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September 22, 2017

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First meet for 'toothless' Aboriginal unit

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The first meeting of a government commission tasked with pursuing transitional justice for the island's Aborigines is scheduled for today, but some activists are protesting, saying the body won't bring any meaningful change.

On Aug. 1 last year on Indigenous People's Day, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology to Taiwan's Aborigine communities for the exploitation they had endured over the past 400 years.

She also announced the formation of the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Commission, which she said would seek historical and transitional justice for the island's indigenous peoples.

Some Aboriginal rights activists, however, argue that the commission has no budget, no legal basis for its formation and no chance of achieving any of Tsai's promises.

The protesters have been staging sit-ins on Ketagalan Boulevard since late February, demanding tangible transitional justice.

One of the initiators of the protest, documentary filmmaker Mayaw Biho, a member of the Amis people and a former director of state-run Taiwan Indigenous Television, said they had been demonstrating on the street only 100 meters from the Presidential Office for nearly a month, but that the administration still had no intention of engaging in dialogue with them.

Although the commission includes Aboriginal representatives, he said, it will have little ability to take action as it lacked a proper legal foundation and had no funds at its disposal.

Ultimately, Mayaw Biho said, the commission would likely yield no progress toward transitional justice for Aborigines.

The current administration already has a poor track record in its handling of Aboriginal matters, according to some activists. For instance, the filmmaker said, a new regulation recently announced by the Council of Indigenous Peoples excludes privately held land from being recognized as traditional Aboriginal territory.

According to Mayaw Biho, the council did not consult with indigenous groups at any point while drafting the law, which he said was destined to escalate tensions between Aboriginal and Han Chinese people.

'Give it a chance'

Asked to comment, Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Yao Jen-to (姚人多) told local media that the Aboriginal representatives on the commission had been selected over the past four months by all of Taiwan's 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes.

It would be unfair to the commission and these representatives for activists to question its legitimacy and ability before it had even convened its first meeting, Yao said.

The commission's main function would be as a negotiating platform for fostering greater dialogue between Aborigines and the government, he said.

In addition, Yao said, the Aboriginal representatives would bring up the concerns raised by the activists during the meeting.

He urged the protesters to have some faith in the commission and to give it a chance to do its job.

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