized that being “independent,” “pluralistic,” and “effective” are among the most important requirements of a NHRI as dictated by the Paris Principles. The independence of a NHRI shall be guaranteed by a transparent appointment process of its members, as well as the participation of the civil society at large. A guaranteed tenure of office and an independent budget are what keep a NHRI free from partisan or political interference. Dr. Huang also remarked that pluralism should be extended beyond the NHRI membership to its supporting staff, who preferably shall have human rights-related work experiences in NGOs, so that they can better identify with and appreciate non-mainstream values to strive for the rights of the disadvantaged.

In addition to individual case investigations, Dr. Huang noted that a NHRI functions most effectively when proposing policy or legislative recommendations about human rights. As such, the NHRI’s competence in both discourse and persuasion becomes very important. It should act as the bridge between international human rights standards and domestic regulations, and that of the civil societies and the Government. Dr. Huang further illustrated his point with the Belgrade Principles, which discuss the partnership between the NHRI and the Parliament.

Near the end of his talk, Dr. Huang also provided his personal take on the draft NHRC plan put forward by the Control Yuan. He highlighted the areas that the Control Yuan may work on to garner better support and make improvement. Huang Yi-bee, who accompanied Dr. Huang to the Yuan and is herself an executive board member of Covenants Watch, also voiced her expectations as to how the Control Yuan may better fulfill its duty as a NHRI. In view of its functions and operation, the Control Yuan attaches great importance to the establishment of a NHRI. Among the attendance of this two-hour session were President Chang Po-ya and Vice President Sun Ta-chuan, who exchanged views with Dr. Huang with regard to the possible issues that might arise should an independent NHRC coexist with the Control Yuan. The engaging two-hour session ended with President Chang presenting Dr. Huang with thematic reports on human rights protection works completed by the Control Yuan in 2014.