Statement on Health Concerns of President Chen Shui-bian

by the
Human Rights Action Center Delegation

21 September 2012
Hans H. Wahl, Paris
Harreld Dinkins, Washington, DC

Over the past week, we have met with numerous civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, and government officials regarding the conditions of detention of former President Chen Shui-bian.

Within the highly polarised political environment surrounding this case, we have been 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, we 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.

During our time in Taiwan, we have met with many of his supporters, with representatives of the government, including the Ministry of Justice, the Speaker of Legislative Yuan, several current and former legislators, and President Chen himself. We would like to clarify at the outset that we have undertaken this mission without any political or partisan agenda. We are not affiliated with, nor do we support or oppose any political party or political interest. Instead we have tried to engage with all parties involved to address the increasingly grave and serious heath issues that have arisen in this case.

We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Ministry of Justice Tseng Yon-Fu for both providing us access to President Chen and, more importantly, making a number of important improvements in his conditions of detention, including increased time outside of his prison cell, access to a table and a chair, and time with his family and visitors.

However, one of the fundamental principles of imprisonment is that when a government makes the decision to imprison one of its citizens, it also takes full responsibility for ensuring the health and well-being of that person. It is this point that is of utmost concern at this point in time and creates an unprecedented urgency.

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 but has remained undetected for months. There have been further reports of as many as ten additional infarctions and blockages in the brain since that initial finding. Since comprehensive 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 not only contributed to muscle atrophy and tendonitis but may have caused the serious down-turn overall health and cognitive capacity of the past week.

In response to concerns raised by our team and others early this week regarding President Chen’s slurred speech, disorientation, and unusual level of fatigue, the Taiwan Penitentiary Department has agreed to conduct a more extensive and thorough body of medical examinations. We have learnt that Department plans to transfer him to the Honorable Veteran Hospital (HVH) on Friday morning 21 September so that these examinations can be carried out in a fully equipped medical facility and expert staff.

While we welcome this move in principle and feel that it reflects the constructive spirit and good faith concern over the former President’s condition that was in evidence during our meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we are seriously concerned by the selection of hospital.

The so-called “Oath of Athens” of the International Council of Prison Medical Services states that: “medical judgements be based on the needs of our patients and take priority over any non-medical matters.” Assignment to a government military hospital, itself, draws into question the degree of independence it can exercise.

During our meetings with the Government, the paramount importance of carrying out these examinations in an open, objective, and transparent environment; one that would build trust and confidence in the polarised political environment within which these concerns have been raised and the precipitous deterioration of President Chen’s health has taken place was stressed. We specifically requested that the medical team carrying out these examinations be comprised of the highest-level professionals agreeable to both the Ministry of Justice and the family and supporters of the former President.

Under the Standard Minimum Rules of the Treatment of Prisoners all prisoners have the right to an independent and objective evaluation of their medical condition. We believe that, in the absence of an agreement by the former President of the examination panel and the terms under which these examinations will take place, the planned examinations at Honorable Veteran Hospital cannot be considered to be independent.

While we agree that, given the urgency of the medical concerns in question, they must take place as quickly as possible, the Government’s previous practice of providing hasty and inadequate examinations should not be repeated.

In addition, the absence of an agreement from all parties involved regarding the conduct of these examinations is not only inconsistent with the assurances regarding objectivity and transparency received during our discussions this past week but it runs the risk of reinforcing the polarisation these efforts have sought to diminish. Finally it will, inevitably, bring into question confidence in the results of the examinations and the subsequent treatment plan.

In the course of our mission, we have encountered many people, both in the government and outside of it, who have approached this critical situation with good will and a deep and genuine interest in assuring the humane treatment of those in detention.

As we have noted earlier, 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 standards and the principles of human rights.










目前已經進行之最少且急躁的醫療檢查已經查出他呼吸與循環器官的問題。有報告指出,最近的MRI已經確認他腦前葉有一個4mm X 4mm的陰影。它可能是中風所留下來的結果。不過,這個症狀幾個月以來未曾被檢查出來。進一步的報告指出,在那次初步檢查之後,又發現在腦部有多達十處的血塊與阻塞。因為詳細的醫療紀錄與檢查結果並未提供給陳總統及其家屬,要更完整地了解這些發展是有困難的。整體而言,事實證實,長期不足的身體活動與運動不但造成陳總統肌肉萎縮及肌腱退化,也可能是他這個星期來整體健康與認知能力嚴重惡化的主要原因。