OCT 7 AND 8, 2004, SEAGAIA

By Arudou Debito, Oct 12, 2004

Last week, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nichibenren) held its annual meeting in southern Kyushu, to discuss future aims of the association concerning human rights in Japan.

I went both as an individual and as a representative of NGO MEHREC (Multiethnic Human Rights Education Center for Coexistence, see http://www.taminzoku.com), joint sponsor of our upcoming lawsuit against the national government, for failing to observe international treaty and pass racial discrimination laws (http://www.debito.org/kunibengodan.html). However, I write this report as an individual, offering my personal viewpoint as to what happened and how things turned out. All opinions and possible errors are my own.


was threefold, as the plenary sessions, open to the public, were as follows:


Establishing a "Basic Law of Human Rights for Non-Japanese" (Gaikokujin no Jinken Kihonhou)


(i.e. working towards environmentalism)


(i.e. working towards its abolition)

Original programme in Japanese at

The First Plenary was, significantly, the main session, held in the largest hall. It was well-attended, full to capacity (more than 800 people) with lawyers, NGOs, high schoolers, concerned citizens, and connected parties. From 12:30 to 6PM went a well-organized series of speeches and panel discussions designed to introduce the issue, develop it, and offer prognoses for the future. Copious handouts (including two booklets of 500 pages each), power-point presentations, video recaps, statements from Zainichis, refugees, immigrants and their (now grown-up) children, and more gave us full details on the issues and why there must be something done to improve things.

Points raised which remain in my memory include:

1) The care taken to stress that this was not an issue of "foreignness" but rather of taxpaying residents, and discrimination in this regard is not only based upon nationality, but also upon race.

2) The fact that refugees are seen as troublemakers and treated as criminals by Japanese Immigration--visible in how many linger in the detention system (with conditions worse than Japanese prisons), and how few (ten or so annually) actually are granted asylum.

3) That a stratum of non-Japanese children (particularly those of South American imported labor, which now make up over 15% of all registered foreigners in Japan) born and/or raised in Japan, are becoming a whole new uneducated underclass. The Japanese government only sees "gimu kyouiku" (compulsory education) as entitled to citizens, whereas for foreign children it is optional and unenforced (one panelist used the term "onkei kyouiku", or "education as a favor"). A system unrespondent to their needs has fostered delinquency, dropouts, illiteracy, teenage gangs and pregnancies that the NGOs are trying to deal with.

4) That even after the "Hamamatsu Sengen", a declaration made by city and town governments around Shizuoka and Gifu Prefectures (http://www.debito.org/hamamatsusengen.html) in 2001 calling for the national government to improve welfare and educational systems for their foreign laborers, the national government has ignored it.

5) That Japan's national politicians (as evidenced by two Dietmembers on the panel discussion, DPJ's Chiba Keiko and Koumeitou's Touyama Kiyohiko) still see this as a problem of social consciousness, not of legislative action. "Even if we pass laws, unless we change the minds of discriminators, we will not resolve discrimination in Japan," said Mr. Touyama.

(This is where you could hear my pencil snap. Look, politicians, you are not in charge of raising social consciousness--that is the job of the media, the administrative branch, and the NGOs. Your job is policymaking. So do your job and make the policy to fix the problem!)

And more. The first half of the conference was excellent, the second a bust, as none of the panelists up front (including some academic who punted with "we gotta study how things are overseas", without doing so himself and reporting his findings; BTW his university, Niigata, contracts its foreign academics) were actually affected by the policy proposals themselves, and any possible quality-control questions were filtered through Q&A notes passed to the podium. For me, it was a bit of a downer.

That feeling intensified the next day when we saw how the mass media treated the symposium. NHK and the local networks were there (apparently local friend Steve van Dresser and I were broadcast sitting in the crowd), as were Mainichi newspapers and Kyodo wire service.

But instead of focussing on the main session, almost all the attention went to the Capital Punishment session.

(For example, see Kyodo's report featured in the Japan Times
Not a peep on foreign resident rights.)

Even the local Miyazaki Nichi Nichi Shinbun put the capital punishment issue on the front page, while our bit appeared buried within the Shakai pages in the back. I can find nothing at all on the sessions on the Asahi or Mainichi websites.

This came to a disappointment to our meeting of NGOs, which took place between 9AM and noon on October 8. They were trying to nail Nichibenren down to a statement of some sort of further commitment to the issue.

No Nichibenren rep was there to give an official standpoint, but a lawyer mentioned that Nichibenren is quite internally divided on whether a law should even exist, let alone how to get one passed.

This didn't help the morale of the NGOs. The meeting essentially adjourned with a motion to keep doing more of the same. Without getting into the tangle of arguments (which often meandered during the three-hour session), I felt the meeting ended with people merely returning to the grind of filling in the gaps--refugees, foreign laborers without social services, exclusionism without recourse, and seeking arguments out of legal limbo--in Japanese civil society. A negligent Japanese government knows it can get away with this, thanks to a complicit media, for the time being.

Anyway, we are staying the course, if only because there are people out there who need and appreciate the efforts. Pity people at the top have little idea, let alone concern, for how it is for people on the bottom. And without laws, there is no way to make them care.

Arudou Debito
October 12, 2004

Back to the Cover Page

"The Community" Page

Go to the "Residents Page"

Go to the "Activists Page"

Copyright 2004, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan