The 13th Human Rights Seminar to Be Held in Osaka

The 13th Human Rights Seminar (HRS), entitled "Calling for the Establishment of a Law on Remedies for Human Rights Violations and a National Commission for Human Rights," was held in Osaka on September 21, 2004. About 700 people participated in HRS, which consisted of a presentation by a guest speaker from the Philippines and a panel discussion with three speakers from within Japan.

Toru Matsuoka, the President of the Osaka Federation of Buraku Liberation League, gave an opening address and keynote proposals on behalf of the HRS organizing committee consisting of IMADR, Osaka Liaison Conference for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Osaka BLL. He called for the early enactment of a law on remedies for human rights violations, stating, "The law we are seeking should aim not at only protection, but also establishment of human rights. Furthermore, it should be consistent with the Paris Principles in order to guarantee its independence."

Following the keynote proposals, Purificacion Quisumbing, the Chairperson of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHRP), made a presentation entitled "The Experiences of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights and its Expectations of Japan." The CHRP was established in 1986 under the new Constitution of the Philippines. Its five commissioners are appointed by the President of the Philippines and it has a broad mandate which includes the authority to investigate into cases of violations of civil and political rights, even in cases where complaints have not been brought in. However, any cases of rights violations it finds, including those committed by law enforcement officers, cannot be prosecuted by the Commission but must be referred to the Department of Justice. The CHRP also makes regular visits to detention centers and prisons, through which potential incidents of inhumane treatment, torture and unjust detention can be prevented, and often makes recommendations to the Government on how to improve detention center conditions in order to bring them up to international standards.

Another of the CHRP mandates is to monitor the implementation of Government -ratified international human rights instruments.

The Commission also works to protect and promote the human rights of overseas Filipino workers. Filipino migrant workers in Japan, especially women, experience regular violations of their human rights. NGOs and church groups in Japan sometimes work with the CHRP to resolve human rights violation problems involving Filipino women. Quisumbing said, "In the future, we hope to be able to work together with a Japanese human rights commission in cases involving our people working here in Japan." In her concluding remarks, she emphasized the importance of the independence of a national human rights commission and expressed her hope to see one established in Japan in the future.

Panel Discussion

A panel discussion with two panelists was held following Chairperson Quisumbing's presentation. Kenzo Tomonaga, the Director of Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and the moderator of the discussion, opened by saying, "The results of a recent survey of the actual conditions of Buraku areas revealed that one in three Buraku people have experienced personal discrimination against them. Of these people, only 0.6% approached the Ministry of Justice to complain or seek consultation. This clearly shows that the existing remedial system is not working and that a national human rights commission is urgently required. Let us continue and further develop dialogue with a wider social perspective as we work towards the enactment of a law to establish human rights."

Masayoshi Kaneko, a part-time lecturer at Hosei University and one of the panelists, discussed the differences between the scrapped bill (developed by the Government) and the bill tentatively entitled "Law on Remedies for Human Rights Violations" (developed by NGOs). Whereas the scrapped bill constituted a continuation of the current human rights protection administration conducted by the Ministry of Justice, the latter aims at the establishment of a comprehensive human rights protection system across ministries. Furthermore, where the former prescribed a centralized human rights commission, the latter prescribes both a national commission and local commissions in order to ensure decentralization of power.

There are also major differences between the two bills with regard to the issue of human rights violations. While the Government bill failed to provide a definition of human rights and interpreted them very narrowly, the other bill provides a broader concept and definition of human rights by referring to the Japanese Constitution and international human rights conventions. The Government bill also failed to provide a clear definition of discrimination as its intent was to continue the use of reasonable discrimination as justification. Grounds for discrimination were also only narrowly prescribed in the scrapped bill, whereas the other bill includes a wide range of grounds covering any social discrimination.

The final point was with regard to the mandate of a human rights commission. In the Government bill, the commission was to be given a limited advocacy function and belong exclusively to the Ministry of Justice. However, the other bill places more importance on the commission's advocacy function, and the commission is defined as belonging to the Cabinet Office with comprehensive authorization to deal with all human rights affairs. The commission prescribed in the Government bill would not have been able to respond to cases requiring immediate remedies and the bill was soft on human rights violations committed by public powers, but the other bill takes the opposing stance on both issues.

The next panelist was Makoto Terashita from the Osaka Prefectural Government. Osaka Prefecture enacted the Ordinance for the Social Development with Respect for Human Rights in 1998, and developed the Basic Policies for the Promotion of Human Rights Measures in 2001. The basic policies have three main objectives: 1) to encourage people to make independent decisions and achieve self-fulfillment, 2) to improve counseling services for human rights related problems, and 3) to fully establish human rights protection and remedial systems. The Osaka Prefectual Government is currently developing a network for human rights counseling services together with municipal governments and NGOs insOsaka with the aim to empower individuals to resolve their own human rights problems. Naturally, it is important to provide proactive remedies to those people whose circumstances make it difficult for them to defend their own rights. The Osaka Prefectural Government has set up a working group to conduct detailed research into the development of a human rights remedial institute that could quickly and efficiently provide remedial and preventative services. The working group has already made a number of proposals for the ideal functions of a local human rights commission. A human rights commission should be created at both the national and local levels due to the differing functions of national and local commissions.