Hi Blog. If you’ve been watching TV or been out in a few public places, you might have seen two cute-ish big boy and girl mascot dolls named “Ken” (for “kenri”, one’s rights, or “jinken”, human rights), drawing attention to issues of discrimination in Japan. Otherwise you might not know that we are in the middle of Japan’s official week for human rights. “Jinken Shuukan” started on December 3 and ends on December 10, or “Jinken Day”. Sponsored by the notorious Ministry of Justice’s Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougo Bu, or BOHR–“notorious” for doing nothing much otherwise).
The website with this year’s 59th proceedings (thanks Stephanie) lists up these issues of note (my translations):
1) Teaching people one by one about the importance of human rights.
2) Human rights for women.
3) For children.
4) For the elderly.
5) For the disabled.
6) For the Burakumin.
7) For the Ainu.
8) For foreigners.
9) For people with AIDS or Hansen’s Disease (leprosy).
10) For formerly incarcerated criminals who have paid their debt to society.
11) For victims of crime and their families.
12) For the victims of human rights abuses on the Internet.
13) For people discriminated against for their sexual orientation.
14) For the homeless.
15) For those with Gender Identity Disorder.
16) For those who have suffered human rights abuses from the DPRK.
As far as Debito.org goes, here is what they say about their goals towards discrimination against “foreigners” (gaikokujin) on a page with a longer writeup: (again, my translation):
“LET’S RESPECT THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF FOREIGNERS”
Reflecting the era of Japan’s Internationalization in recent years, every year the number of foreigners staying (zairyuu) in our country (sic–waga kuni) has been increasing. According to the Constitution, and by the nature of the rights of man, and leaving out the interpretation that the Constitution only applies to Japanese citizens, foreigners staying in our country also are guaranteed fundamental human rights. However, in practice, our country has had issues originating in history towards the Zainichi North and South Koreans [sic–Chinese/Taiwanese etc. not included]. There are also various incidents of human rights problems with foreigners facing discrimination in the workplace, as well as being refused apartments, entry into eating and drinking establishments, and public baths [thanks]. This is due to differences in language, religion, and lifestyle customs [sic–not also race].
Our country effected the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in January 1996, which demands that we take further action towards the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination by nationality.
As Japan’s internationalization is anticipated to further proceed from now on, it is desirable that we respect the customs of foreigners, and as a member of the international society we accept diversity.
The Ministry of Justice Bureau of Human Rights as an organization will develop enlightenment activities that will cultivate an awareness of human rights suitable for Japan’s international era, where all citizens (kokumin) here or abroad will deepen their understanding and awarenesss of all human rights problems.
COMMENT: I’m not going to completely douse the fireworks here with acerbic comments (as it’s better that the GOJ is doing this than not, as long as they don’t claim to international bodies that this is enough–which they have a history of doing). But let’s do a quick roundup of the flaws in all the “human rights awareness” so ably called for by the BOHR:
a) Note how the BOHR still couches discrimination in terms of nationality, not as race or national origin. For what about the Japanese children with international roots, who face discrimination because they don’t “look Japanese”? This blind spot ignores one more facet of Japan’s true internationalization–where racial discrimination affects Japanese citizens too.
b) Note how the issue is still couched in terms of “us” and “them”–our citizens and those foreigners with their differences (which is not necessarily true–and this sort of thing is used more often as an excuse and a justification than an explanation). It’s not even clear that foreigners are even residents of Japan–only “staying” (zairyuu) as opposed to “residing” (zaijuu).
c) Still no call from the BOHR for an actual law outlawing racial discrimination–only for the “respect” for people (which, with 300 yen, might get you a cup of coffee; if the restaurant even lets you in).
d) And as I said above, the BOHR is famous for calling for action yet not effecting much (or any) action of its own–after all, as they will tell you at the very beginning of any interview you have with them over a human rights issue, they have no real power to stop a discriminator from discriminating, and (this they won’t tell you) have no legal obligation to call you back or tell you any results of any investigation (if any) they undertake (this is, they say, “for privacy concerns”). See what I mean at
Glad to see that “discrimination against foreigners” is now up to eighth in the ranking. Now if we could get it rendered as “racial discrimination”, it would more reflect reality. And treaty obligation.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
More Keystone Coppiness regarding GOJ human rights awareness:
“Human rights survey stinks: Government effort riddled with bias, bad science”
By Arudou Debito. The Japan Times, Tuesday, October 23, 2007