Buraku Liberation News  March 2000 No.113

Tokyo Governor's Discriminatory Remarks Regarding Foreign Residents Arouse Criticism.

Human Rights Groups Lodge Protest

In April 2000, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara stirred up a controversy by remarking that foreigners in Japan could riot in the wake of a major earthquake and urging the Self-Defense Forces to maintain public security in such emergencies.

The controversial remarks were made on April 9 in Ishihara's address at a SDF garrison in Tokyo that was marking its 49th anniversary.

"Atrocious crimes have been committed again and again by 'sangokujin' (people from Taiwan, Korea, or their descendants) and other foreigners. We can expect them to riot in the event of a disastrous earthquake," he said.

The governor also said, "Police have their limits. I hope you will not only fight against disasters but also maintain public security on such occasions," "I hope you will show the Japanese people and the Tokyo people what the military is for in a state."

The comments provoked outrage among citizen's groups and the media, especially Ishihara's use of the term 'sangokujin.' Sangokujin literally means "people from third countries."

The term gained currency after World War II and refers to people from the former Japanese colonial possessions of Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula, as well as their descendants. It is now widely regarded as a derogatory term.

From the view point of human rights, concerned citizens, including Korean residents, argued that the term was based on discrimination as well as prejudice and was anachronistic.

They also said his comment was reminiscent of the way of thinking after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, when vigilantes lynched thousands of Koreans in Tokyo after unfounded rumors were spread that they had poisoned wells and started fires.

At a press conference held three days later, the governor attempted to defend his comments and lashed out at individual reporters, saying their coverage omitted his reference to "illegal aliens."

"There are many shady foreigners in Japan who commit crimes with impunity," he said. "As Tokyo's governor, I am alarmed by the thought of this (situation) exploding in times of disaster."

The governor said his remarks were targeted at foreign gangs, such as Snakeheads from China.

"I won't apologize, I'll explain," Ishihara said. "When I said 'sangokujin,' I wasn't talking about Korean residents who live in Japan for many years.

"I was referring to foreigners who have been staying here illegally, and whose crimes are, in truth, becoming rampant," Ishihara said, adding that he will not use the term any more, in consideration of the sensibilities of Korean residents in Japan.

"In Tokyo, illegal aliens commit atrocious crimes that do not occur in the rest of the country", Ishihara claimed, blaming "such foreigners" for the nation's drug problem.

"The drug problem is rampant because of foreigners, those who are truly sangokujin," he said. "Try walking in (Tokyo's) Kabukicho (biggest amusement center in Japan) certain hours of the night. It's an unlawful place. You'd never think you were in Japan."

In response to the call by the metro assembly members of the Democratic Party of Japan for the retract of the remarks and the apology, Ishihara first admitted on the 19th of the month that the 'sangokujin' remarks he had made was inappropriate and promised not to use inappropriate terms which might cause misunderstanding.

He also recognized that the term sangokujin had been historically used with discriminatory meaning. He expressed "regret" at having hurt Korean and other foreigners with his careless remarks.

However, despite the protests and calls for apology by Korean and other foreign people as well as human rights organizations, Ishihara has not publicly apologize to foreign people for his prejudiced and discriminatory remarks.

IMADR-JC sent a protest letter to the Governor Ishihara.

In reaction to the discriminatory comment by Governor Ishihara, many concerned organizations and individuals wrote protest letters to the Governor. The following is the statement made by Mr. Kinhide Mushakoji, President of IMADR-JC.

April 13, 2000

Statement on Mr. Shintaro Ishihara's Slanderous Comment
Kinhide Mushakoji,

Japan Committee, International Movement Against All Forms Discrimination and Racism

The Japan Committee of the International Movement Against All Forms Discrimination and Racism (IMADR-JC) is a national chapter set up in Japan in 1990 to promote collaboration with people working for the rights of Burakumin, Ainu, non-Japanese residents, people with disabilities and women. IMADR is an international organization devoted to the elimination of all forms of discrimination around the world. It is in the consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).

Mr. Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo, made a derogatory comment when he addressed the ceremony of the Nerima Corps of the Ground Self-Defense Forces on April 9.

The Governor said "With Sangokujin (third-country nationals) and foreigners repeating serious crimes, we should prepare ourselves for possible riots that may be instigated by them at the outbreak of an earthquake.

As police is not always fit for handling all contingencies, the Self-Defense forces should be ready to respond to threats to public security besides natural disasters."

In the following press conference held in the Metropolitan Government Hall on April 12, he defended his earlier comments, denying intentions to offend any specific groups of people.

By using "Sangokujin" which has been used as a term that connotes prejudice against Korean and Taiwanese residents in the postwar Japan, Mr. Ishihara not only failed to properly understand the historical background involved but also to check hatemongering against non-Japanese citizens.

He totally ignores the meaning the term carries for people who lived through the times of the Imperial Japan's colonization and their descendants. He also overlooks how the term was coined during the US military rule soon after the end of the war.

And what is more, Mr. Ishihara's remark could be tantamount to lending a helping hand to the repetition of a horrible massacre which took place in the last Great Kanto Earthquake, killing tens of thousands of Koreans in Tokyo.

By labeling non-Japanese residents as "a group of villains committing heinous crimes" and "a group of possible rioters who may go on a rampage when an earthquake occurs," the Governor wittingly or unwittingly stirred hate among Tokyoites against different ethnic groups.

He even went as far as to say that foreign nationals living in Tokyo are "a group of villains whom the Self-Defense Forces instead of police should crack down on."

Taking into full account the discriminatory nature of the comment as revealed in the previous lines, we must conclude that Mr. Ishihara apparently violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Japan joined in June 1979, particularly Article 20-2 which stipulates that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

The Governor also infringes upon the International Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination to which the Japanese government acceded in December 1995.

The convention spells out clearly that each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation(Article 2-(a)), and that each State Party shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination(Article 4-(c)).

On top of that, Mr. Ishihara has trampled down on efforts Tokyoites have been making to create a community which is friendly to non-Japanese neighbors by promoting cultural diversities and developing the sense of global citizenship.

On behalf of IMADR-JC, I hereby lodge the strongest protest against the discriminatory comment made by the Governor of Tokyo and demand:

- To retract the comment and express the deepest apology for offending and frightening non-Japanese residents; and

-To put in place programs for disseminating information on international human rights standards including the International Covenants and the International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, aiming to prevent the recurrence of similar slanders.

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