09/28/2012 08:45 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Illness and Treatment: Curing Human Rights Neglect in Taiwan

Due to a flu infection, I was unable to travel to investigate the detention of Taiwan's former president, Chen Shui-bian, and possible human rights violations in detention. In my absence, the investigation was conducted by my team: Hans Wahl, with considerable experience on international standards for prisons and human rights, and Harreld Dinkins, with considerable experience researching East and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately with a flu infection, all that could have been done was to wait for the infection to resolve and for me to recover. It was imperative to move forward with the mission.

The reports the team has submitted are not encouraging. The conditions of Chen's detention are grim. Though there are a number of areas of concern, at the moment one comes immediately to the fore: Chen Shui-bian needs immediate access to complete and impartial medical care. On the disturbingly long list of health concerns that have been reported as needing attention, it is the recent discovery first of a 4mm x 4mm infarction in his brain and the subsequent discovery of over ten other infarctions that contributes to the sense that his medical conditions are grave and worsening. Even the discovery of these conditions was won only after weeks and months of attempts to get a diagnosis that might explain the sudden appearance of stuttering and halting speech that Chen began exhibiting a few months ago. Without access to independently supervised medical care, Chen's condition has been worsening.

During the visit by Mr. Wahl and Mr. Dinkins, there were meetings arranged with several civil society groups and government offices. Particularly due to meetings arranged with Minister of Justice Tseng Yon-Fu and President of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan's legislature) Wang Jin-pyng, there seemed to be some agreement on the need to grant access to a more complete medical facility and to a diagnostic team composed by all sides and observed by all sides of Taiwan's political divide. Across the political spectrum and in environments from Taipei to Kaohsiung, there were chances to talk to people who had political supporters and opponents of Chen Shui-bian to ask their opinions on his access to medical care. Out of hundreds of people asked, there were those who had a range of opinions on issues from performance given in various political offices to the charges levied against him, but every single one agreed that there should be access to sufficient medical care given to all prisoners, including Mr. Chen.

What happened? Chen Shui-bian was transferred to the Veteran's Hospital for evaluation. While the hospital enjoys a reputation for good facilities, the tests were conducted without the ability of independent observers to be present and the results have not been made available to family. How can this be sensible? Good medical evaluations that are credible in the eyes of the international community and Chen's family should be in the interest of all. Medical records should be for Mr. Chen and his family to decide where and how to share. The lack of adhering to these minimal standards would be cause for concern in any case. In this case, results can't be seen as credible and thus no treatment can be credible. In the balance lies the worsening health and possible death of Chen Shui-bian.

The only conclusion that I can currently draw is that the current government of Taiwan is attempting to levy a political punishment on Chen Shui-bian that includes a high and increasing likelihood of death. Based on reports from the team visit with Mr. Chen directly, it may already include a worsening and permanent disability that might include cognitive impairment. What a shameful stain this is becoming on Taiwan, with decades of achievement in human rights protection getting increasingly overshadowed by this Great Leap Backward that the Ma administration seems to be endorsing.

With my flu infection, the best medical advice was to wait for recovery and to watch for complications. With Chen Shui-bian, the game of wait-and-delay may result in a permanent injury or death and has almost certainly caused complications. On the concern of the strokes alone, for the good of the all of Taiwan's peoples, delays are making things worse. We call on the Ma Ying-jeou government to meet international human rights standards and to grant Chen Shui-bian independent and unbiased medical evaluation now and without delay. Don't play politics with a human life. Provide complete access to independent medical evaluation and care for Chen Shui-bian now. There is a cure for human rights malaise in Taiwan and this is the first step.