Constitutional Court issues mixed ruling on Indigenous hunting rights

05/07/2021 10:30 PM
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An Atayal hunter. CNA file photo for illustrative purpose only
An Atayal hunter. CNA file photo for illustrative purpose only

Taipei, May 7 (CNA) The Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that while laws on the types of guns Indigenous people can use to hunt and requiring them to apply in advance for permission to do so are valid in principle, certain aspects of how they are applied are unconstitutional.

In its ruling -- Interpretation No. 803 -- the court found that the requirement in the Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act that Indigenous people use "self-made" guns is largely constitutional.

However, it said, several of the regulations governing the specifications of such guns are insufficient and must be amended within two years to protect Indigenous peoples' right to hunt as part of their culture.

Meanwhile, the court found that the requirement in the Wildlife Conservation Act that Indigenous people must apply for permission before going on a hunt is valid in principle.

But, it said, administrative regulations mandating that they apply at least five days in advance for "non-regular" hunts and also list the species and number of animals they plan to kill, violate the Constitution's proportionality principle by creating an undue burden, and are henceforth invalid.

The court made the constitutional interpretation in response to a petition by Tama Talum, also known as Wang Kuang-lu (王光祿), a man from the Bunun tribe in Taitung's Haiduan Township.

Human rights groups demonstrate outside the court building in Taipei on Friday. CNA photo May 7, 2021
Human rights groups demonstrate outside the court building in Taipei on Friday. CNA photo May 7, 2021

In a case dating back to 2013, Wang was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on weapons and poaching charges for using a modified hunting rifle to kill protected wildlife without the necessary permission.

In 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed Wang's appeal to have the charges overturned, but in 2017 it granted an extraordinary appeal to have the case referred for an interpretation by the Constitutional Court.

Wang was later joined in his case by co-petitioner Pan Chih-chiang (潘志強), an Indigenous Puyuma man found guilty on similar charges, and Taoyuan District Court Judge Chang Chia-hao (張家豪), who had requested an interpretation in a case involving an Indigenous man charged with illegally purchasing an air rifle for hunting purposes.

The court heard oral arguments in the case on March 9, with the government's position represented by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), the National Police Agency and the Council of Agriculture.

In its decision Friday, the court cited Article 10 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution, which says that the State must "guarantee and provide assistance and encouragement" for several aspects of Indigenous life, including their traditional cultures.

In its rulings on the constitutionality of individual laws, it relied mainly on Article 23 of the Constitution, which states that the freedoms and rights of the people should not be limited except to prevent infringement on the freedoms of others, to avert a crisis, to maintain social order or to advance the public welfare.

Wang and Pan, who watched Friday's court proceedings via livestream from Taitung County, said they were "disappointed" by the ruling.

In a statement to the media, they said that hunting is part of Indigenous peoples' traditional culture but has been blamed for the dwindling populations of wildlife, and vilified by society.

Regardless of the ruling, "I will keep hunting until I die," Pan said.

Meanwhile, the MOI said it respected the ruling, and pledged to make all necessary legal amendments within the designated period of time.

According to the ministry, it is also working with the Ministry of National Defense on plans to supply spare gun parts directly to Indigenous people so that they can hunt without worrying that their guns are not safe.

The comments appeared to be addressing fears raised during the oral arguments that Indigenous people's "self-made" guns are often dangerous, as many of them are old and difficult to properly maintain.

(By Tyson Lu, Hsiao Po-yang, Lai Yu-chen and Matthew Mazzetta)


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