Transitional Justice in Taiwan: Changes and Challenges

By Chang-Liao, Nien-Chung; Chen, Yu-Jie | Journal of Services Research, April-September 2019 | Go to article overview

Transitional Justice in Taiwan: Changes and Challenges


Chang-Liao, Nien-Chung, Chen, Yu-Jie, Journal of Services Research


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I. Introduction

The publication of Ernest Caldwell's article in the Washington International Law Journal1 turned academic attention to the transitional justice regime of Taiwan which, like many countries in Asia, suffered through long-lasting colonialism and authoritarian rule. It has nevertheless transformed into a vibrant democracy thanks to decades of the opposition's persevering efforts to push democratization. Yet, despite the impressive progress in democratic transition, Taiwan's experience of transitional justice has been under-analyzed and under-appreciated in the English-speaking world. Caldwell's article, therefore, is a much-needed contribution that helps fill a lamentable gap in the scholarship and public discussion in East Asia and beyond.

Caldwell examines the transitional justice processes in the Republic of China on Taiwan (Taiwan) in two phases after democratization: one from 1987 to 2016, when the former authoritarian Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT or Kuomintang) controlled the presidency (1987-2000) as well as the legislature (1987-2016); and the other from 2016 to present, when the oppositional Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) controlled both the presidency and the legislature. Caldwell argues that the "local postdemocratization conditions"-the fact that the KMT continued to hold political power after lifting martial law in 1987-has greatly reduced the transitional justice regime to only measures of reparations and limited acknowledgment of past injustice, without any effort to pursue individual accountability and criminal liability.2

This Article builds on and extends Caldwell's study by providing a distinctive legal-political analysis of the evolution of transitional justice in Taiwan. In particular, we examine Taiwan's challenges in developing a holistic, constructive transitional justice regime due to the extensive scope and scale of the historical injustice, the fierce partisan politics that could interrupt progress at any time, and the lukewarm public support for new initiatives, among others. The Article proceeds as follows. Part II lays the groundwork by examining the concept of transitional justice as well as a wide range of relevant mechanisms and different approaches under the framework of transitional justice. Part Ill calls attention to the broad scope of Taiwan's transitional justice issues, offering an overview of the government oppression and atrocities that took place in the two periods before Taiwan's democratization, i.e., the Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945) and the Kuomintang's authoritarian rule (1945-1987). Part IV discusses democratic Taiwan's efforts to pursue transitional justice and their limits. Finally, Part V evaluates the challenges that confront today's Taiwan in developing an integrated transitional justice regime.

II. Transitional Justice: Concept, Mechanisms, and Approaches

The term transitional justice first came into use in the mid-1980s, as waves of political change and democratic transition swept through Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Africa. The concept evolved as scholars sought to understand the conditions for justice after atrocity. As Alexander Boraine succinctly summarizes, transitional justice is "a convenient way of describing the search for a just society in the wake of undemocratic, often oppressive and even violent systems" that offers "a deeper, richer, and broader vision of justice which seeks to confront perpetrators, address the needs of victims and assist in the start of a process of reconciliation and transformation."3 In his view, accountability, truth recovery, reconciliation, institutional reform, and reparations are the pillars that support a holistic approach to transitional justice.4 Similarly, in a 2004 report, the United Nations (UN) defined transitional justice as "the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society's attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice, and achieve reconciliation. …

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