My SNA Visible Minorities 26: “The ‘Inconceivable’ Racial Discrimination Law”: Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty


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Visible Minorities: The “Inconceivable” Racial Discrimination Law
Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty.
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, September 20, 2021

SNA: The signature function of the United Nations is to promote world peace, and one way to do that is to encourage ethical standards of behavior from its member countries. They get people to agree on those norms and standards through signing international treaties.

One of the standards that matters most is human rights practices. After all, countries which want to belong to the respected club of “civilized” countries are expected to sign the treaties covering a whole host of noble issues: the elimination of torture; the protection of women, children, and people with disabilities; and the protections of people in general in terms of economic, political, social, civil, and political rights. Signatories are expected to submit periodical reports (usually about every two years) to UN Committees to demonstrate how they are progressing.

Japan has signed most of those treaties. My favorite one, of course, is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which protects people, especially our Visible Minorities, against discrimination by “race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.” But getting Japan to actually abide by CERD is one of the hobby horses I’ve been riding for decades.

When Japan signed the CERD in 1995, it explicitly agreed to “prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination,” and they were to do it “without delay.” Yet more than a quarter century later, Japan still has no national law against racial discrimination…

So when called upon to justify its record of nasty treatment of its foreign, ethnic, historical, and visible minorities, how does Japan get away with it? By delaying, of course. Let’s take a look at the last time Japan submitted its Periodic Report on the Implementation of the CERD, and reveal its pattern of reporting in bad faith…

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5 comments on “My SNA Visible Minorities 26: “The ‘Inconceivable’ Racial Discrimination Law”: Japan’s human rights reports to the United Nations are a case study in official dishonesty

  • It says: ”102. The Constitution of Japan provides equality under the law regardless of race
    (Article 14, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution of Japan), and stipulates that “the
    Constitution shall be the supreme law of the nation and no law, ordinance, imperial
    prescript or other act of government, or part thereof, contrary to the provision hereof,
    shall have legal force or validity (Article 98, Paragraph 1). It also stipulates that public
    officials shall have the obligation to respect and uphold this Constitution” (Article 99).
    Under these provisions of the Constitution, the Government protects people from any
    discrimination based on race.”

    But “people” still means “Japanese people only”.

    • But “people” still means “Japanese people only”.

      This prompted me to double check the Japanese text:

      第十四条 すべて国民は、法の下に平等であつて、人種、信条、性別、社会的身分又は門地により、政治的、経済的又は社会的関係において、差別されない。

      So the key word is kokumin. If you’re a kokumin (literally “person of the country”) you should be protected. If not, I guess not.

      • As with most legal issues, it’s complicated.

        First, it is important to keep in mind that the Constitution of Japan 日本国憲法 was originally written in English and subsequently translated into Japanese, and the English version and Japanese version of the text may not necessarily line up perfectly.

        In CHAPTER III. RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF THE PEOPLE 第三章 国民の権利及び義務, some rights are stipulated to belong to “kokumin 国民”, and other rights to “nanbitomo 何人も”. The term “kokumin” is used as the translation for “(the Japanese) people”, “nations”, “the people”, “(Japanese) national”, and “the people (of Japan)”. The term “nanbitomo” is used as the translation for “every person”, “any person”, “no person”, and “all persons”. The question is if the rights of “kokumin” equally apply to Japanese nationals and non-nationals.

        The official stance of the Japanese government (based on judicial precedents) is that “in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution, whose basic principle is the respect for fundamental human rights and the spirit of international cooperation, fundamental human rights are guaranteed to foreigners, except for such rights as suffrage which is extended only to Japanese nationals due to the nature of these rights.”

        However, it has been noted that initially, American occupation forces had planned to guarantee equal rights to foreign residents in Japan and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. General MacArthur and his staff included an article (Article 16) in the draft constitution of Japan that explicitly stated: “All foreigners are to receive equal protection by law.” However, a translator of the draft constitution, Sato Tatsuo, argued that Article 13 already guaranteed protections for resident aliens because the Japanese word “kokumin” implied all people, including foreigners. While the Americans accepted Sato’s argument, Japanese conservatives interpreted the word “kokumin” in the 1945 Constitution to mean Japanese nationals alone.

        • Jay Kay yes the Americans were hoodwinked by someone who should have just translated the document not got into discussions about legality.

          And suffrage is NOT a human right. A human right is something that applies to all humans because they are human. Prisoners are not allowed to vote in Japan. It would be a violation of their human rights if suffrage was a human right. So we can tell that the Japanese court is being tricksy again. Either they don’t know what human rights are or they plan to restrict foreigners rights in the future in ways they don’t want to talk about now.

          Could be either or both.

  • Yes, it‘s exactly as you write Debito. This cat and mouse game between the UN and Japan has been going on for decades and Japan still uses the same kindergarden arguments and logic it always used. The UN is having none of this of course, but unfortunately they can‘t do anything. It would be nice if they could impose some sanction, or remove Japan from the UN for a few months, let‘s see if that would speed up certain things. But it‘s never going to happen of course.

    That being said, I always found the following part hilarious: „For example, after acknowledging that Japan won’t sign the Convention against Discrimination in Education, the government stated that Japan’s Basic Act on Education “provides for equal opportunity” for foreign children. Except that it doesn’t.“

    Let‘s assume for a second that Japan‘s statement is true. If Japan‘s Basic Esucation act already provides equal opportunity, why wouldn‘t they sign an international treaty that aims to do the same thing? This would only allow for even more check and balances and better accountability. I can‘t find anything negative that would happen to Japan if they sign this treaty. Of course, the reality is that they don‘t want foreign children to have equal opportunities, because they have to uphold the myth that the „Japanese race“ is superior.


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