UN official lauds Japan’s human rights reforms, urges stronger role globally

14 May 2010

The United Nations top human rights official said today was she was encouraged by Japan’s commitment to human rights reforms and urged the county to use its considerable influence to further the cause of human rights internationally.

Speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Japan, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said she had fruitful discussions with the Japanese Government on a range of domestic and international human rights issues, including discrimination, treatment of migrants, methods to combat trafficking, the death penalty and maximizing the country’s potential as an influential actor on the international stage.

She also met with representatives of a group called the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea and expressed concern over their plight.

“I am deeply moved by the long, unresolved plight of their relatives as well as impressed by their determination to find a solution. It is an extraordinary and unconscionable situation, and if there is anything I can do to help unlock the impasse, I will,” she said.

In addition to keeping up the pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DRPK), Ms. Pillay said she had urged the Japanese Government to play a strong and sustained role on the international human rights stage.

“Japan is a heavy hitter on the international scene, but I believe it could do even more,” she said.

“It would be a tremendous boost if Japan were to go up a gear and throw its considerable weight behind a principle-based approach to human rights at the international level – even if that means sometimes putting pressure on States that are neighbours, allies or business partners when they are abusing the rights of their own or other countries’ citizens,” she added.

While in the country, the High Commissioner held talks with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, and Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, as well as with other senior government officials including Sadako Ogata, President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“I was very encouraged in my discussion with the Prime Minister by the Government’s commitment to press ahead with human rights reforms,” Ms. Pillay said. “This would go a long way towards strengthening human rights protection in Japan and its human rights record internationally.”

She praised Japan’s approach to people affected by leprosy – historically a highly neglected and ostracized group – and in particular its sponsorship of an important UN study which could lead to new international standards.

She also said had encouraged Japan to adopt a comprehensive law on discrimination, which should address migrant issues as well as providing better protection for minority groups such as the Ainu, Burakumin, Okinawans and Koreans.

She noted Japan’s commitment to setting up an independent national human rights institution and to ratify a number of additional human rights treaties that would allow Japanese citizens to bring their cases before international human rights bodies, in the event they failed to obtain redress at the national level.

“More than 100 States have now created a national human rights institution, including 15 in the Asia-Pacific region,” Ms. Pillay said. “These institutions can provide people with an additional and more accessible mechanism for redress, but they need to be fully independent if they are to be effective. It will be important that Japan’s legislation meets international standards and best practice.”

The High Commissioner said she was encouraged that no executions has been carried out in Japan since the new Government took office, and said she hoped the country could take further, more formal steps towards joining the global trend towards a moratorium on the death penalty.

“Around 140 States no longer carry out the death penalty, and 72 States have ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which is an important extra step in underlining a nation's commitment to abolish capital punishment,” Ms. Pillay said.

“In January, Mongolia became the latest state to announce it is formally instituting a moratorium on the death penalty. Recent miscarriages of justice in Japan highlight the importance of a national public debate on this issue,” she added.

The High Commissioner also appealed to the Government to deal once and for all with the “comfort women” issue by apologizing and providing redress to thousands of women victims of wartime sexual slavery.

“There have been too many half-measures that have failed to satisfy victims,” Ms. Pillay said. “The new Government has an opportunity to not only put this terrible past to rest, but set a positive example to other countries in the region,” she added.

During her stay in Tokyo, the High Commissioner also met with members of the Diet, or parliament, the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations and representatives of civil society and of minority groups, as well as the UN University, UN Global Compact and other senior UN staff stationed in Japan.

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