EVERYONE IN POWER REQUIRES A WATCHDOG: AN INTERVIEW WITH CARROLL BOGERT


By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

On April 21, Carroll Bogert joined me to discuss the present and future of human rights in China. She currently oversees all external relations for Human Rights Watch and previously worked in China, Southeast Asia and Moscow with Newsweek magazine for over a decade.

Q: How has your previous work in international journalism affected the way you approach your work at the Human Rights Watch, making human rights abuses globally known?

A: We’re not journalists, but we’re information gatherers and distributors; our researchers go into the field and ask people questions: “What happened? Who is responsible? Tell me your story.” In some ways, it’s similar to journalism in that sense, but rather than just gathering a story we think of it more as evidence; this is evidence of a crime. So whereas a journalist might do just enough to get a story, we’ll do dozens or even hundreds of interviews to really collect incontrovertible evidence that something has happened, a crime has occurred. We’re also often on the news; we’re in Ukraine, we’re in the Central African Republic. You name it, the crisis of the day, there’s someone from the Human Rights Watch there. But we’re also working in places where the news media aren’t. In addition, we do more than just information gathering and distributing; we’re trying to change policy. We’re not just trying to witness, observe and write about human rights violations, we try to actually make it stop. That’s a part of the picture left out of journalism. The beginning, however, of going into the field with an open mind to find out what happened, that’s what journalists do; we just do it more in-depth. We really cover the story.

Q: Socioeconomic growth in China has led to what some consider a loosening of the Chinese government’s oppression of human rights. Do you agree with this idea or do you think the public eye on China has only led them to alternative but equally effective forms of human rights oppression?

A: In comparisons to decades past, there is much greater personal freedom in China today. You have the freedom to choose your own job, to choose whom you marry; personal consumer choice is not even comparable. Recently, however, we see a downturn in human rights; things are worse right now than they were even a year ago. There’s a definite concerted crackdown on non-governmental organizations in China, activists and environmental protestors. The current president of China, Xi Jinping, wants to push through some economic reforms that he knows are going to be difficult, and in my opinion, as the trade-off for that, he has to give the hardliners something. If he’s going to free up certain parts of the economy, he’s going to have to give his opponents something and it appears that what he’s giving is essentially freedom of assembly–freedom of the people to organize. There’s an incredible amount of activism in China today and it’s being very harshly cracked down on.


Q: Being that you were in China during the Tiananmen Square protests, how do you think your experiences during that time influenced the way you see China now or the way you see its future?

A: Being in the middle of a crowd of one million people who are demonstrating for freedom and democracy is something that I hope all human beings can experience. Tiananmen was not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. It’s rare to be among one million people anyway, but to be among one million people there for a political purpose is an incredible feeling. Many were there for other reasons, but it was definitely a democracy movement. I wouldn’t say that people everywhere want all of the same things, there are cultural differences, but people really do want the freedom to decide things for themselves, the freedom to participate politically and to determine their own destiny. They want basic human rights, and that was made clear to me at Tiananmen Square.

Q: In response to many accusations of human rights violations, China has often referred to their “different definition of human rights,” which they say is shaped in relation to their national culture and history. How do you feel this definition has shaped the way the government treats its people?

A: China actually has signed many of the major human rights treaties; not all of them, but I think it’s important to get away from cultural definitions of human rights. That’s why we try to look only at law. What legal obligations has a government assumed to protect human rights? What treaties has it signed, what laws does it have on its own books? There are plenty of laws protecting human rights in China; the fact is that the government is not respecting its own laws. China has said they want to end labor and detention camps; okay, so let’s do it. It’s not a question of if human rights are just foreign to China, but these are legal obligations that the Chinese government has assumed and it must abide by them. That needs to be the conversation.

Q: There has been tension between China and Taiwan over political sovereignty of the Taiwanese state. Meanwhile, in the last two decades Taiwan has made significant improvements in terms of human rights and the move toward democracy. Could you explain how you think the tension with China has affected the political scene in Taiwan? Do you think that complete independence of Taiwan would result in more drastic improvements in human rights?

A: I have to say that we don’t work on Taiwan, so I’m not really familiar enough with the current situation. Yes, Taiwan does have a better human rights record than China, but that’s not to say it’s perfect. We actually do have some concerns on factories run by Taiwanese businessmen abroad where labor rights may be violated; I think Taiwan gets away with a better reputation because it’s not part of mainland China, but its record is actually deserving of scrutiny. Having said that, I think Hong Kong is more of a critical focal point right now because a lot of the freedoms that were promised at the time of the handover from British sovereignty to Chinese sovereignty in 1977 are being curtailed right now. I think it’s really important that the promises made to that territory are kept, and that international attention should be focused on what’s happening in Hong Kong. In the past it has been an island of more protected speech and because it is a part of China, to be able to protect freedoms there will have a very good effect on the rest of China.

Q: Lastly, having worked extensively in China and Moscow with Newsweek—and I’m sure in several other countries since then—do you think there is an international pattern to human rights and its abuses, or do you feel each situation is different?

A: I think governments are tempted to abuse power; that’s in the very nature of power. It is the nature of power that people who hold it are tempted to abuse it. In a sense, that’s what power is, although there are, of course, people who wield power responsibly. We feel that every society, everyone in power requires a watchdog: someone who’s keeping an eye on how they’re wielding their power. So there’s a similarity in that sense; that’s human nature, as it were, but otherwise every case is very much it’s own. The specifics matter. The people, the personalities, the contexts make every case special.

Photos by the International Affairs Group

WINTER OF DISCONTENT PART II: HOW WESTERN MEDIA IS FAILING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

Protestors in Taipei
A Taiwanese protestor holds a sign featuring a “V for Vendetta” quote, which reads “The country belongs to the people. People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the current situations in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Thailand. In this second installment, I will provide a brief update on the status of each of these countries as well as present information about a new protest movement in Taiwan that emerged in mid-March. Additionally, I will discuss why the U.S. should be focusing more on these countries due to both economic interests and human rights violations, and attempt to explain why I believe the U.S. and Western media focuses so heavily on the Ukraine crisis when it really should provide more coverage of other equally important movements. Although there is definitely some coverage of other conflicts, Ukraine is always on the front page of the news.

Since the publication of Part I in early March, the protests have continued in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Thailand. In Ukraine, Russian troops took over the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine at the end of March, and 97 percent of voters in Crimea supported secession from Ukraine to Russia in a referendum held March 16. As Ukraine awaits presidential elections scheduled for May 25, it has just launched its own anti-terror operation against armed pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine on April 13. In Venezuela, violence abounds as the death toll has risen to 41 and about 650 people have been injured since early February. Since the beginning of March, additional groups of people, including doctors, medical students and mothers, have joined the student protests against the Venezuelan government’s handling of commodity scarcity issues and the economic crisis. Students also set up tents outside of United Nations offices in Caracas on March 26 to complain that not enough international attention has been paid to the Venezuelan crisis. In Thailand, a Constitutional Court decision on March 21 that nullified the February general election bolstered a second wave of protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in Bangkok. Most recently, protestors started targeting government buildings on the outskirts of Bangkok.

One additional protest that is personally important to me as a Taiwanese American is the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan that lasted from March 18 until April 10. Tensions over the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) that was signed between China and Taiwan reached a boiling point when the ratification of the CSSTA was pushed through Congress and passed in 30 seconds without a line-by-line review of the clauses. President Ma Ying-Jeou and his pro-China Kuomingtang (Chinese Nationalist Party) faced heavy backlash from students and supporters of the pro-Taiwanese-independence Democratic Progressive Party. The predominantly student protestors stormed the Legislative Yuan (parliament) and refused to leave for 24 days until Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-Pyng conceded and made promises to create an oversight mechanism to make the CSSTA review process more transparent and democratic. Within the three weeks that the students stormed the Legislative Yuan, protestors took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure against not only the CSSTA, but also the Ma administration in general, with about 350,000 people participating in a rally outside the Presidential Office in Taipei.

Individually, the Venezuelan, Thai, and Taiwanese protests each have an impact on U.S. economic interests. First, Venezuela, which is perhaps most directly linked to the U.S. economy, is one of the top five suppliers of foreign oil to the U.S. according to the U.S. Department of State. Additionally, the U.S. is Venezuela’s most important trading partner for both imports and exports; 500 U.S. companies are represented in Venezuela. However, relations between the two countries are only becoming more strained as President Nicolás Maduro keeps blaming the U.S. government, specifically Secretary of State John Kerry, for inciting protests and a “Ukraine-style coup”. This is problematic for the U.S. because even if it wants to improve relations with Venezuela, enduring accusations from President Maduro prevent the U.S. from taking even the slightest actions that would make the U.S. appear to be imposing its will on Venezuela. With the International Monetary Fund recently releasing its World Economic Outlook that states that Venezuela’s economy is expected to shrink 0.5 percent, the U.S. is virtually powerless and must sit idly by as the Venezuelan economy declines while its government fails to answer the demands of the people.

Next, the U.S. is Thailand’s third-largest bilateral trading partner and has more than $13 billion in direct foreign investment for Thailand. The Department of State also notes that the U.S. supports many other aspects of the Thai government, such as law enforcement, science and technology, wildlife trafficking, public health, and education. Similar to the situation in Venezuela, the protests in Thailand have caused the Bank of Thailand to cut its economic growth projection from 3.7 percent to 3 percent. A country that relies on tourism for 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product, Thailand has steered tourists away from its country due to its inability to control the protestors. Furthermore, both Western and Asian corporations may begin to think twice about basing their operations in Thailand due to its ongoing risky conditions. Although the U.S., as in the case of Venezuela, has little direct leverage in this situation, it can take advantage of the fact that it is one of the key investors in Thailand and use this as leverage to ensure that human rights are being protected during the protests. Cutting off aid to Thailand could be devastating for the Thai economy. Moreover, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) notes that “it is critical that U.S. officials not ignore Thailand while it goes through this crisis” and should “engage the business community, the military, and other sectors of the society.” The protestors’ desire for anti-democracy is an unprecedented theme that has gone unnoticed. The lack of coverage of these protests has reinforced that this region does not seem to be a priority to the U.S. despite CSIS recommendations.

Lastly, although the Taiwan protests have stronger and more direct implications for the Taiwanese economy than for the U.S. economy, the protests ultimately affect China, which in turn affects the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of State, Taiwan is the United States’ 11th largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s largest foreign investor. Whether the treaty in question is ultimately ratified or not by congress will either expand economic ties with China or keep the economic situation the same in Taiwan. The most important issue here is the fact that since Taiwan is still technically owned by China, China has the final say in controlling the extent of foreign trade Taiwan is allowed to engage in. If the CSSTA is sent back to China for renegotiations and China wants to force the CSSTA to be ratified by Taiwan, it could threaten Taiwan by not allowing it to sign free trade agreements with other countries. President Ma believes that if the CSSTA is not passed, “it will have a grave impact on [Taiwan’s] international image,” which would result in a long-term threat to foreign trade.

Collectively, the three conflicts in Venezuela, Thailand, and Taiwan highlight various human rights and due process issues. The peaceful protests in all three countries are often met with police force. In Venezuela, police have retaliated with buckshot, tear gas, and water cannons, while in Taiwan, police officers have used batons and physical force to try to drag and remove the protestors. Protestors have demanded an end to police brutality, yet it seems that these demands for a respect of human rights, especially the rights to life, physical integrity, and free speech, are not being met by the governments of these three countries. In addition, the belief that the Thai general election in February was rigged and the corresponding refusal to vote by many citizens threaten the future integrity of free and fair elections in Thailand. The undemocratic passing of the CSSTA without an article-by-article review coupled with a lack of transparency and responsiveness to the people’s concerns threatens democracy itself in Taiwan.

The economic interests the U.S. has in Venezuela, Thailand, and Taiwan, as well as the growing human rights concerns in those countries, should make the conflicts within these countries a priority to the U.S., yet the U.S. and Western media only focuses on the conflict in Ukraine and Russia. One possible explanation for this is that the U.S. is stuck in a Cold War mentality, where it still sees Russia as its biggest enemy and will always support the side that is against Russia. Even though the media believes it may be more interesting for readers to have alarming front cover news about Ukraine day after day, it is unfair to other countries that have just as important conflicts. Another explanation is that the media might think that since Americans in general do not care about the news, it is easier to focus on one news story at a time rather than change headlines every day. Less coverage may also seem to indicate to readers that the U.S. will not intervene in these conflicts so the American public will not be as upset with the U.S. government, which has a historic reputation for sticking its nose in other countries’ business. A final possible explanation could just be that the media does not like reporting on conflicts until something drastic actually happens, such as violence and bloodshed or a President being ousted or impeached. For example, President Viktor Yanukovych has been ousted in Ukraine, but President Maduro of Venezuela and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand are still in power despite mass demonstrations. However, just because a ruler has not been ousted does not mean that the situation is more stable by any means, and the media should still monitor these conflicts and update the public.

Why does the Western media insist on focusing on one conflict for headlines day after day when they could just as easily view these conflicts as a collective problem of democracy and middle class revolt throughout the world? There is growing global unrest, better coordinated with the advent of social media. The unparalleled situation the world finds itself in should garner more recognition from both the international community and from Western media, especially considering the economic and human rights ramifications these conflicts have. Society today relies heavily on media to give us real-time updates on events happening halfway across the globe. By favoring certain news stories over others because they are more convenient to cover, media outlets fail in their duty to provide fair coverage of world news. This failure ultimately causes the public to be grossly uninformed about important current affairs that affect U.S. interests.

Image by billy1125

PEARL MILK TEA AND PIG FEET: TRAVERSING TAIWAN THROUGH ITS CUISINE

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

Every summer for as long as I can remember, I visit my family and relatives in Taiwan for up to a month. Late last year, Taiwan became only the 37th nation to be included in the United States’ visa-waiver program, so for the first time I was able to stay for a little over 45 days this year.

What made this year’s trip special was that I was extremely blessed to have my uncle and aunt take me to see so many new cities and to have my dad introduce my brother and me to the city of Tainan, where he works. Every city I traveled to has a distinct flavor that really defines both the region and Taiwanese culture as a whole.

Taipei

When I visit Taiwan, I always stay with my grandmother and aunt in Taipei (台北), the capital of Taiwan. Taipei is in northern Taiwan. My absolute favorite pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶) in the entire world is from Chen San Ding (陳三鼎), a local shop in a Taipei shopping district called Gongguan (公館), right across the street from National Taiwan University (台大).

Chen San Ding originated the use of brown sugar pearls in their milk tea, but had to change the name of their place after several knockoff shops began to pop up. They coined the name “Frog Hits the Milk” (青蛙撞奶) for their pearl milk tea, which alludes to how the pearls look like frog eggs.

Every night and even sometimes during the day, locals and foreigners alike will line up and wait for as long as 20 to 30 minutes just for their $1 cup of milk tea.

Another of my favorite restaurants is Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), known worldwide for its Xiao Long Bao (or small steamed buns, 小籠包). The buns here are unique because soup runs out when you take a small bite of one, making them more special than regular dumplings and steamed buns.

Since their first restaurant opened in Taipei in the 1980s, Din Tai Fung has opened new branches in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. However, having been to a branch in Arcadia before, I can say that the American branch just does not taste quite the same as the real deal in Taipei.

There is a window there where you can watch chefs make the Xiao Long Bao with precision.

Kenting

The first city that my uncle and aunt took us to was Kenting (墾丁), in the southernmost part of Taiwan. We went to a restaurant called Xiong Jia (or Bear Family, 熊家) that is famous for its stewed pig feet or knuckle (滷豬腳). The restaurant was in a large warehouse-like building that could seat up to 200 people.

Stewed pig feet is a traditional Taiwanese dish that I grew up with, but I had never before had it the way Xiong Jia makes it. The meat was extremely tender and their special garlic sauce was exquisite as well.

The next stop on this culinary trek across Taiwan was Houbihu Marina (後壁湖). We went to a seafood restaurant at a local fish market that was right by the pier.

It was here that I had the most delicious platter of sashimi (生魚片) I have ever tried. Prior to having this specific plate, I was not a big fan of sashimi because of the fishy aftertaste that is common at many Japanese restaurants in America. However, with the fish being so fresh here, the aftertaste was not as strong, and I quickly became hooked.

Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung (高雄) is a little northwest of Kenting, so this was the next stop on our trip. My cousins both went to university in Kaohsiung, so my uncle and aunt were relatively familiar with the city. There was a famous shaved ice (剉冰) shop right near our hotel. I am not a huge fan of the traditional Taiwanese shaved ice which has taro, red beans, etc., so I ordered a fruit one that had watermelon, banana, pineapple, mango and guava chunks in strawberry shaved milk ice.

Jiaosi

After our trip to Kenting and Kaohsiung, we went to Jiaosi (礁溪) and Yilan (宜蘭), both of which are in the northeastern part of Taiwan. Jiaosi is known for its hot springs and Yilan is known for its summer concerts and surfing. On the way there, we stopped by an attraction called Nanya Peculiar Stone (南雅奇岩).

Under a highway bridge, some local scuba divers were cooking some sea urchins (海膽) that they had found on a small pit, as well as some chicken that they had brought from home.

They were also stewing some fish soup in a large pot. Although we did not try any of their food, it was an intriguing sight that I had never seen before.

Ali Mountain

The most famous tourist attraction in Taiwan apart from Taipei is Ali Mountain (阿里山) in central Taiwan. Tourists from China and Japan flock here in hordes just to see the elusive but captivating sunrise. We went to a traditional restaurant near our hotel.

Many aborigines live in this region. In this particular restaurant, they use bamboo everywhere in the construction and decoration of the restaurant.

Starting from the upper left in the image below, we had some spicy tofu, veggies, bamboo shoots, chicken (traditionally served cold), fish and a mushroom soup.

Fenqihu

Ali Mountain is famous for the train that can take you from the base of the mountain to near the top. Since a typhoon had just hit before our visit, the train was closed. Despite that, we still decided to visit Fenqihu (奮起湖), a small town that marks the midway point to the top of Ali Mountain. We went to a restaurant in a hotel known for its boxed meals, or bento 便當.

The restaurant had wooden stumps for seats and beautifully carved wooden tables.

The boxed meal itself is typical of the kind that many businesspeople or tourists would buy and take with them to eat on the train. For a little over $3 per box, this specific meal had a nice chunk of grilled pork, a chicken drumstick, and other veggies (小菜) inside, all over a big scoop of rice.

Xitou

Xitou (溪頭) is a city that is also in central Taiwan. Its Forest Recreation Park (森林遊樂區) is an area of 2,500 hectares where we saw many indigenous trees, bamboo forests, waterfalls and the famous bridge at University Pond (大學池) where Chiang Kai-Shek posed for pictures with a group of college students in 1960. The food that most represents this region is rice cooked in a bamboo tube (竹筒飯). Originated by Taiwanese aborigines, rice is placed inside a bamboo tube and steamed until fully cooked, which infuses the flavor of the bamboo into the rice.

Tainan

My brother and I visited Tainan (台南), where my dad works for a high-tech company. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan, right above Kaohsiung, which used to be a Dutch colonial settlement. We went to one of his favorite restaurants, a Japanese-inspired seafood restaurant called Shan Ji Fish Shop(山記魚仔店).

Local fishermen catch the fresh fish they use every morning, which provides a succulent flavor in all of their dishes. Here is a platter of yellowtail tuna sashimi.

My dad loves their fish soup. When the fish used is fresh and the soup is cooked just right, the soup has a sweet flavor to it.

Sardines are also a local delicacy, flavored here with some onions.

Jiufen

Our final destination on this culinary tour of Taiwan is Jiufen (九份), a beautiful town in northern Taiwan that served as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away.” With architecture strongly influenced by Japanese colonization, Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town but is now predominantly a tourist attraction.

No meal is complete without dessert, and we had a Japanese-inspired dessert, commonly known as dorayaki (or red bean pancake, 銅鑼焼). It is the favorite snack of the cartoon character Doraemon (小叮噹), which I grew up watching. Instead of using red bean paste, the owner of this shop uses ice cream, and I chose a simple yet heavenly dorayaki with vanilla ice cream.

With such a wide variety of food everywhere I went, it was hard to choose just a few of my favorite meals to show. However, I can definitely say that my time in Taiwan this summer traveling to so many new cities was very well spent. I hope I can continue to explore more of Taiwan’s incredible cuisine next summer!

All images by Kirstie Yu, Prospect Staff Writer