RUMBLE AT THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
A hearing on human rights in Japan is disrupted by right-wingers
An eyewitness report from the front lines
By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.debito.org)
September 1, 2007, freely forwardable
SUMMARY: On August 31, 2007, a public meeting (iken koukan kai, reference site at http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/press/event/jinshu.html
[link is now dead, download webarchive file of site at http://www.debito.org/MOFAaug31meetinginfosite.webarchive]) on the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in Tokyo, was disrupted and sabotaged by right-wing troublemakers. Shouting epithets and arguments designed to wind up the human-rights NGOs, the unidentified right-wingers managed to bring the meeting to a standstill, while the six ministries attending the meeting showed a complete inability to keep the meeting under control. Proceedings ended a half hour early without hearing the opinions of all the attendees, and my opinion is mixed on whether or not the impasse could have been avoided by not taking the bait. In any case, it is a sign to this author that the ultraconservative elements within Japan are not only taking notice of the gain in traction for human rights in Japan, they are doing their best to throw sand in the deliberation process. We will have to develop a thicker skin towards these elements in future, as this is probably only the beginning.
This post is structured thusly:
1) THE WARMUP
2) THE MEETING
3) THE DISRUPTION
4) THE AFTERMATH
1) THE WARMUP
The CERD is the UN Convention against all forms of Racial Discrimination–which Japan signed in 1995 and still defies by not passing any laws against racial discrimination. The GOJ has to fill out a report every two years on what they are doing vis-a-vis racial discrimination, and is dreadfully late (filing its first report due 1998 in 2001, and none sense then). This hearing was for the government to get feedback from the NGOs regarding the GOJ’s stance taken so far (such as it is) before filing the next report (whenever that may be). That meeting took place at 3PM at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo.
Fifteen human-rights NGOs and legal groups (such as the JCLU, http://www.jclu.org), plus four individuals (your correspondent included), attended a pre-MOFA coordinating meeting, chaired by the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR http://www.imadr.org), to stress the following (excerpt):
1) The NGO-GOJ interface left a lot to be desired organizationally. The previous meetings (February and July 2006) with the MOFA (first labeled a “hearing” (hiaringu), later adjusted to an “exchange of views” (iken koukan kai) at our request) essentially heard our views, but offered no feedback from the relevant ministries that attended the meeting. Essentially junior bureaucrats would sit, listen, and act like the Sphinx as whether our opinions or questions mattered. We had never heard any feedback from them regarding questions and issues we raised in previous meetings (in fact, the information we would be offering feedback on that day had only arrived from the MOFA yesterday). We would lobby for that to be remedied.
2) The MOFA’s convening this meeting in August (with the announcement merely posted on the MOFA website at the beginning of the month, without notification of previous attendees) was a surefire way to decrease attendance due to the summer and short notice: We had 30 NGOs attending last time, this time half that (see my report on the July 28, 2006 meeting and proceedings at http://www.debito.org/?p=543). It seemed more a way for the bureaucrats to say, “Hey, we listened to the public, now we can do as we see fit”. We would lobby for more meetings where we had something to respond to–a rolling series of written and oral Q&A over months, if necessary. After all, what Japan puts out before the world could be potentially embarrassing if half-baked. We would offer as much feedback as possible so their reports would better reflect the world beyond Kasumigaseki.
3) We also anticipated there would be some resistance from attendees, since this was an open public meeting, meaning people who did not wish either us or this proceeding well might attend just to use time and disrupt things. We would lobby for people to keep to their time allotments and not offer sentiments that were entirely antithetical to the issue at hand–alleviating and eliminating discrimination.
However, we never anticipated just how antithetical things would get.
2) THE MEETING
started on time at 3PM on the tenth floor of the MOFA building. The MOFA chaired the meeting because racial discrimination falls under their directive (discrimination against women, for example, falls under other another ministry–Health, Labor and Welfare–if it is a matter of Domestic Violence or labor. This makes it difficult to combine all forms of potential discrimination under a single movement in Japan, and why we believe it necessary to create a special government apparatus to deal with it (a move, as you shall see below, is seen as contentious).
Attending were one member of the National Personnel Agency (Jinjin), four from Education, three from Foreign Affairs, five from Justice, one from HL&W, and two from the National Police Agency. No nametags or attendance sheets were made public to us (although the bureaucrats knew who we all were), and all bureaucrats were, same as last July, junior members in their twenties and thirties who could speak authoritatively on nothing. Chairing the meeting was a forty-something Mr Kimura, the head of the MOFA’s Human Rights Section (Gaimushou Sougou Gaikou Seisakukyoku Jinken Jindou Ka, Jinshu Sabetsu Teppai Jouyaku Iken Koukankai Tantou), who clearly looked nervous about how things were going to proceed. Forty people were in attendance (down from 60 last time), and a great number were refraining from making eye contact with each other.
Trouble started immediately. The first person to raise his hand was an older man in his sixties who talked about discrimination of a different kind–how the Zainichis were being granted special privileges just because they had been born here and lived in Japan for several generations. They should abolish their “Special Permanent Residency” (tokubetsu eijuuken) status. Make them all regular Permanent Residents like any other, since they originally came here to to take advantage of Japan’s economics only. Snickers from some, loud applause from others, and Kimura cautioned the meeting to refrain from applause.
Our turn next. Our next few points were about the format of this meeting, as mentioned above. We also asked for the chair to please put a lid on discriminatory statements.
When it was my turn (I was sixth), I raised the point that the most recent survey conducted by the Diet Cabinet vis-a-vis awareness of domestic discrimination (details released in August, excellent translation and report at http://whatjapanthinks.com/2007/08/27/human-rights-in-japan-part-1-of-3/) only surveyed citizens (kokumin), not residents (juumin). So no wonder there were fewer responses regarding racial discrimination. Similar with the National Census (kokusei chousa), which does not survey by ethnicity (minzokusei). I for one have no way to indicate that I am a Japanese citizen with American roots. Same with the probably hundreds of thousands of Japanese children of international marriages in Japan. We just don’t know. Without adequate data on just how international Japan actually is, the GOJ will of course be at a loss on to make appropriate policy regarding discrimination and protection of human rights.
In one of the few answers we got from the bureaucrats today, Kimura noted that although the governing Ministry of Internal Affairs (Soumushou) was absent, but in absentia: the Census not measuring for ethnicity is a matter of privacy–we wouldn’t want to make people uncomfortable with overintrusive questions. This is the standard but bogus excuse–plenty of questions already made people uncomfortable last Census (2005, see http://www.debito.org/meijigakuin071705.html), and there is also the option not to answer at all; the GOJ just doesn’t want any information which would definitively confound the notion that Japan is a monoethnic society).
But for the rest of the day, we would get jeers from the bully boys in the back whenever we spoke, and have to tolerate epithets whenever they spoke:
3) THE DISRUPTION
It turns out about 10 of the 40 people there either knew each other, or later banded together after the meeting for congratulatory back-slaps for a meeting well disrupted. Some of the points their camp raised were:
1) Discrimination, if it really does occur, is between individuals, and thus does not fall under the CERD. Likewise DV (an issue raised by a Filipina attendee from our group, who also talked about unequal care given culture in international marriage; she was heckled for not speaking Japanese) is something between a married couple, and rights for children should not be extended. We told Chairman Kimura to bring the focus back onto the CERD, but he did not clear the hall of people who would even deny the primacy of the UN in a hearing about the UN.
2) Koreans work against Japan and have odd ideologies–just imagine what trouble they would make if you gave them a post in the proposed human-rights Ombudsman proposed under the Jinken Yougo Houan? They compared any attempt to control or punishment of discrimination to Stalinism and thought police. (More of this genre of arguments available in Japanese and English at http://www.debito.org/abunaijinkenyougohouan.html). We asked Kimura to stop this discriminatory language towards Koreans, but even with some warnings he allowed the speech to continue.
3) The United Nations is not a body we should be listening to–we Japanese with our own unique culture and family structure–why should we be letting treaties and other countries with their unfitting standards be foisted upon our country, with its racial purity? Discrimination, if you can call it that, is justified when these foreigners shouldn’t be in our country anyway.
When one of the attendees then referred to a daughter of the Comfort Women (who successfully sued someone who attacked her at a speech for damages and a restraining order–I’m not all that familiar with the case) as a “bastard child” (shiseiji), we demanded the chairing representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do something about this clear tangent, moreover violation of individual dignity and expressed epithet. It was his ministry’s mandate. He remained silent. Our side (particularly from the Zainichis in the room) then said that unless there was a retraction and an apology, this meeting should not continue. Their side said they would offer no such thing, and continued in this vein.
It almost came to blows. Even then, no security was called, and the people who would not be silent were not cleared from the room. Kimura then declared the meeting unable to continue and called it to a close at 4:30 PM.
4) THE AFTERMATH
I was about to leave when one of the older men (almost all the people in this camp were older men, probably retired with time and money on their hands; we call them “grassroots right-wingers” (kusa no ne uyoku) actually came up to me with a smile and a friendly tone of voice. He began reading off some points he had written down and wanted me to hear (he clearly needed no feedback–so I listened):
White people in Japan have it good here because of Japan’s inferiority complex towards them. So discrimination cannot happen towards them. It only happens towards the lesser peoples of the world, and they’re only here taking advantage of the Japan we Japanese built up. They shouldn’t be here asking for anything. In any case, I as a superior Caucasian should have nothing to complain about. Those “Japanese Only” signs I referred to earlier during my spiel were merely efforts made by Japanese who have a complex towards foreigners and their foreign languages This was merely a shorthand for smoother business for them. Etc. etc.
I asked if he considered me a Japanese. He said yes, my Japanese was excellent, and I have citizenship. Good, thank you. So I mentioned the Otaru Onsens Case, and explained that despite my language level and citizenship, I had been refused entry just because I am White. He had never heard of it. I recommended my book. He repeated that he had never heard of it.
That’s the shortcoming of these types of people: Anything that has never entered their existence or view simply doesn’t exist. I let it go since there was no way to reach him. He shook my hand and gave me his card. Watanabe Tadashi, Vice President of the “Japan Family Value Society” (the J translation on the obverse is markedly different: He’s a member of the Hino City Assembly near Tokyo, Kikaku Soumu Iinchou, from the LDP. Opposes local ordinances guaranteeing the rights of the child, supports textbooks with the “proper” historical bent, and is vice-chair of the “kazoku no kizuna o mamoru kai), website http://www.watanabetadashi.net). Nice enough guy, but he should get out more.
I was the last one in the room, except for Chair Kimura and one of his staffers. I mentioned that proper procedure would have been to clear the room of those who wouldn’t obey the rules for a calm, peaceful gathering. He indicated that he thought it unthinkable to call security, soukaiya disruptions or not. I let it go again. No wonder people can’t deal effectively with bullies in this society.
Our postmortem was an exercise in making the best of things. The person who demanded the apology said she was sorry for disrupting the meeting, but we would have none of it. There was no need to continue, the room held, because even the ministries were not doing their job of stopping epithets and hate speech–even when attendees deny the very need to follow UN treaty and the very need to hold this meeting. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to express hatred and disrupt calm and reasoned debate. If the conveners of the meeting cannot keep order, it’s no longer a viable meeting.
I am of two minds about what happened. The opinions above notwithstanding, I have the feeling we were played like a fiddle. Those people knew what would wind us up, and kept on poking us until we poked back. Yes, a proper chairman would have cleared the meeting of those people. But barring that, if I was everyone in our camp, I would have ignored the heckling, made my points calmly, stomached the epithets (only calling for time limits on speeches to be obeyed), and shown via the force of argument that our side was the stronger.
Then again, it’s entirely possible that this is what the MOFA wanted. These meetings are a nuisance for them. Now they can say there’s no need to have them again since they will only degenerate into shouting matches and potential fistfights. In the bad old days, in order for there to have been a hearing of this sort (and this was before the GOJ even bothered to listen to NGOs), there would have to be a Dietmember present. No Dietmember, no meeting. Now after liberalization, this event can now be used as an excuse for the bureaucrats to argue for a return to those ways. Whether that will happen is unclear, but in any case, the bully boys managed to sluice things off.
What’s next? Dunno. But it’s clear that we are getting closer to winning the debate–enough so that the Rightists feel threatened and need to appear and shout us down. If we don’t develop a thicker skin, and the coordinators of the meeting don’t take a more aggressive stand at keeping meetings calm and reasonable, there’s only going to be more of this in future.
September 1, 2007
MOFA JULY 31, 2007 CERD MEETING REPORT ENDS