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[Statement] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' visit to Japan Japan's tasks to protect and promote human rights at home and overseas

[Immediate Release]  

   Ms. Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is scheduled to make her first visit to Japan since taking office from 12th to 15th May 2010. Human Rights Now (HRN), a Japan-based human rights NGO, welcomes her visit and expects that her dialogue with the Japanese government and Japanese civil society will lead to a positive change in Japan's human rights policies.

   Japan has responsibility as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to guarantee human rights at the highest standard domestically and is also expected to play a positive role to protect people in the world whose human rights are at risk, in close cooperation with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

   However, in reality, there has been a large gap between the international human rights standards and the human rights situation in Japan as human rights treaty bodies have repeatedly stated. Additionally, Japan has made no outstanding contribution to the international community in the field of human rights. Despite the fact that the coalition government, headed by the Democratic Party of Japan, pledged various positive reforms of human rights policies, little progress has been made since the new administration took office last year.

   HRN expects that the Japanese government will recognize its international responsibility to protect human rights as well as its election promises, and move into action immediately. 

I. Improvement of the human rights situation in Japan

1. Structural Problems

(1)  Background

   Although Japan has ratified the major human rights treaties, such as the ICCPR, ICESCR, CAT, CERD, CEDAW and CRC, it has not yet ratified the ICCPR-OP1 or other optional protocols for individual complaint procedures, and has not declared its acceptance of them.

   All the human rights treaty bodies have expressed concerns on the human rights situation in Japan and have made strong recommendations in light of the obligations imposed by the treaties.

   However, most of the recommendations have not been implemented. In November 1998, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern in its concluding observations of the 4th periodic report of Japan that: '... recommendations issued after the consideration of the third periodic report have largely not been implemented'. The same concern was expressed in November 2008 in the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee in response to the 5th periodic report. It shows the serious problem of Japan's non compliance of obligations under human rights treaties.

   Recommendations of human rights treaty bodies which Japan has not implemented cover a wide range of areas such as criminal procedures, the death penalty, freedom of expression, discrimination against minorities, people with disability, women, justice and accountability on the past practice of "comfort women' but few of them been implemented.

   Japan has not yet established a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles, and has not enacted a comprehensive legislation to prevent and eliminate all form of discriminations. Further, there is no special ministry in charge of promoting and protecting human rights. There are no special committees in charge of human rights in the parliament, and no reporting and review system of government's practice of human rights in the parliament.

   Moreover, Japanese court is reluctant to apply international human rights treaties as judicial norms, and disregard the general comments of treaty bodies in their interpretations of various treaty obligations.

   Consequently, the human rights situation in Japan is far behind, compared to international human rights standards and norms.

(2)  Recommendation:

1)  Action Plan for implementation of treaty body recommendations

   At the occasion of High Commissioner's visit, HRN urges the Japanese government to express its will to drastically change the past practice of non-compliance, identify recommendations made by treaty bodies which have not yet implemented and set up an Action Plan with clear time frames for the immediate implementation of the recommendations. HRN further urges the government to carry out the Plan with the involvement of all relevant authorities.

2) Recommendation: Accept optional protocols and establish a NHRI

   In order to drastically improve the human rights situation in Japan, HRN underscores that the following government actions are critical:

 1. To accept the individual communication procedures through the ratification of the optional protocols of ICCPR and CEDAW, and declare its acceptance in accordance with provision of CAT and CERD; and

 2. To establish an independent National Human Rights Institution(NHRI) based upon the Paris Principles.

   Both proposals were promised by the current government at the time of change in administration and have not yet been achieved.

   It is critical that Japan accepts the individual communication procedure in order to improve human rights practice in conformity with international norm and standards. The establishment of a NHRI will be indispensable in addressing systemic human rights violations and embedded de facto discrimination in Japan, such as racial discrimination and discrimination against minorities. The establishment of such an institution will enable the creation of a mechanism that will allow victims of human rights violations to seek effective remedies.

   At the occasion of the High Commissioner's visit, HRN recommends the Japanese government to report on the progress of these two tasks to the High Commissioner, announce a time schedule for the prompt implementation and take accountability for the civil society and all electoral constituencies.

   The time is ripe for Japan to accept the individual communication procedures of the treaty bodies. HRN calls upon the Japanese government to ratify the optional protocol-1 of ICCPR and optional protocol of CEDAW, and the declarations under the provisions of CERD and CAT for individual communication procedures within 1 year.

   HRN urges the Japanese government to immediately build up a mechanism for establish a NHRI within the government, in which the voices of the civil society and victims are reflected, fulfill its accountability through the disclosing of all information, and go forward the legislation of the establishment of NHRI based upon a fixed schedule. 

2. Specific issues

   HRN calls for the Japanese government to immediately achieve the following reforms as treaty bodies have repeatedly recommended and the Japan government has showed it's willing to achieve.

  1. Reforms in criminal procedures, and capital punishment

   The Human Rights Committee(HRC) and the Committee against Torture(CAT) have expressed their deep concerns on criminal justice system in Japan with regard to issues such as pretrial indictment under the substitute prison system, custodial interrogation, extremely high conviction rate and the fact that a large number of the convictions including capital cases are based on confessions. The Japanese government, however, has ignored their concerns and recommendations and has neglected to take action on these issues. 

   As a result of this inaction, cases of wrongful convictions based on confessions have recently come to light.

   In 2009, a innocent man who served 17 year prison term based on conviction for murder was proven innocence based on a DNA test and released(Ashikaga case).

   Further, the Supreme Court recently ordered a re-trial for two former prisoners sentenced life-term imprisonment in the view of grave doubt of their convictions (Fukawa case: happened in 1967) and the Court casted grave doubt on the conviction on a 84-year-old death row inmate who has been in death row for 41 years claiming his innocence(Nabari case: happened in 1961). In all of these cases, convictions were primary based on the confessions under custodial interrogation.

   Wrongful convictions directly cause execution or deprivation of freedom of innocent people, which are one of the most serious human right violations. Under the newly-introduced Saibanin(citizen-judge) system, it is urgent for the Japanese government to take measure to prevent further wrongful conviction by reforming criminal justice system in conformity with the international human rights standards. In particular, the recommendations of the HRC (1998 and 2008), which calls for the systematic video-recording of the entire custodial interrogations to prevent false confessions, as well as disclosure rule for defense to have access to all relevant material in order to ensure right to defense(1998 ), should be implemented immediately.

   Considering the risk of execution of innocent person under the flawed criminal procedure system, the Japanese government should immediately establish a moratorium on execution. Further, Japan should move forward to support for a UN resolution calling for a moratorium of use of the death penalty, scheduled to be tabled at the UN General Assembly this year.

  1. Discriminations against women and children born out of wedlock

   As various human rights treaty bodies have recommended, discriminatory clauses against women and children born out of wedlock under the Civil Code of Japan shall be amended immediately. Although the Japanese government has pledged the amendment of the Civil Code in this regard, it has not submitted a bill to amend these clauses to this session of the Diet. HRN urges the immediate amendment of these discriminatory clauses.  

Ⅱ Strengthening human rights dialogue and human rights diplomacy with Asian neighbors

1.  The Japanese government explains its policy on human rights as 'contributing toward the development and promotion of the international human rights standards and the improvement of human rights situations in the world through major UN human rights forums and bilateral dialogues with the view to act as a bridge in Asia and to protect the socially vulnerable'. However, in reality, it is hard to say that Japan has demonstrated initiative in protecting and promoting human rights in the world, especially in Asia. It is a reality that Japan has not actively contributed to consensus building, except certain issues, at the UN Human Rights Council.

2.  Considering sharply divided opinions within the Council, Japan shall play a major role to bridge differences between developed countries and developing countries and antagonism based on religious backgrounds, and take positive and fair initiative to make international consensus to resolve human rights problem in the world.

   It is a matter of course that the human rights situation in Democratic People's Republic of Korea which Japan has addressed, is very serious. However, there also exist grave human rights violations in relations with other Asian neighbors, whose main donor state is Japan, such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  The Japanese government shall closely monitor those human rights situations and escalate its effort halt human rights violations through sincere consultations with those governments and public statement expressing concern and request to cease violations as necessary. The government shall also mainstreaming human rights in its aid policies.

   When Japan deals with human rights problem in Democratic People's Republic of Korea it must not commit or enhance any human rights violations and discrimination against Korean citizens living in Japan. Also, when Japan expands its human rights diplomacy, it has to address human rights violations in the past, especially the issue of comfort women and other gross violations of human rights during WW by ensuring accountability including reparations for victims.

3.  Japan shall also contribute to regional and multilateral forums for the promotion of human rights in a close cooperation with the OHCHR. There is no country office of the OHCHR in Northeast Asia which encompasses Japan, China, and Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the absence of such an office has delayed efforts to promote human rights in the region. Japan is required to contribute to the establishment of a country office of the OHCHR in the region by inviting it to base its operations in Japan. 

   Accordingly, HRN expects the Japanese government to hold a sincere dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the issues above during her visit and establish a solid partnership with the UN activities for protection of human rights.