Keynote Address at the National Assembly Calling for the Comprehensive Revision of the Human Rights Protection Bill

22 May, 2002, at the Hibiya Auditorium

Kenzo Tomonaga
Director, Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute


The Human Rights Protection Bill was adopted by the Cabinet on 8 March and has been deliberated upon by the House of Councillors since 24 April. In response, Buraku Liberation League issued Chairperson Kumisaka's communiqu? on 8 March, pointing out serious problems contained the Bill and calling for its comprehensive revision through the deliberations by the Diet. On 23 April, the Central Steering Committee of the National Movement for the Fundamental Law for Buraku Liberation (hereafter referred to as "the Central Steering Committee") mobilised its members in the action "Objection! Urgent Appeal against the Human Rights Bill", also demanding its comprehensive revision.

Originally, this piece of legislation has been called for by the Central Steering Committee, with a view to achieving the fundamental solution of the Buraku issue and establishing the basis of respect for human rights in Japan. The bill submitted by the Government, however, would not serve these purposes; on the contrary, it aims to control independent activities undertaken by the mass media and human rights NGOs.

That is why Buraku Liberation League, the Central Steering Committee and other organisations, including Human Rights Forum 21, Japan Federation of Bar Associations and Japan Civil Liberties Union, as well as Japan Pen Club and other mass media organisations have expressed objection against the Human Rights Protection Bill or called for its comprehensive revision. That is why the Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party have made public alternative proposals outlining the elements that should be contained in the bill.


By analysing the views expressed by Buraku Liberation League, the Central Steering Committee and other organisations concerning the Human Rights Protection Bill, the following five issues have emerged as their common concerns, which also indicate how the Bill should be revised.

  1. According to the Government proposal, the independence of the Human Rights Commission would not be guaranteed, since it is supposed to be attached to the Ministry of Justice. Some of the most serious violations of human rights have occurred in detention centres, prisons and immigration facilities, all of which are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. It is doubtful that the Human Rights Commission, which would report to the Ministry, can provide effective remedies for human rights violations occurring in such places. Since human rights violations take place in the jurisdiction of all ministries and agencies, the Human Rights Commission should be attached to the Cabinet Office.
  2. As many as 120 million people live in Japan, and the number of cases of alleged human rights violations, reported to the Human Rights Organs of the Ministry of Justice, amounted to 17,800 last year. Given these figures, it is doubtful that the Human Rights Commission, only with five members, three of whom are part-time, can provide effective remedies. In light of the fact that human rights violations usually occur at the community level, human rights commissions should be established at least at the prefectural level in order to provide remedies in a prompt and easy manner.
  3. The problem indicated in (b) may be mitigated by an effective secretariat. According to the Government proposal, however, the Secretariat will be composed of the personnel who have worked in the Civil Liberties Bureau and Legal Affairs Bureaus, which will make no difference in the situation and lead to total lack of independence. Central and prefectural human rights commissions should recruit the staff for their secretariat on their own, from among those who are familiar with human rights issues.
  4. Under the institutional arrangements proposed by the Government, it is highly likely that arbitrary interference is made into information-gathering and reporting by the mass media, as well as independent activities undertaken by Buraku Liberation League and other human rights organisations to provide remedies for human rights violations. Human rights violations by the mass media should be subject only to the procedures for general remedies, basically leaving the task to complaint mechanisms established by the mass media themselves. At the same time, antagonistic attitudes against human rights organizations should be completely abandoned and active partnership with them should be sought.
  5. The Government has proposed that the existing system of civil liberties commissioners be utilised with some modifications. However, this will make little difference in their present status as "honourable position" without expertise and effectiveness. Even if the number of commissioners may be reduced, comprehensive reform should be undertaken through making them remunerated and obliging them to receive a certain degree of training, so that they will be able to take effective action at the community level in collaboration with prefectural human rights commissions.


Taking this opportunity, I would like to stress the need to reconfirm the following four elements that have brought about the necessity for comprehensive change of human rights protection systems in Japan.

First of all, the Cabinet Dowa Policy Council pointed out, in its report in August 1965, problems such as that discrimination is not punishable under law, that the existing Civil Liberties Bureau is established under the Ministry of Justice and that there is no expert staff who are familiar with human rights issues, urging the State to initiate a thorough review.

Secondly, according to the Survey to Grasp the Actual Conditions of Dowa Areas, conducted in 1993 by the Policy Office of Regional Improvement of the Management and Coordination Agency, only 0.6% of the victims of discrimination responded that they "complained to the Civil Liberties Bureau of the Ministry of Justice or Civil Liberties Commissioners".

Thirdly, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles in 1993, a body of principles that should be considered in establishing national human rights institutions, which called for "independence and pluralism" of such institutions. The Government of Japan was in favour of the adoption.

Lastly, human rights treaties to which Japan is a State Party and the recommendations made by the relevant committees have made such change essential. In particular, the UN Human Rights Committee, having considered the fourth periodic report submitted by the Government of Japan in November 1998, expressed concerns that the existing system of Civil Liberties Commissioners lacks independence and cannot provide remedies for human rights violations in prisons and immigration facilities and recommended that an independent mechanism should be set up to provide remedies in such cases.


The challenge to establish a new mechanism to provide remedies for human rights violations, which started to be deliberated upon by the Diet on 24 April, has fundamental relevance, above all, to the realisation of our proposals contained in the chapter on "legislative measures to prohibit discrimination and to provide remedies for violations" in the Draft Fundamental Law on Buraku Liberation, enactment of which has been demanded by us since May 1985. It is, however, an important challenge that has significant implications for the future organisation of a system to provide remedies for human rights violations in Japan, thirty or fifty years later. In addition, it is also an international issue which will influence other countries' initiatives to establish national human rights institutions.

Therefore, the Diet should consider the issue closely, taking adequate time for deliberations, without being hasty in passing the bill. We also demand that expert testimonies from a diversity of sources be heard by the Diet.

The bill should be passed on the basis of broad consensus among the ruling and opposition parties, with support of the vast majority of Diet members, not through unilateral action by the ruling parties who may wish to adopt the legislation by casting a majority of vote in favour on their own. For this purpose, the draft bill submitted by the Government should be revised in a comprehensive manner. It is also essential in order to make sure that the outcome be welcomed by a vast majority of the population in Japan and, in light of the Paris Principles, be highly regarded by the United Nations and the international community.

While the Central Steering Committee will continue to take action in closer collaboration with Human Rights Forum 21, Japan Federation of Bar Associations and mass media organisations, we encourage prefectural steering committees to initiate original efforts, including through holding public meetings and actively lobbying on Diet members elected in their areas.

Let us make organisational efforts to realise a legal structure that is truly effective in providing remedies for human rights violations, suitable for the creation of the twenty-first century as a "century of human rights" and highly regarded by the international community.

(English translation of the Human Rights Protection Bill is on our website,