Statement on visit to President Chen Shui-bian

by the
Human Rights Action Center Delegation

Delivered: 17 SeTaipei, Taiwan pt 2012
Taoyuan Hospital
Taipei, Taiwan

I am Hans Wahl, member of the delegation from the US-based Human Rights Action Center here to examine the conditions of detention of President Chen Shui-bian. I am based in Paris and an expert in penal reform, conditions of detention and access to justice as well as an educator and long-time human rights activist. I am joined by Harreld Dinkins, a writer, advisor, and expert on East and Southeast Asia who joins me from Washington, DC. Mr. Dinkins will follow up with a statement in a few moments after which we will be happy to answer your questions. Unfortunately, Jack Healey, founder of the Human Rights Action Center is unable to join us on this mission due to a serious illness and his doctors’ instance that he not travel at this time.

This statement comes at an early stage in the visit of the delegation to Taiwan and must be considered as preliminary in drawing any conclusions and recommendations. At this point we have reviewed a body of reports, conducted some initial interviews and meetings and had the opportunity to meet with President Chen personally. We would like to thank the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Department for their cooperation in allowing this visit because we view it as essential in enabling us to draw clear and accurate conclusions from our mission to Taiwan.

While we do recognise the deeply divided and often polarised nature of the political environment in Taiwan, I would like to clarify that we have undertaken this mission without any political or partisan agenda. We are not affiliated with, or support any political party or political interest. Instead, we are committed to undertaking our assessment with independence, objectivity, and based on international standards of detention, the treatment of detainees, and principles of human rights.

We are not lawyers and not in a position to comment on the legal status of the case. However, I have worked in and with prison departments and ministries of justice in dozens of countries in all parts of the world to promote adherence to these principles and standards. As a result, there are a number of specific concerns that we feel we can raise at this point.

First, while we appreciate the increase the “out of cell time” from 30 minutes per day to 60 minutes granted by the Prison Department, that only brings President Chen’s treatment into compliance with international standards for the highest risk offenders in detention. In the absence of any evidence of violence while in detention or attempted escape, we look forward to hearing any explanation of the specific risks that warrant such harsh treatment.

Similarly, we appreciate that President Chen has been granted access to a desk in a nearby cell. However apart from his cell-mate, he appears to have no regular contact with other inmates and very limited contact with the outside world. He is not provided with opportunities to engage in work, exercise, or outdoor activities. This is also in contravention of international standards and only permitted for limited periods of time and in instances of the risk of violence, aggression, or escape. We would question the imposition of such a regime for any period in excess of a week or more let alone the entirety of four years.

Other aspects of President Chen’s prison conditions, such as having to sleep, eat, and write on the floor and the prevalence of dripping water, insects, and other sanitary problems are not normally of conditions found in modern democracies governed by the rule of law.

Finally, and most importantly, the conditions mentioned above as well as other factors of which we have not yet had an opportunity to examine, have contributed to, what appears to be a precipitous decline in the health of President Chen that is of grave concern to us. Though this was our first meeting with him, the fatigue, stammering speech, and shaking we witnessed have elevated these concerns.

The minimal and often hasty medical examinations that have been carried out appear to raise concerns over respiratory and circulatory problems. There are reports that a recent MRI identified a 4mm by 4mm liaison in the frontal lobe that might have been the result of a stroke that has remained undetected for months. However, since complete medical records and test results have not been made available to President Chen or his family a more complete understanding to these developments is difficult. Overall, there is evidence that the years of inadequate physical activity and movement have contributed to muscle atrophy and tendonitis.

It is a fundamental principle of international standards of the treatment of prisoners that imprisonment is itself a punishment and should never be used for further punishment. We question the circumstances under which an advance society economically, politically, and culturally would allow itself to sink to meeting only the lowest standards of treatment of those it holds in its prison.

It is often said that one can understand a great deal about values and principles of a country by the treatment of those within its prisons. Having visited with President Chen, learned of his treatment, and seen the profound deterioration of his health that has resulted, we look forward to hearing what measures the government of Ma Ying-jeou seeks to undertake to ensure the well-being of President Chen. We do not view this as a special privilege bestowed on him but rather a reflection of the government’s commitment to carry out its obligations within the framework of international of human rights standards.

We look forward to further discussions during of our stay in Taiwan, especially with the Office of President Ma, the Ministry of Justice, and the Prison Department who hold the capacity to address the concerns we have raised. This will enable us to learn more of the specific concerns and prepare a fair and objective assessment of this situation.



◎ 「人權行動中心」代表團







同樣的,我們感謝陳水扁總統被允准有一張桌子在臨近房間可以使用。不過,除了同房的受刑人之外,他無法與其他受刑人正常接觸,並且與外界的接觸非常有限。他也沒有工作勞動、體操、或戶外活動的機會。這也是違反國際受刑標準,這種嚴苛待遇只允許對有暴力、攻擊他人或逃脫之高危險受刑人短暫期間內使用。 使用期間超過一周已屬不當,更何況四年。



目前已經進行之最少且急躁的醫療檢查已經關注到呼吸性與循環性器官的問題。有檢查報告指出,最近的MRI已經確認腦前葉有一個4mm X 4mm的陰影。它可能中風所留下來的結果。不過,這個 症狀幾個月以來未曾檢查出來。因為陳總統及其家屬都尚未得到完整的醫療紀錄與檢查結果,我們要完整了解這些發展還有困難。整體來說,事實證實,長期不足的身體活動與運動已經造成陳水扁總統肌肉萎縮及肌腱的退化。