A decision by the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) to deny reporting accreditation to Taiwanese journalists has triggered a furor over whether Chinese pressure is forcing the UN to contravene its human rights commitments.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency on Tuesday had accreditation applications for two of its journalists turned down by the WHO. No explanation was given to explain the process behind the decision, but the rejection matches a similar denial of applications from CNA that occurred last year.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

A WHO flag is pictured at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2017.

Various press organizations, including the International Federation of Journalists (IJF) and its local affiliate the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), as well as Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have lambasted the WHO for bowing to Chinese pressure, contravening the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and a lack of transparency in their process.

Taiwan has not been invited to the WHA for two years in a row, and its press have now been denied access on both occasions.

Under the administration of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whose administration enjoyed cordial relations with Beijing, Taiwan was granted the right to attend the WHA as an observer for eight years, from 2009 to 2016.

The WHO’s current refusal to invite Taiwan is believed to be a result of China’s unhappiness with current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) refusal to accept the so-called “1992 Consensus” in favor of attempts to reach a new understanding with Beijing over how diplomatic relations between the two countries can move forward.

Cedric Alviani, RSF’s Taipei bureau director, told The News Lens: “It is obvious that [this] is about China’s retaliation. They have a global campaign to change the narrative on Taiwan and how it is considered internationally – they are very active in the background trying to cut Taiwan’s international ties.”

While the WHO did not give a reason for the denial, the press accreditation criteria at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), where the WHA will take place May 21-26, reveals that only journalists with valid identification including “a current passport from a state recognized by the United Nations General Assembly” will be considered for accreditation.

Taiwan has not had a place on the UN General Assembly since 1971, when the international body voted by 76 to 35, with 17 abstentions, to admit China and expel Taiwan.

In a press statement, ATJ General Secretary Ian Chen said: “The UN Secretariat's refusal of accreditation to journalists from Taiwan is in direct violation of Article 19 of the UDHR, which guarantees the right “to receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”

The UNOG criteria also appear to contravene Article 2 of the UDHR, which covers freedom from discrimination, and stipulates that “no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs.”

The ATJ today requested a response from the WHO on whether the UNOG’s regulations and its commitment to the “One China” policy take precedence over human rights.

IFJ President Philippe Leruth commented in the ATJ statement: "The denial of accreditation to two of our Taiwanese colleagues is an insidious form of censorship, as only recognized press documents such as the International Press Card distributed the IFJ should be the criteria to grant a professional accreditation. Besides, it is a blatant violation of Article 2 of the UDHR which prohibits any discrimination based on nationality.”

The exclusion of Taiwanese journalists from UN meetings based on their nationality is not without precedent.

In September 2016, The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) explicitly denied accreditation for journalists from Taiwan’s The United Daily News (UDN) newspaper to cover the organization’s organization's 39th Triennial Assembly in Montreal, Canada.

An ICAO official reportedly told the UDN that the organization could not accept its journalist’s Taiwanese passport.

Moreover, Taiwanese journalists were denied access to report the WHA even when its health experts were allowed to attend as observers in 2005, again as a result of the UNOG’s rules on the recognition of passports, Taipei Times reported at the time.

Alviani said, “The regulation is not consistent with the [UDHR], but it is a question of interpretation. Taiwan was allowed under the previous administration and Taiwanese journalists attended with no problem, and I understand that if a journalist has a non-Taiwanese passport but is working for Taiwanese media they will be rejected as well.”

The denial of the right to report the WHA comes as the WHO today convenes an emergency meeting to address the most recent outbreak of the deadly ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, amid fears that the virus has entered the city of Mbandaka and an epidemic could ensue.

“This is not a Taiwan, China question,” Alviani added. “There is no border for diseases to circulate nor should there be for information about them to circulate. Governments and health bodies need to exchange information – the [2002-2003] SARS epidemic was a serious cross-Strait problem, for example.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan selection of 172 members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday dispatched a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointing out that the organization’s decision to forbid Taiwan from attending the meeting rendered it "complicit in Beijing’s campaign to keep Taiwan out of meaningful participation in assemblies like these.”

The letter went on to suggest that the WHO is contravening its own mission, which states that “the health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent on the fullest co-operation of individuals and states.”

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TNL Editor: Morley J Weston