3rd Quarterly, 2006 No.141

Calling for the Establishment of Legal and Other Systems
for Human Rights in Japan

Report of a rally to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 6 December 2006 organized by the Osaka Liaison Conference for the UDHR

Keynote Speech

Professor, Niigata University Law School
Chairperson of the Planning and Organizing Committee of CAHR

1. The objective and purpose of the Citizens’ Association for Human Rights

Despite the fact that the 21st century has been called “the century of human rights”, the human rights situation in Japan and around the world has not improved. In this context, Japanese organizations of people affected by human rights violations and other individuals came together in a spirit of solidarity to form the Citizen’s Association for Proposing Legal and Other Systems for Human Rights (otherwise known as the Citizens’ Association for Human Rights; hereafter referred to as CAHR), with a view to transforming Japanese society by scrutinizing legal and other systems from a human rights perspective.

CAHR emphasizes first and foremost the views of people affected by human rights violations and discrimination. It also stresses the close connection and interdependence between human rights and peace as well as collaboration with people in the Asia-Pacific region. CAHR developed the proposals outlined below in the hope of establishing and maintaining multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies centered on coexistence and a culture of human rights.

2. Outline of CAHR’s activities

At its founding assembly on 30 March 2006, CAHR organized a symposium in which the founding members expressed their thoughts. Similar symposiums were held in July and September of the same year. Preliminary proposals were made public at the September symposium, and many contributions were made by participants as well as via e-mails and faxes. The final proposals reflect important elements of this input.

3. Policies in formulating the proposals

In formulating the present proposals, CAHR placed emphasis on making urgent and feasible recommendations based on long-term achievements to date. Critical relationships will be pursued with the government and local authorities, and cooperation will be promoted where possible.

4. Contents of the proposals

The Proposals on Legal and Other Systems for Human Rights in Japan are composed of four parts: our views on the current situation, basic perspectives, the basic framework and our proposals.

With regard to the current situation, the proposals point out that there are still many cases of human rights violations and discrimination, some of which have not yet been acknowledged as social issues. While some action has been taken, many human rights issues remain unresolved. Current efforts to eliminate human rights violations and discrimination have not been adopted by society as a whole. On the contrary, recent years have witnessed the emergence of neo-liberalism, xenophobia and the establishment of new legislation and systems under the name of anti-terrorist measures, which are likely to be prejudiced against human rights. These are alarming trends. At the same time, minority groups are being cut off from one another and marginalized. The proposals indicate the need for different minorities to be united in solidarity in order to demand changes in the legal and other systems.

With regard to the basic perspectives, the proposals take a bottom-up approach and firmly build on the perspectives of the minorities themselves. Emphasis is placed on the effective involvement of each minority group in the decision-making process. The basic framework of the proposals indicates gaps in the existing legal system and stresses the need to identify and tackle common issues in different cases of human rights violations and discrimination. Furthermore, the proposals seek to recommend effective systems to provide remedies for human rights violations through a comprehensive set of measures such as restitution and compensations to victims of human rights violations and discrimination, support for self-dependence, and prevention of the reoccurrence of human rights violations through measures such as education and counseling.

Specific recommendations are grouped into (a) immediate issues concerning human rights remedies and (b) fundamental issues concerning legal and other systems for human rights. In the former category, the proposals recommend the establishment of a national human rights institution to serve as a quick channel for accessing advice on human rights issues and to provide satisfactory remedies to victims of human rights violations and discrimination. Municipalities are urged to develop comprehensive systems with the same objectives. Individual communication procedures under international treaties should also be made available to affected people.

In the second category, the proposals recommend a comprehensive review of discriminatory laws and systems, namely the family register and immigration control systems, from a human rights perspective. Other proposed measures include: the enactment of a fundamental law on human rights and a set of anti-discrimination laws for each affected group; the implementation of comprehensive human rights policies; human rights education and awareness-raising designed to empower affected people; active use of international human rights mechanisms; and pursuing solidarity with the countries and peoples in East Asia.

5. Remaining issues

Currently, sufficient collaboration between different organizations of affected people and other individuals suffering from human rights violations does not exist. One major challenge therefore lies in the promotion of such collaboration. The proposals must also be made easier to understand. As we deal with these issues, we would like to present our proposals to the Diet and the Cabinet to explain them and seek understanding.

Voices from different perspectives

The Current Situation of Buraku Discrimination

Takashi AKAI
Acting Secretary-in-Chief, BLL Osaka

The comments made by the Minister of Justice in July 2005 at the House of Councilors Committee on Judicial Affairs are indicative of how the Japanese government views human rights violations and discrimination. To summarize, he stated that violations of human rights and/or discrimination occur when individual victims can be identified, or when one can distinguish those who belong to a particular group from others who do not, but a violation is not considered to have occurred if specific individuals have not been affected.

Under this logic, a company purchasing a Buraku list would not be committing an act of discrimination against Buraku people since there are no individual victims at that stage. Only when the company decides not to employ someone on the basis of his or her Buraku origin after examining the list to assess whether or not the applicant’s place of birth is in a Buraku area is discrimination acknowledged and remedies provided. Also, discriminatory graffiti such as “Beware of Dowa [Buraku people]!” would not constitute a human rights violation because particular victims cannot be identified.

In other words, the existing human rights mechanisms are not applicable unless individuals seek remedies, but these are insufficient due to legislative and procedural inadequacies. In the majority of cases, victims are therefore forced to give up.

When private detective agencies look into a person’s background using a Buraku list, they do so covertly because they and their clients know the anti-social nature of such discriminatory inquiries. In recent years, however, the printed data in such lists has been converted into electronic format and hundreds of Buraku areas have been identified on anonymous Internet sites.

Since Buraku lists were made public on the Internet, anyone can now find out where Buraku communities are and commit a discriminatory act without malicious intent. There have also been cases in which administrative lawyers obtained certificates of residence and/or abstracts of the family register through formal procedures and then passed them to unauthorized persons. The existence of Buraku lists in electronic form will make it easier to locate and use these documents for discriminatory purposes by way of electronic searching. When the data is combined with other kinds of personal information, such as debt or crime records, it will be possible to develop an individualized register of information for the purpose of human rights violations, which has not been previously feasible. In this way, scientific progress is transforming the nature of discriminatory incidents.

To Achieve Social Coexistence by Establishing a Legal System
for Foreign Residents’ Human Rights

Kwang-Min, KIM
Secretary-in-Chief, Korea NGO Center

In Japan, there are currently more than 2 million officially registered foreign residents. This figure increases if temporary residents and those who have overstayed their permitted periods of residence are counted. While the government is developing comprehensive policies concerning foreigners, it is being left behind by more progressive measures at local levels.

For example, Osaka City has decided to allocate financial and human resources to support education for developing national and ethnic identity among minority students. This represents the first attempt in Japan to institutionalize the voluntary extra-curricular activities known as “national education classrooms”. Osaka Prefecture has also developed administrative guidelines for the promotion of specific measures for foreign residents.

Additionally, municipalities with large populations of Brazilian and other foreign residents have formed the Committee for Localities with Concentrated Foreigner Populations and held annual assemblies, pointing out gaps in government policies and making comprehensive recommendations concerning necessary measures for foreign residents. The proposed measures include improving the learning environment for foreign children as well as guaranteeing education of their mother tongues and cultures. It is reported that, in the light of these views, the Ministry of Education is considering the inclusion of references to foreign children in the National Course of Curricula.

On the other hand, it is estimated that 20-30% of foreign children living in Japan are not enrolled in school. Some have been found in employment before reaching the legal minimum age, which demonstrates that the problem of child labor is not limited to the poorest countries. Those children, who work to support their families, remind us of the first and second generations of Korean residents in Japan. In addition to the problem of poverty, they suffer seriously from loneliness and a sense of loss. The present school education system neglects their physical and mental developmental needs.

National education classrooms in Osaka have been instrumental in protecting and promoting the rights of Korean children. The classrooms have created comfortable spaces for these children at school and fostered networking among their parents. There is an urgent need to develop policies, including measures to promote school education for coexistence, through the creation of human rights legislation for foreign residents.

Women and Human Rights

Kumiko IDA
Professor, Osaka Prefecture University

“Women’s human rights” is a new concept that emerged after the 1970s from United Nations and other initiatives, and appeared on the agenda in the 1990s. With regard to violence against women, for example, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993, followed by the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna) and the World Conference on Women (Beijing).

Turning to the situation of women’s human rights in Japan, it is easy to see that national development has been primarily motivated by pressure from international trends. The ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women resulted in amendments to the Nationality Law, the enactment of the Equal Opportunity in Employment Law, and the introduction of home economics as a mandatory subject for both boys and girls. In the 1990s, various pieces of legislation such as the Domestic Violence Prevention Act have been enacted or amended.

In the meantime, many new concepts have been submitted both at the international and national levels. These include domestic violence, reproductive health and rights, and sexual harassment, all having emerged in the 1990s. In other words, there was little previous awareness of the need to tackle these issues, which illustrates that the issue of women’s human rights is rather new.

Challenges still remain in areas such as violence against women. While amendments to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act have increased its effectiveness in preventing such violence, it is not applied to unmarried couples unless the perpetrators are former spouses. It also fails to provide for support for the self-dependence of women, which is essential to solving the problem. The abolition of additional benefits for single mothers in the public assistance scheme combined with the slow development of measures for workers in irregular forms of employment makes prospects even more dismal.

The backlash against gender-sensitive education is also mounting, leading to negative reactionary discussions about gender equality education and sexuality education. I am also worried about the fact that those seeking to amend the Constitution of Japan reportedly aim to amend the gender equality provisions in Article 24. We would like to pursue closer collaboration with people from different sectors in this regard.

Human Rights of People with Disabilities

Pack KAN
Independent Living Center for People with Disabilities SCRUM

I am involved in local support activities for people with disabilities in Osaka. When I went to the Osaka Human Rights Museum last year, a person with a disability said to me, “I’ve never considered that my problems are a human rights issue”. This remark demonstrates that people with disabilities are not aware that their suffering may be due to discrimination or human rights violations.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to be adopted by the UN General Assembly next week, which is an impressive achievement of the worldwide movement of affected people. The initiative was first triggered by the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and the following UN Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992). As a result, the non-binding Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities were adopted in 1993. The adoption of a convention continued to be a challenge until now.

The Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons was also launched in 1993. In 2002, the final year of the Decade, governments meeting at the Biwako Lake Conference agreed to continue efforts to secure the rights of people with disabilities. In the same year, the DPI world assembly met in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and adopted a declaration to seek the adoption of a convention on the rights of people with disabilities. The Convention is to finally be adopted after a series of UN ad-hoc committee meetings. Even if the Convention is adopted, however, the question exists of how to implement it at the national level. We hope that many legal provisions will be changed through the ratification process of the Convention. We would also like to make use of existing legislation, such as the related local ordinance adopted in Chiba Prefecture and the Fundamental Law for Persons with Disabilities, amended in 2004.

Two important outstanding issues lie in the protection and promotion of the rights of people with disabilities. One is the in the scope of “reasonable accommodation”. The other is that the fate of unborn children is decided by those without disabilities, who may wish to avoid having children with disabilities. While it may be difficult to reflect these issues adequately in legal and other systems for human rights, we will not hesitate to raise them.

Homeless People and Human Rights

Organization to Support the Homeless in Kamagasaki

After the economic bubble burst in the 1990s, the issue of homelessness has become a serious social issue along with the issue of unemployment. This led to the adoption of the Act on Special Measures for Homeless People, which sends a message that homeless people should not be discriminated against, but effective measures in this regard have not been provided.

A government survey in 2003 revealed that the vast majority of homeless people had become homeless because of a combination of different factors such as illness and debt in the context of downsizing and bankruptcy of business enterprises. The majority of homeless people are male and their average age is 55.9. 65% earn some income through irregular employment and other sources such as collecting and selling used cans. 49.7% hope to return to formal employment. In other words, more than half of homeless people desire to return to normal life through some form of employment. These findings revealed that the homelessness is a product of social and economic factors.

The government, however, decided not to adopt any other laws for special projects. Its intention is to deal with the product of the existing systems through existing projects. Since this will not produce any satisfactory outcome, we have demanded urgent employment measures and special public assistance schemes. The principal measures implemented by the government are the provision of temporary shelters and job placement services based on the principle of self-responsibility.

As expected, these measures have not worked. Homeless people remain unemployed because there are few choices for employment, and many believe they will have to continue struggling for survival on the street. Many homeless people have short life expectancies as a result.

In my opinion, this is a serious and overt form of bullying to which no one is being held accountable. The social environment and public awareness in Japan has fostered criminalization of homelessness, which tolerates and aggravates their present conditions. While legislative measures should be taken to prevent homelessness, it will be difficult to ensure the human rights of homeless people and other disadvantaged groups without public awareness-raising. A strong human rights law that can promote such efforts must be adopted.

Human Rights Advisory Services in Osaka

Makoto TERASHITA Human Rights Section
Policy and Planning Division, Osaka Prefecture

Osaka Prefecture intends to promote human rights advisory services, with a view to providing remedies for and preventing human rights violations.

Osaka Prefecture enacted the Osaka Ordinance for the Development of a Society Where Human Rights Are Respected in 1998. In accordance with the ordinance, the Osaka Basic Policy to Promote Human Rights Measures was formulated in March 2001. The three pillars of the policy are: (a) support for residents' autonomous decision-making and self-realization; (b) development of comprehensive human rights advisory services; and (c) expansion of the systems to protect human rights and provide remedies in case of violations.

The development of human rights advisory services is thus an essential element of the related measures. Specific measures for this purpose include: setting up local human rights advisory service focal points; providing human rights advisory services, including legal advice by the Osaka Prefectural Human Rights Association; developing a network of relevant bodies; and training counselors to provide advice at the local level.

Through the provision of appropriate advice, human rights advisory services would serve to foster voluntary resolution of human rights conflicts and to prevent the occurrence and aggravation of human rights problems. In this sense, they also have a remedial nature and are expected to work to a certain degree for this purpose. Although the provision of remedies has been considered to be within the jurisdiction of the Legal Affairs Bureaus of the Ministry of Justice, local authorities may be able to apply some basic remedial measures such as fact-finding, advice, referral, mediation, assistance, persuasion, education, guidance and coordination, even without a legislative basis. The expansion of such measures would lead to the solution and prevention of human rights violations.

There is still much room for improvement, however, as is illustrated by the low rates of access to existing services. Further publicity and awareness-raising is necessary. There is also an urgent need to deal with increasing cases of bullying and child abuse at the local level. Osaka Prefecture intends to improve human rights advisory services, with a view to preventing such abuse through early identification and collaboration with relevant bodies.

Specifically, we envisage the training of additional counselors who can also serve as high-level coordinators. Consensus has been achieved at an expert meeting in this respect, so we aim to quickly realize the plan as part of the development of comprehensive systems for human rights advisory and remedial services.

The Roles of National Human Rights Institutions in Human Rights Education

Associate Professor, University of Hyogo

For some time, I wondered why many states instigated school-based human rights education after the launch of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, and why the first phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education focuses on school education?

The reason is that human rights education at schools is likely to produce more significant results because primary and secondary education reaches the largest numbers of people and can be targeted at the young people who will become the future leaders of our society. However, the possible major risks in such education should not be overlooked.

Firstly, school education is (virtually) centralized in most Asia-Pacific countries. Since school education represents a national project to raise citizens of the state, human rights education that incorporates perspectives that are critical towards the state and authorities will not be received favorably.

Such education therefore tends to avoid teaching what kind of rights citizens have, who has the primary responsibility to realize them, and to whom citizens should demand the realization of these rights. Human rights education is transformed into education on values, moral education or superficial teaching of the national constitution. It also seeks to solve problems by nurturing discipline among people rather than by developing legislation and social systems.

I will not say that moral education is not necessary, but we should consider what kind of human rights education is required in order to ensure that morality and discipline lead to the establishment of legal and other systems. If human rights education continues to be limited to teaching ideal individual attitudes, Japan will not be able to achieve institutional resolution of human rights problems, let alone the establishment of a national human rights institution.

National human rights institutions in other countries do not only provide remedies for human rights violations, but also play an important role in human rights education. While they exist as public authorities with a legislative basis, they can take also advantage of their independent status for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of government policies on human rights and making necessary recommendations to their government. This also applies to human rights education in that such institutions can monitor the process and ensure that the government does not change the nature of human rights education. Given the current state of human rights education, the creation of such an institution may also be necessary in Japan.

Concluding Comment


In conclusion, I would like to raise the following six points.

First, civil society should continue to demand human rights legislation. Although legislation cannot solve all problems, it is necessary to deal with serious forms of human rights violations.

Second, even if a national human rights institution is established in accordance with our proposals, civil society should monitor its activities because it cannot solve all problems alone.

Third, a fundamental law on human rights must be enacted to realize the constitutional principle of equality, which is of an abstract nature within the constitution, as well as to provide a safety net for the minimum standards of life.

Fourth, civil society should discuss and propose the definition and scope of such concepts as “indirect discrimination” or “reasonable accommodation” in the process of developing and putting into operation new legal and other systems for human rights.

Fifth, emphasis should be placed on the interconnection between human rights advisory services, remedies, support, education, awareness-raising and recommendations. The education of perpetrators of violations should also serve as a remedial measure.

Finally, we are seeking solidarity with the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region through such measures as the distribution of our proposals to different countries working for the protection and promotion of human rights.

of this research.

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