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Hi Blog. First the news, then commentary:
INDEPENDENT UN EXPERTS SERIOUSLY CONCERNED ABOUT JAPAN’S SPECIAL SECRETS BILL
UN News, New York, Nov 22 2013 1:00PM
Two independent United Nations human rights experts today expressed serious concern about a Government-sponsored draft bill in Japan that would decide what constitutes a State secret.
The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and on the right to health requested further information from the Japanese authorities on the draft law and voiced their concerns regarding its compliance with human rights standards.
“Transparency is a core requirement for democratic governance,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, <“http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14017&LangID=E“>said.
He stressed that secrecy in public affairs is only acceptable where there is a demonstrable risk of substantial harm and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information kept confidential.
“The draft bill not only appears to establish very broad and vague grounds for secrecy but also include serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets.”
According to reports, information related to defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism will all be classified as a state secret, while ministers could decide what information to keep from the public.
Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, who visited Japan last year and studied the response to the disaster in Fukushima, underlined the need for to always ensure full transparency in emergency contexts: “Particularly in calamities, it is essential to ensure that the public is provided with consistent and timely information enabling them to make informed decisions regarding their health.”
“Most democracies, including Japan, clearly recognize the right to access information. As much as the protection of national security might require confidentiality in exceptional circumstances, human rights standards establish that the principle of maximum disclosure must always guide the conduct of public officials,” concluded the rapporteurs.
The bill in question establishes the grounds and procedures for classification of information held by the Government of Japan.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan has issued a protest of their own, in pdf format, at http://www.fccj.or.jp/images/FCCJ-State-Secrets-Protest-eng.pdf
However, my comment is pretty straightforward: The snowball is rolling and a version of this legislation, even if “watered down” (or perhaps not), will probably be rammed through into law, since both houses of Parliament are in the hands of ultraconservative parties without a viable opposition party anymore.
Why wasn’t this seen coming down the pike in the first place before it got to this stage? The warning signs were all there from last December’s election (before that, even, if you read PM Abe’s manifestoes about his “beautiful country“) about Japan’s rightward swing. This consolidation of information control has always been part and parcel of state control — no surprises, especially in Japan. So this public reaction of both naiatsu and gaiatsu is too little, too late. Get ready for the politicized criminalization of public disclosure. Arudou Debito