Taiwan court upholds laws restricting hunting
TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s Constitutional Court on Friday upheld several key provisions of two laws that restrict hunting, in a setback for the island’s indigenous rights movement.
Although the court struck down parts of the laws – including a rule that would require hunters to apply for permits – it refused to completely revise the restrictions, saying that the native hunting culture must be weighed against the need to protect the environment and wildlife.
“The Constitution recognizes both the protection of the right of indigenous peoples to practice their hunting culture and the protection of the environment and ecology,” Chief Justice Hsu Tzong-li said on Friday. “The two core values are equally important.”
Environmental advocates and animal rights activists have welcomed the move. In March, 57 animal rights groups in Taiwan issued a joint statement, saying protecting the culture of hunting cannot be compared to ensuring the right to hunt freely.
“Creatures and non-human animal people constitute a community with a common future,” several animal groups said in a joint statement Friday.
The court ruling centered on a 2013 case against a member of the Bunun, one of 16 officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan, who was convicted of using an illegal shotgun to kill protected species.
The 62-year-old Talum Suqluman, also known as Tama Talum, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. He appealed the ruling, arguing he followed tribal customs to hunt animals for his ailing mother, and a court suspended the sentence in 2017.
But Mr Talum continued to fight the conviction and the case went to the Constitutional Court, which examined whether the laws unfairly violated the rights of indigenous peoples to hunt. Activists pointed out that the indigenous peoples of Taiwan hunted and fished with little interference for thousands of years until settlers from mainland China and elsewhere began arriving in the 17th century.
Under current laws, indigenous peoples are allowed to conduct small hunts, but only using homemade rifles and traps, which are sometimes dangerous. They must get prior approval and are prohibited from killing protected species, including leopard cats and Formosa black bears.
Following the announcement, Indigenous rights activists outside the courthouse expressed disappointment.
“Hunters are innocent!” they chanted. “Give us back our freedom to hunt!”
It was not immediately clear whether, under Friday’s ruling, Mr Talum would be required to serve his sentence. But shortly after the announcement, Mr. Talum vowed to continue hunting.
“Hunting is the culture of us indigenous peoples,” Talum told reporters on Friday from his home in the eastern town of Taitung. “How could you destroy our hunting culture?”
Taiwan has 580,000 indigenous residents, or about 2 percent of the population of 23 million, the majority of whom are Han.
The movement to fight discrimination and other long-standing social and economic issues facing the indigenous peoples of Taiwan began in the 1990s, as part of a larger international campaign for indigenous rights. Such causes have since gained ground as the island increasingly seeks to forge an identity distinct from mainland China.
In 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan issued a formal apology to indigenous peoples for centuries of “pain and abuse,” and said she would take concrete steps to right a history of injustice.
The rights movement has recently focused on the case of Mr. Talum, whom many activists see as linked to broader issues of indigenous land rights and self-governance. They say government laws restricting hunting are unnecessary since the indigenous hunting culture is already circumscribed by a complex web of taboos and rituals.
Experts said Friday’s decision reflected the government’s lack of understanding of indigenous culture.
“This explanation restricts the right of indigenous people to hunt culturally from non-indigenous peoples,” Awi Mona, professor of indigenous law at Dong Hwa National University in the eastern city of Hualien, said in an interview.
Taiwan’s Supreme Court dismissed Mr. Talum’s appeal in 2015, but in 2017 it granted an extraordinary appeal to remand the case for constitutional interpretation. Mr. Talum has not served any prison sentence.
“This result was a little unexpected,” Hsieh Meng-yu, Mr. Talum’s lawyer mentionned during an interview after the announcement of the court decision. “We thought the indigenous rights movement would continue to move forward – we didn’t think there would suddenly be this decline.”