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Land-rights protest flares up in Taipei

Both current laws and a Cabinet-drafted amendment, which has passed its first reading and is under legislative review, fail to clearly define when government plans supersede an individual’s right to housing, the demonstrators said.

“It must be stipulated clearly by law the conditions under which the government can establish what is ‘in the public interest,'” said Tien Kei-fung of the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction, which organized the protest.

Members of the alliance and 10 other civic groups, numbering nearly two dozen in total, joined the demonstration, seeking to defend what they say are illegal land expropriations plans that will see people’s homes and factories taken from them to make room for development.

In a joint statement, the participants called for more resources to ensure people can exercise their right to appeal land expropriation decisions.

As it stands now, they said, the high legal costs involved in such litigation means the rights essentially exists only on paper.

Tien cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as examples on which Taiwanese law could be modeled.

The alliance’s own version of the Housing Act amendment has been proposed in committee by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu, but Tien said activists feared the Cabinet would ignore it and instead push through its own version.

‘Separation of powers isn’t real’

Taiwan Association for Human Rights representative Lin Yen-tong accused Cabinet officials of lobbying DPP legislators to support its under-review version.

“The separation of powers is actually just an idea,” Lin said, referring to the alleged collusion between the executive and legislative branches.

Lin confronted an official from the Interior Ministry’s Construction and Planning Agency who was sent to receive the protesters’ petition letter on behalf of the government.

He demanded the official promise that the ministry would not “interfere” with the Legislature on the matter.

The official was not willing to do so.

“As the bill is currently under review at the Legislature, it is inconvenient for me to speak on the matter,” said the official, who gave only his surname, Chu.

The comment drew an angry response from the demonstrators, who until that point had staged a relatively peaceful protest.

They charged at Chu, with people shouting comments such as “If all you can say is you have nothing to say, then why do the people need you at all?” and “You’re pretending to deal fairly with us, but in the Legislative Yuan you advocate for the amendment!”

Chu retreated into the ministry without receiving the petition.