Washington International Law Journal


Ian Rowen


Ernest Caldwell’s legal history of transitional justice in Taiwan provides scholars a great service by periodizing and clearly summarizing key moments for the formulation and passage of relevant legislation. In so doing, however, it frames ongoing and perhaps ultimately unresolvable struggles over the meaning of history and the possibility of redress for past injustices as “gaps” within “Taiwan’s transitional justice experience,” belying a seemingly ahistorical conceptualization of transitional justice. The language of “gaps” suggests that transitional justice is a practice with a clearly defined and universally-accepted template, toolkit, and timeline, such that there is a commonly-understood set of criteria by which one could objectively evaluate success or completion. In fact, scholars have convincingly shown transitional justice to be constituted by an extraordinarily malleable, diverse, open-ended, and often vaguely-defined set of legal and extra-legal instruments, discourses, and practices that are conducted by a variety of actors and in pursuit of an often-divergent variety of political projects. This brief argument is based less on the official actions of the Transitional Justice Commission itself, than on a widely-circulated unofficial statement signed by members of the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee (Indigenous Justice Committee), which was established by a presidential directive. This statement was issued as response to a speech by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who asserted that Taiwanese and Chinese people share cultural and blood ties, and that Taiwan belongs to China. Taiwan’s indigenous signees public letter began “Mr. Xi Jinping, you do not know us, so you do not know Taiwan.” My rejoinder here echoes this letter by suggesting that one cannot know about transitional justice in Taiwan without knowing more both about Taiwan’s relationship with China and its simultaneous imbrication and contradiction with indigenous identity and sovereignty.

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