Established on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 1984, TAHR is the oldest independent human rights organization in Taiwan. In its early years, TAHR operated within an environment of repression and fear. Chiang Kai-shek had imposed martial law on Taiwan in 1949, suspending the Constitution and subjecting thousands of individuals to illegal arrests, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial executions. The years just prior to TAHR's formation witnessed a series of cases of governmental crackdown on dissenting voices, such as the Formosa Incident (1979), the Lin family murders (1980), and the murder of Chen Wen-cheng (1981). However, these tragedies only strengthened the resolve of the people to speak out and press for the realization of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. In this period, TAHR fought for basic civil and political rights, together with the growing social and political opposition movements. Campaigns including freeing political prisoners; ending the practice of blacklisting; and demanding freedoms of speech, association, and assembly.
With the formation of the first genuine opposition party in 1986 and the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan entered a new era. Government offices were opened to public elections and the rights to free expression, assembly, and association were gradually restored. TAHR's campaigns in this transitional stage focused on the repeal or revision of remaining undemocratic laws and regulations, such as the National Security Law, the Parade and Assembly Law, the Civic Organizations Law, and restrictions on radio broadcasting, all of which continued to arbitrarily deprive people of basic civil rights.
Although Taiwan no longer holds political prisoners, TAHR continues to deal with the legacy of authoritarian rule. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, and accountability of the police and military authorities remain elusive. Discrimination in many forms remains all too common. Public awareness about human rights - particularly about international human rights norms and mechanisms - is sorely lacking. Taiwan's diplomatic isolation constitutes another significant obstacle in the promotion of human rights, insulating the government from external human rights monitoring and hindering exchanges with the international human rights community. Today, TAHR's efforts focus on safeguarding due process of law and eliminating discrimination, as well as expanding the discourse of human rights to suit our increasingly complicated modern society.