2nd Quarterly, 2006 No.140

Solidarity and Collaboration among Minorities

Civil Congress to Advocate the Establishment of Human Rights Legal System organized a symposium entitled, "Questioning the status of Japan's human rights legal framework, from the perspective of those directly involved" on July 17 in Tokyo. This is the summary of six speakers who represented Japan's minority communities.

From the perspective of the Mentally Ill


Self-acceptance is the most important thing when it comes to the human rights of people with mental disabilities. When I first got sick, my own prejudices led me to blame myself for it. Our predecessors have instead placed the blame on the government's handling of mental illness, which is directed toward public safety, focusing on treatment and welfare.

Finding somewhere to live and somewhere to be during the day are pressing issues for us, followed by the need for counseling and medical treatment, both of which are scant. Community support and activity centers have been set up at a slower pace than those for people with physical or mental disabilities, and in-home service started only 3 or 4 years ago. Up until then, if one applied for home assistance with the city office, the city would refuse you when they saw the request for psychiatric help.

The most recent version of the "Law for the Self-Sufficiency of the Mentally Ill" actually functions as an obstacle to self-sufficiency. Though intended to integrate the three forms of disability, mental illness, mental disability, physical disability, it lacks concrete means of making up for the lag in welfare service provision for mentally ill.

Our motto is 'let no one be lonely.' In addition to providing companions for people, we are also interested in changing the underlying social structure that leaves people alone and lonely. Recent media coverage of incidents that portray mentally ill people as the cause of those incidents has done much to prejudice the public against mentally ill people and has prompted resistance to the construction of community facilities that would otherwise work to provide people with local support.

According to figures from the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, there are approximately 25 million mentally ill people across the country, 3.4 million of whom are hospitalized. More than 40% of those hospitalized

spend more than 5 years in the hospital. Some 72 thousand people would leave the hospital if they could, but they lack anywhere to go. However, the country has done nothing to address this lack of alternatives for such a large number of people, and in so doing are setting things up for people to live permanently in hospitals.

From the Perspective of the Homeless

Suzuko YASUE

There have always been people, such as day laborers, without a permanent dwelling, but homelessness did not become a social issue in Japan until the 1990's. With the downswing in the economy, the number of people without permanent homes increased. Around '92-'93, the government started evicting people living in cardboard or other temporary dwellings, saying that they were a potential 'bad influence on youth' or 'dangerous,' despite the fact that such evictions are prohibited by the UN. Having their homes taken from them, these people also lost their jobs, life stability, and access to medical care; they were forced out of society. However, this issue is poorly understood by a society that believes that 'jobs are there if you just search for them,' or that homeless people are 'simply lazy.'

In 2002, the "Special Measures for the Support of the Homeless" were put into effect with a provisional lifespan of 10 years. This measure provides a concrete plan of action, has started self-sufficiency provision programs, and stresses throughout the importance of self-sufficiency.

This program provides shelter and food free of charge, and provides a means for people to obtain a registered address. It also helps people find regular employment, save up two months of their salary, and move into their own apartments. It is different from other programs that continue to provide monetary support to help people live whatever lives they choose. The program has been running for 5 or 6 years in Osaka and Tokyo, and so far only half of those participating in the program have obtained jobs at the time they leave the facility. Some people then have experienced drops in their salaries and have become incapable of paying their rent. Or for other reasons they have lost their jobs and been forced back onto the streets. This is an issue we need to focus on.

Next year there will be a reassessment of the Self-Sufficiency Law. With that reassessment, the government is to count the number of homeless people in the country. Which is to say, they are hoping to have the numbers be lower. However, people who are on average around 55 years old have extreme difficulties fitting themselves back into the civil labor market. Homeless self-sufficiency is not merely being able to live without economic dependence on others; it also should point to an escape from life on the streets. We have reached a point where we need to think about housing for every person who is forced out of her or his home; we need to do away with the thought that men, since they are men, should be able to support themselves and the gendered focus that accompanies that train of thought. We cannot only think about economics; we must also think about service provision.

From the Perspective of Children born out of wedlock


Discrimination against those born out of wedlock is a form of discrimination sanctioned and structured by Japanese law. While some may insist that it is merely a 'distinction,' in reality it causes discrimination in employment and marriage.

Women frequently approve of this type of discrimination. In a recent survey about inheritance discrimination, women, more than men, were in favor of denying inheritance rights. Why is it that women approve of discrimination? Because they have faith in the marriage system. They call it "discrimination to ensure the wife's position." How is it that discrimination, when a mother does it, becomes "a woman's right?"

The Meiji government created discrimination against those born out of wedlock. During discussions of civil law post-war, all 39 female representatives agreed, "inheritance rights should not be granted." Furthermore, people insisted: "if children are born out of wedlock, their lives would be filled with discrimination. Do not have children out of wedlock."

In order to eliminate discrimination against people born out of wedlock, first and foremost, the family registry system must be abolished. Administrative services can be managed through the address registration system. Births and marriages can be registered independently. This type of system occurs the world over, to no ill effect.

In 1996, one of the premiere representatives of the women's liberation generation stated that "amending law for 'dual surnames' and 'equal share of inheritance between legitimate and illegitimate children' at the same time is like placing delicious food on a plate next to something rotten and saying, 'eat up!' I cannot accept this." People born out of wedlock are rotten? Why is that? Are insurance benefits and spousal exemptions women's rights? This argument is content with women being wives, reliant on and defined with respect to men. We need to stand up, move away from this position.

Unmarried women have recently given up the struggle for recognition. One single mother said, "my partner's child is in their turbulent teens." Why is this person worried not about her child but about her partner's child? This statement reveals a deep internalized discrimination. If parents accept discrimination as an unquestioned given, their children will in turn lose their ability to express their opinions. When de-facto married parents send in the birth certificate, they check a box indicating whether the child is legitimate or not. They themselves must discriminate. The discrimination is then internalized.

The bill for the protection of human rights does not include provisions for children born out of wedlock. The potential measures drafted by the Buraku Liberation League likewise do not include provisions for children born out of wedlock. This is strange. This is a women problem.

From the perspective of sexual minorities.

Shibun NAGAI

There are many misperceptions of and prejudices against sexual minorities. It is easier if we divide the issue into three: 1. biological sex; 2. gender identity; and 3. sexual orientation. However, there is still a large amount of variation and plasticity within sexual orientation, and those variations overlap in a variety of ways. It isn't farfetched to say there is as much variation in sexual orientation as there are people in the world.

Modern medicine labeled homosexuality as "sexual inversion" or an effect of "abnormal libido" and

recommended treatment for the condition. Japan finally accepted the WHO's decision that "homosexuality is in no way in need of medical treatment" in 1994. I personally do not mind if I am thought of as being psychologically ill. However I do mind if "psychological illness" is used as a justification for discrimination.

It is said that homosexuals make up 3-10% of the population. Three percent would put the numbers on level with the physically handicapped; however, homosexuality is not something that one can easily tell simply by looking. The reason why people cannot be open about their orientation is because of the prevalence of homophobia. Faced with joking, harassment, or even physical threat, homosexuals lack the right to lead safe lives. Homosexuality is the butt of jokes on variety shows, just one indication of the prevalence of the attitude that it is ok to say whatever one likes about homosexuality. Faced with this kind of mass media, there are many youth who might realize that they are a sexual minority but cannot accept it and do not feel comfortable telling anyone else. Such homophobia also creates the grounds for depression, testament to which are the large number of support groups springing up around the country.

Rights of sexual minorities are not protected under the Constitution's article 14, which bans other forms of discrimination, and though the bill for the protection of human rights does offer protection, it has yet to be made law. There is no legal basis banning discrimination against sexual minorities.

Homosexuals also lack the right to form families. Marriage is presumed to be between a woman and a man, and as a result homosexual partners are excluded from benefits such as housing, food provision, social insurance, childcare, nursing care, mutual aid, funeral services, or inheritance.

In the case of transsexuals, the mismatch of gender identity and state-registered biological sex has been recognized and resulted in a law allowing for the correction of family registries, but only if one does not have children. This stipulation is purportedly for the sake of the psychological stability of the children, but there are many cases when the children are supportive of their parent's sex change. If law does not recognize a sex change, employers then are obligated to deal with that person as if he or she were the sex that is registered by the state. We are pushing for the removal of this proviso in the law.

From the perspective of the mentally handicapped


After I graduated from the school for the disabled that I attended, I at long last got a job as a waitress in a caf?. When I got the first payment of my salary, they gave me the entire 20,000yen in 100yen and 10yen coins. When I asked for bills, they told me, "mentally handicapped kids didn't know what to do with bills. Coins work better for you." I quit on the spot.

After that I got a volunteer position working in a home for the elderly. I thoroughly enjoyed helping the older people, but sadly was only able to work there for 3 years. I did not hide my disability, but was told by the staff that "if you don't say anything, they will pay you a regular salary. Let's keep it a secret." Then the harassment by my coworkers, who did not know about my disability, began. People would page me and tell me to be here or there from this time to that; they would order me to come help, telling me it was my job. It was really unpleasant. One day I told the part-timers and the boss about my disability, but there was just more and more harassment so I quit.

After that I got the job I have now. At last some stability. I work with someone else with a mental disability helping people in their homes.

I have the following three goals: go to university, meet lots of different people, and get an advanced degree in law and change the law into easier to understand language.

Tsutomu IIJIMA

I propose the necessity of two things: A reexamination of human rights as a concept and how it was legalized in Japan post WWII and the realization that "disability" is less dependent on a person abilities than it is on how the environment treats those differential abilities. These two things make it clear that human rights are an issue that pertains to everyone, and they also would provide a structural and systematic understanding of the situation.

The mentally disabled are frequently thought to be incapable of expressing themselves clearly or judging situations and then are taken advantage of, condescended to, abused, or subjected any number of other difficulties. The disabled, though, cannot be blamed for these difficulties. However, this is exactly what the law does. Likewise, the adult guardianship program is also supposedly for the benefit of the mentally disabled; however, it starts from the premise that the disabled are somehow inferior and actually, contradictorily, limits basic rights such as voting. We need to rethink this legal structure.

The mentally disabled face difficulties with welfare, education, and employment. Unfortunately, this tendency is getting stronger. We need to rethink the most fundamental laws that we already have before us: we need to address these issues and reexamine the constitution and the Basic Education Law.

Toward the Establishment of Law

Professor, Niigata University

The recognition of continuing human rights violations is of the utmost importance. Due to the successes of movements led by those who face such discrimination, Japanese society has become more aware of human rights violations as violations. purred on by this movement, the Japanese government and local authorities have shown greater interest in issues of human rights. However, there is still insufficient collaboration among minority groups, collaboration necessary to understand the details of discrimination and work against the marginalization of these populations.

Our basic position is that there are many similarities in the types of discrimination different groups face. Recent human rights-focused citizens groups have created locations for different minority groups to gather, exchange experiences, and create statements directed toward Japanese society at large. The perspectives of those who face discrimination are essential to these meetings.

We learn social values from individual experiences, and it is essential to understand that discrimination is not something that affects people unrelated to oneself but rather that it is an issue that affects the entirety of society and all its members.

Our fundamental approach is first to understand the social context that creates discrimination and prevents effective redress, then to understand the common historical points between multiple such groups, create a path toward self-sufficiency and education for those who commit human rights violations, and then set up laws to prevent discrimination that is not banned by current legislature.

Our current provisional points of consideration include: understanding problems and limitations of current legislature, analyzing the reasons for such problems, and developing a plan to make full use of existing legislature. Our current substantial points of consideration and action are: 1. Establish laws preventing currently non-banned discrimination as indicated by those who face the discrimination, 2. Examine the relationship between judicial redress and domestic human rights redress, 3. Establish an independent domestic human rights body, 4. Draft a comprehensive framework for general government administration that gives value to the point of view of those who face discrimination, 5. Develop a framework for general redress and ensure full enforcement in order to accord to minority individuals the respect due to any human being, 6. Establish effect redress and preventative measures. We call for your assistance and suggestions with respect to all of the above points.

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