Geneva, Wednesday, 23rd May 2001

Present Conditions and Problems of Buraku Discrimination in Japan

Kenzo Tomonaga

Director, Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute

The following is a statement made at the NGO Briefing session of the Second Preparatory Committee for the WCAR.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson. I am Kenzo Tomonaga, Director of Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Today, I have a companion also from Japan, Mr. Masahito Tagawa, a member of the Central Executive Committee of Buraku Liberation League.

First of all, let me express my appreciation to all the groups and individuals who have been working tirelessly for a success of the forthcoming World Conference Against Racism. I would also like to pay my respects to those people who have organised this meeting.

Now, I am going to briefly explain about Buraku discrimination in Japan.

Buraku-min - or Buraku people - are discriminated against on the basis of their social status or 'descent'. It is a deeply-rooted discrimination in the Japanese society with a long history of over 400 years. According to the government survey of 1993, there are 4,442 Buraku districts throughout the country, holding 298,385 Buraku families with the population of 892,751. In reality, however, there are over 6,000 Buraku communities, and the population of Buraku people is believed to exceed three million.

Between Buraku people and non-Buraku Japanese, there is no clear distinction in appearance, language or religion. Nevertheless, as part of the social class system of the feudal times, Buraku people have long been forced to live in certain districts, to engage in certain jobs, and to marry only those from the same Buraku backgrounds. As a result, Buraku people continue to suffer from discrimination to date, in particular in employment, marriage, work and community life on the grounds that they were born of Buraku parents or they live in Buraku communities.

Discrimination in marriage

It often happens that when it is disclosed that either one of the couple is from Buraku through an investigation by a private agency, marriages are broken up. Sometimes, it drives these young Buraku men or women into committing suicide.

Equally, some non-Buraku parents disconnect the relationship with their children when their children marry Buraku people. It is vitally important to ban discriminatory personal investigation, while intensifying awareness-raising and educational efforts for eliminating prejudice against Buraku.

Discrimination in employment

Specifically, I would like to refer to the so-called "Discriminatory Personal Investigation Scandal" involving an investigative agency revealed in June 1998. The case is still under investigation, but it is so far found that more than 1,400 companies were members of the investigative agency, and at least 400 member companies asked the agency to investigate into personal matters of job applicants. The question as to whether or not an applicant was from Buraku was also included in the personal investigation.

It should be noted that Japan has not yet ratified the ILO Convention No. 111, therefore, discriminatory practices in employment are not prohibited by domestic law.

Discrimination in education

Until 1969, when a series of special measures started to be implemented under the so-called "Law on Special Measures," the high school enrolment rate among Buraku children had been less than a half of the national average. With the implementation of a special scholarship program, the gap between Buraku students and the national average has been narrowed down to a few percent. However, at the time of graduation, the gap stays around 10 percent, because many Buraku students drop out.

Meanwhile, with the introduction of a special scholarship program for students going to higher education, a number of Buraku students who go to colleges or universities has gradually been increasing. Yet, it still remains around 60 percent of the national average.

Our current concern is the move within the government towards a possible ending of the 'special scholarship program' on the grounds that an improvement has been achieved to some extent. Without providing any effective steps to follow, such an arbitrary ending of the special scholarship program would simply result in again creating a big gap in the educational levels. The Government of Japan is urged to see the reality of Buraku discrimination today and establish effective measures to respond to it.

Discriminatory statements

Discriminatory statements against Buraku people have also increasingly been found on wall graffiti, or on the Internet. They often carry some of the following messages: 1) listing the locations of Buraku communities and calling for public attention; 2) naming certain celebrities, and slandering them by insisting that they are from Buraku; and 3) inciting attempts of massacres of Buraku people with the words, "Kill all Buraku-min." In Japan, these practices are not prohibited by law.

Japan has ratified several international human rights instruments, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 'Concluding observations' on periodic reports of Japan by the respective treaty bodies have called upon the Japanese government to take active approaches for the elimination of Buraku discrimination in Japan. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recently adopted its 'Concluding Observations' on the initial and second reports of Japan (UN doc. CERD/C/58/Misc.17/Rev.3 of 20 March 2001), pointing out the fact that Buraku discrimination is one form of discrimination based on descent. In the Concluding Observations, the CERD recommends the Japanese government make efforts for the elimination of Buraku discrimination in accordance with the provisions set in the Convention.

To conclude, I would like to make a request to honourable people here. While we have seen big steps made towards a complete abolishment of the Apartheid in South Africa thanks to the untiring efforts of the international community, we would like to request the Preparatory Committee of the World Conference against Racism to include the need to eliminate discrimination based on occupation and descent as practised on Buraku people in Japan, Dalit in India and many other people suffering from similar discrimination around the world into the 'Declaration' and 'Programme of Actions' to be adopted in Durban.

Thank you very much for your attention