AFP: Britain now supports Japan’s bid for UN Security Council seat: How eyeblinkingly blind of GOJ history re unfollowing international agreements.


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Hi Blog. Here’s some news dovetailing with Japan’s unwillingness to abide by international treaty.

Japan, one of the United Nations’ largest financial contributors, has been pushing hard for decades now for a seat on the U.N. Security Council (last time in 2006), effectively to have a place at the table and more powerful voting rights with fellow big, rich, powerful nations. The GOJ has even signed treaties and created domestic laws, according to scholar John M. Peek (see below), just to make it look better internationally, i.e., more like a modern, responsible nation in the international arena. However, after signing these treaties, Japan has been quite constant in its unwillingness to actually create domestic laws to enforce international agreements (cf. the CERD), or when laws are created, they have little to no enforcement power (cf. the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, which has done little after more than a quarter century to ameliorate the wide disparity in wages between men and women in Japan).

The fact is, the GOJ does this stuff for window dressing.  Now once it accomplishes its goal of getting an UNSC Seat, it will have no further incentive to sign, abide by, or obey international treaties at all. We have stated this to the United Nations at every opportunity.

Which is why Britain’s sudden turnaround to support Japan’s bid is so eye-blinkingly blind. It seems we are milking our disasters (partially caused by our government’s malfeasance in the first place) to get an international sympathy vote now. How cynical and opportunistic.

Read on for an excerpt of a research paper I wrote citing Dr. Peek above, regarding the GOJ’s history of insincere negotiations vis-a-vis international human-rights agreements. I believe Japan will similarly ratify yet unfollow the Hague Convention on Child Abductions as well. And not even bother to ratify much else once it gets on the UNSC.  Arudou Debito


Britain pushes for Japan UN security seat after meeting
Yahoo News  Tue May 3, 2011, courtesy of CB

LONDON (AFP) – Britain on Tuesday backed Japan’s claim for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and promised to support its economic integration with the EU after the two nations’ foreign ministers met in London.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also told Takeaki Matsumoto, his Japanese counterpart, that Britain had “great admiration” for Japan’s response to the March earthquake and tsunami which devastated the country’s northeast coast.

“Japan is unquestionably our closest partner in Asia,” Hague said in a statement.

“Japan is a like-minded partner and a positive force in international peace and security and I repeat our support again today for an enlarged United Nations Security Council with a permanent seat for Japan,” he added.

Britain in March urged the European Union to ease barriers between the bloc and its outside trading partners, and used Tuesday’s meeting to repeat its demands.

“The removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers could deliver over 40 billion euros ($59.2 billion) of additional European exports to Japan and more than 50 billion euros of additional exports from Japan to the EU,” argued Hague.

The pair agreed to “support the people of Libya in their aspiration to be rid of a dictator” and on the “vital need to achieve a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Addressing the quake, Hague said: “We feel great friendship and affinity with the Japanese people in this hour of tragedy… and we have great admiration for the resilience and dignity and courage of the people of Japan.”



3. Historical context of the GOJ’s behavior

Japan has a long history of lack of initiative regarding its obligations under U.N. agreements in regards to human rights.  Peek (1992) notes, “Tokyo holds that human rights issues are a domestic matter and, therefore, beyond the mandate of the U.N…. [Japan] has generally responded defensively to human rights proposals at variance with Japanese law or practice” (219).  In his view, Japan’s lack of participation in the incipient stages of the U.N.’s formation (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948) led to the lack of “significant national stake in the U.N.’s existing principles and structures” (ibid), a relative inattention in the political sphere, and an understaffing in the relevant domestic bureaucratic organs.  The high-profile tenure of Ogata Sadako as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notwithstanding, for decades Japan refused to even join the UNHCR in the 1960’s and 1970’s despite several direct appeals from other countries; the GOJ “feared being drawn into a public denunciation of the human rights policies of any particular state”; even after joining the UNHCR, Japan’s interest was in “protecting itself from unwanted or highly politicized criticism” (both 220), and kept its participation “low-key” and abstemious from ruling on the majority of resolutions within its mandate.

After Japan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 1979, it still opposed, as it had since the 1960’s the establishment of a specific high commissioner to review issues of human rights, arguing the office would be “highly politicized” and lead to bureaucratic inefficiency; Peek noted, “At the core of Japan’s position was its objection to any further encroachment on the internal affairs of sovereign nation-states” (221).  It also added “reservations” to parts of the covenants (such as the review powers of the ICCPR’s Human Rights Committee), expressed objections to individuals being able to report claims directly to the HRC (arguing that U.N. relations are state-to-state), and emphasized the need for “further study” of contentious issues.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this:  Postwar Japan’s leadership could not, and most likely still cannot, accept a fundamental tenet of the UN Charter — that there exists a “universal set of human rights”.  This cultural relativism at first led to an attitude of, “leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone”.  However, this became less tenable with the ascendancy of Japan as the number two economic power in the 1980’s, and Japan’s own repeated demand for acceptance as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.  With greater international power came the expectation of greater international accountability, responsibility, and initiative.

Ironically, an argument can be made that some of Japan’s more liberal laws were created as a matter of opportunistic timing vis-à-vis international attention, not grassroots pressure.  Peek provides the example of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, passed in 1984, legally guaranteeing equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.  It was passed into law despite the opposition of women’s groups and the opposition parties, who objected to its lack of enforceability.  Peek writes, “The intent of the law seems to have been more than a symbolic bone tossed to domestic and international critics in anticipation of the upcoming 1985 world conference ending the U.N. Decade for Women” (224).  Peek also notes the GOJ concurrently passed a revised Nationality Law (now granting citizenship through mother as well as father), and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  Thus, it would seem that for Japan to pass a law against RD, one would need a high-profile event (such as a Decade against Racism or a International Conference for Migrants) to trigger it, or a quid pro quo of sorts (such as a UNSC seat).  Even then, this author anticipates that any RD law will contain built-in safeguards (such as a lack of fines or incarceration for miscreants) to ensure that it allays international critics but does not have statutes for enforcement.

It is clear that from a historical perspective, the GOJ works on its own timetable, is largely impervious to repeated criticism both internationally and domestically, and makes reforms that do not overwhelmingly affect Japan’s “sovereignty”, however Japan’s domestic arbiters determine it.  As Peek (1991) notes, the GOJ “has used the defensive tactics of denial of legitimacy, special interpretations, reservations, and symbolic change.  It seeks to justify its tactics on the basis of culture differences.  In essence, the Japanese government portrays its policy in terms of protecting the traditional ethic of harmonious human relations against the impersonal ethic of universalism contained in the covenants” (10).

There is of course the political dimension. Although pressure from the U.N. does, as Peek notes (1992: 226-9), lead to domestic human rights reforms, the Realpolitik of the situation indicates that NJ in Japan, a tiny minority (1.7% of the population, as opposed to women comprising half), disenfranchised without even suffrage (this will not change in the near future; the opposition to the Democratic Party of Japan’s proposal to grant suffrage in local elections to NJ Permanent Residents led to its suspension in 2010 (Mainichi Daily News 2010)), have a great uphill climb to achieving anti-discrimination legislation.




  1. Peek, J. M. 1991.  “Japan and the International Bill of Rights.”  Journal of Northeast Asian Studies, Fall 1991 10(3): 3-16.
  2. _____________. (1992). “Japan, The United Nations, and Human Rights.” Asian Survey 32(3): 217-229.

Japan, The United Nations, and Human Rights

Author(s): John M. Peek

Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Mar., 1992), pp. 217-229

Published by: University of California Press

Stable URL:


5 comments on “AFP: Britain now supports Japan’s bid for UN Security Council seat: How eyeblinkingly blind of GOJ history re unfollowing international agreements.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    Interesting given Japan’s constitution and inability to do any heavy lifting vis a vis any International security. Refilling boats seems to be the limit.

    I have to agree with you that even if Japan does go ahead and sign the treaty re child abduction that they will not really follow through on it as per the history you note.

  • I’m not at all sure that Japan’s record with regards to human rights is any worse than some other permanent members of the Security Council. Are the Chinese and the Russians so much better? The real question is whether a handful of economically powerful countries should be deciding what is right for the rest of the world, at all.

    Most of the world’s population has no voice, whatsoever, on the Security Council. It is a most undemocratic institution, the final extrapolation of one buck equals one vote. Why should France and England, each with a population of about 60 million, have a bigger voice in global affairs than India, population 980 million, Indonesia, 231 million, or Brazil, 153 million? The whole structure of the UN is a relic of World War II.

    — I would agree. But this blog entry isn’t about the inherent anachronicity or the abolition of the Security Council (the abolition of which I too, incidentally, support). It’s about how giving Japan that UNSC perk will remove huge incentives for it to keep its international promises. You might say other countries are as bad, but I excuse no country for human rights abuses and broken promises, and I was making no comparisons. Let’s not get relativistic, please.

  • james grey says:

    I am sorry to state the blindingly obvious, but the UNSC was always supposed to be for the winners of WW2. It has nothing to do with ‘fair’ or ‘democracy’. The winners of WW2 set up the UN and the UNSC so that they could better manage the world they created through the huge sacrifices they made in the war. It seems to me yet another example of Japanese nationalistic pride, and an inability to face the fact that Japan lost the war, and as such, doesn’t get a say in the new world order.

  • jonholmes says:

    This is just blah blah by Britain’s new, increasingly unpopular and ineffectual, coalition, on a par with recent trips by PM Cameron to India and Pakistan to forge business and just state the blindingly, idiotically obvious, as Hague does here. Japan is unquestionably our closest partner in Asia”, hey, no sh*t.
    The fact is the USA ultimately calls the shots regarding Japan, and last time around despite Japanese involvement in Iraq, did not support Japan’s UN bid, and even threatened to drop support vis a vis North Korea if the GOJ did not sign the Hague Convention.

    As for lowering EU tariffs, of course Hague can say that. Britain does not call the shots in the EU either.
    Nothing to worry about, in my opinion. Except to show how foolish and short lived the current conservative administration in the UK will be once their junior partners pull out (I estimate in a year).

    — Point taken. Request for future replies: Do not focus solely on British politics, please.

  • “The fact is, the GOJ does this stuff for window dressing. Now once it accomplishes its goal of getting an UNSC Seat, it will have no further incentive to sign, abide by, or obey international treaties at all. We have stated this to the United Nations at every opportunity.”

    And, it is worth saying again. My issue with a UNSC seat for Japan ties in with its racist fingerprinting policy, its use of slave “trainee” labor and its absolute denial of the behavior of the JIA in Nanjing. Promoting a racist anti-foreigner agenda at the border, accepting primarily ‘brown’ slavery (calling a spade a spade) and being, in a form, a Nanjing holocaust denier, Japan simply does not merit a permanent seat on the UNSC. Last time around I wrote the leaders of the five permanent members and stated as much. And, I’ll do it again if I have to. This time a mention of incompetent Fukushima disaster management would be a firmly placed nail in that coffin.

    Former Japanese diplomat Yasushi Akashi was interviewed on NHK’s Close-Up Genzai about five years ago and he too couldn’t see any benefit for Japan as a permanent member of the UNSC. “What would we do with it?” he asked. Same question applies today. Debito has hit the nail right on the head: they’d use it to avoid stepping up to the plate and accepting its full responsibilities on so many levels.

    While the UN and the UNSC ain’t much, I agree. Right now it’s all we got. Reform the whole thing, and see if we can’t do better.I say.


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