The following is a long and interesting account of how the Japanese government, specifically the police and the various Justice Ministry agencies, violate human rights and lie to the United nations on the need to imporve the human rights sitution in Japan
INSTANT CHECKPOINTS PART SEVEN TAXATION, THEN EVASION CASE STUDY: How Japan’s Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Human Rights, shirks its work By Arudou Debito June 17, 2003
Whenever there is a problem involving civil or human rights in Japan, one government agency, the Bureau of Human Rights (Jinken Yougobu, hereinafter BOHR), is charged with investigating and recommending solutions to the parties involved. Source: The Japanese government, who has repeatedly claimed in its reports to the United Nations (1999 and 2001, more below), that its adminstrative organs (specifically the BOHR) offer sufficient protection and recourse to victims of discrimination. Therefore, they maintain, Japan does not need a specific anti-racial discrimination law. But as I shall show below, the BOHR, funded by our taxes, is not equal to the task. In fact, this report, a case study of Japanese police breaking laws and one person’s attempt to work through the system for redress, will demonstrate that the BOHR deliberately avoids its responsibilities–to the point of twisting the law and telling lies.
QUICK BACKGROUND TO THE CASE:
On December 11, 2002, I was on my way to Tokyo when I was stopped by a Chitose Police officer outside the Shin Chitose Airport post office (i.e. not a high-security area). Demanding to see my passport, the cop gave no reason, despite several requests, except to say “I ask everybody” (which is dubious, since Japanese do not usually carry passports, let alone any ID whatsoever unless they drive). More importantly, police asking Japanese citizens personal questions like this for no appropriate reason (soutou na riyuu) is actually illegal, under the Police Execution of Duties Law(Keisatsukan Shokumu Shikkou-hou). So as a Japanese citizen, I demanded a full explanation and an apology. Request denied. Repeated demands (both verbal and written) to the officer in question, his supervisors in Chitose, the Hokkaido Police Department Headquarters, and the Hokkaido Public Safety Committee (Kouan Iinkai) were rejected as groundless. In passing, however, police admitted their reason for stopping me was because I looked foreign, making a foreign appearance sufficient grounds for criminal suspicion.
(Full background archived at http://www.debito.org/policeapology.html
NEWS: My last communication with the police, dated March 6, 2003, stated (full text, my translation):
“We hereby advise you of the results of our investigation of the
Hokkaido Police, as pertains to the issue you raised with us at the
Hokkaido Public Safety Committee on February 10, 2003.
“Regardless of whether matters questioned come under the Police Execution of Duties Law Article 2, police officers are permitted to ask personal questions (shokumu shitsumon) as an “optional activity” (nin’i katsudou–meaning the questioned has the option to answer), as long as there is no compulsion (kyousei) involved, in order to carry out their duties under Police Law (Keisatsu Hou) Article 2.
“As for the case you brought forth, the Chitose Police officer carried out his questioning of a personal nature without compulsion, as per the regulations above, demanding your optional cooperation. Once you told him you are a Japanese citizen, the officer determined that he would not get your optional cooperation and discontinued the questioning. Therefore we have determined that the questioning was legitimate.
“The Police Force endeavors to promote the proper enforcement of the laws and will continue to do so in future. We ask for your understanding and cooperation.”
(no name or contact details included–which sounds extremely arrogant to Japanese in official correspondence) (original in Japanese at http://www.debito.org/chitosecopcheckpoint.html#kouan) //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
This left an ironic aftertaste, not least because reports made by the Japanese government to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Committee, October 2001, about police training. Regarding the CERD’s scoldings about Japan’s spotty human rights record, Japan said:
“9. With regard to “the Committee urges the States Parties to provide
appropriate training to public officials, law enforcement officers and
administrators” in paragraph 13;
“The government has been conventionally taking subjects related to human rights in the curricula of various training programs for national public officials and thoroughly educating them on various conventions related to human rights and the idea of the Constitution of Japan which declares respect for human rights.
“For police officers, the government has been providing classes related to human rights protection including respect for human rights and various human rights-related conventions at training provided for newly-employed police officers and promoted police officers at police academies. These classes are included in classes on the Constitution, a fundamental law for human rights, on ethics of duties and on social studies
“Also, since police practices are duties deeply related to human rights, education is conducted based on the purport of the various human rights-related conventions and the Constitution on every occasion such as training at the working place, aiming at execution of duties in consideration of human rights…
“As such, Japan has been educating public officials, law enforcement officers and administrators about human rights including elimination of racial discrimination, and will continue to make further efforts for enrichment of the said education in the future.”
(page to this section in the report for yourself at http://www.debito.org/japanvsun.html#9)
If the Chitose Police can so diffidently say, “oh well, we thought you were foreign, so too bad”, moreover justifying in writing a breach of the law without even so much as a simple, “we’re sorry to have inconvenienced you”, the Japanese Police Forces’ education in human rights, if it is actually happening, seems quite ineffective.
So what next? I visited the BOHR in Sapporo and asked for assistance. After all, the Japanese Goverment averred in the same Oct 2001 UN report above:
“7….In addition, the Human Rights Organs [i.e. the BOHR] of the
Ministry of Justice actively conduct promotional activities concerning
all forms of discrimination including racial discrimination with the aim
of disseminating and enhancing respect for human rights. Human rights
counseling rooms are set up to accept inquiries from those who have
suffered discrimination. In addition, when specifically recognizing
incidents of alleged infringement of fundamental human rights, the
Organs promptly investigate the incidents as human rights infringements
cases, find out the fact of the infringement, and based on the results,
take proper measures for the case.”
Sounds goods on paper: Conduct an active and prompt investigation, take proper measures. But here’s how their investigation went in my case:
JANUARY 8, 2003: I meet with BOHR Dai-ni Kachou Mr Tashiro, and present in writing the facts of the Chitose Police case. Mr Tashiro: “We will determine whether this is illegal behavior (ihousei koui), and report back to you at a later date.” I specifically ask for a report in writing, remembering that the Sapporo BOHR has a long history of not replying to claimants about their cases (most significantly the Otaru Onsens Case, http://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html, where the BOHR didn’t even visit the bathhouse refusing entry to all foreigners). Mr Tashiro said he would take my request under consideration.
MARCH 7: I receive the abovequoted letter from the Public Safety Committee denying any wrongdoing. Contacting a Mr Tsukada at the PSC for at least a verbal apology, I am told that the contents of the letter are all the PSC has to say. As far as the Hokkaido Police are concerned, case closed.
MARCH 27: After receiving no word nearly three months after initially raising the issue, I phone the Sapporo BOHR and ask Mr Tashiro what happened to my case. He responds, “We are under no legal obligation to send you a report. The BOHR may only advise and ‘enlighten’ (keihatsu) the parties in question. We do not report back to claimants.” I counter that in both the Misawa Exclusions Case (http://www.debito.org/misawahaiseki.html#aomori) and the Monbetsu Exclusions Case (http://www.debito.org/photosubstantiation.html#MONBETSU), the regional BOHRs provided me a summary of their activities and results. Mr Tashiro demurred: “We are barred from doing that by law.” I asked if he would FAX me a copy of that law. “No. You must come downtown to our General Affairs Bureau (Shomuka) and request it via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, Jouhou Koukai Hou). We cannot release information like that without a formal demand.” For a copy of a law? “Yes.” Now how about your investigation of the illegality of the polices’ actions? Mr Tashiro: “I never said I would do any such thing.”
APRIL 15: I go downtown to Sapporo Goudou Chousha Shomuka to fill out the appropriate paperwork, asking via the FOIA for any physical proof whatsoever that the BOHR actually carried out any “enlightenment” of the Hokkaido Police. Also asked for copies of the appropriate laws forbidding the BOHR from issuing reports to the claimant. (http://www.debito.org/chitosecopcheckpoint.html#koukai) Cost of the request: 300 yen.
END-APRIL: Sapporo BOHR calls. An official advises me that I did not in fact have to go through the FOIA for a copy of said BOHR law, as it is a public document. Thought so. I ask to be transferred to Mr Tashiro for an apology for lying to me. No can do. Mr Tashiro was transferred to a different bureau at the end of March. Where is he now? The BOHR cannot release that information.
MAY 12 AND 13: Nearly a month after I file the reqests, a copy of the law arrives. So does a letter concerning the release of information on BOHR measures taken. Request denied. Reason: “If we were to reveal information about the presence or absence (zonpi) of said information actually exists within our bureau, this would fall under Article 5 of the FOIA, concerning ‘releasing facts infringing on the human rights of specific individuals’ (tokutei no kojin ga jinken shingai). Under Article 8 of the same law, we hereby refuse to release that information.” (http://www.debito.org/chitosecopcheckpoint.html#zonpi)
MAY 22: I visit the BOHR again and talk to a Ms Satou about this case. Yes, the “specific individual” referred to in the letter is none other than yours truly. I question the need to protect my own privacy from myself, and say that I will not allow the BOHR to utilize a legal loophole to cover up its own negligence. I return to the Shomuka and go through the FOIA once more to demand the specific records that the BOHR is required to create (according to “Regulation on Handling Human-rights Consultations” they sent me) whenever a case is brought before them: (http://www.debito.org/chitosecopcheckpoint.html#koukai2) 1) Records of the consultation, answers and an outline of measures taken (Article 6), 2) the “Human Rights Consultation Ticket” (hyou) (Article 11), the “Report on the Condition of Handling of Human Rights Consultation” (Article 12). (http://www.debito.org/chitosecopcheckpoint.html#kitei) I also asked for an additional report similar to the reports I received from the Aomori and Asahikawa BOHRs on the cases listed above. Plus a written apology from Mr Tashiro for advising me incorrectly. I added: Kindly respond in less than the month it took last time, please. Paid 600 yen this time for the privilege.
JUNE 11: Nearly six months after the first BOHR consultations on this case, and three weeks after I file the second request under the FOIA, the BOHR calls to ask if I was aware the first FOIA request I made was the same as the second; if so, the answer would be the same, i.e. refusal. I said that they were not the same. My first request asked for general information, to which the BOHR claimed their acknowledgement of the “presence or absence” of which would be an invasion of my privacy. However, the second request asked for documents in specific, the absence of which would be illegal, so the same situation does not apply. They said things would be taken under consideration.
Part seven of this saga and counting. I discussed this with one of my lawyer friends, who said, “This is quite common. You’re dealing with the national bureaucracy, and they are famously cold and uncooperative. They do nothing out of the goodness of their heart, and will exploit any legal loophole, such as the FOIA’s ‘privacy of individuals’, to cover themselves. Doctors have done the same thing to avoid giving patients their own medical records. The good news is that every time a case like this is brought before a court, thanks to the FOIA the claimant wins. You could too, if you wanted to take on another lawsuit.”
The two I’m involved in now are quite enough, thanks. But the case is clear–the BOHR is not doing its job of offering redress, while law enforcement agencies are getting away with random enforcement, in violation of both domestic law and international treaty.
Yet the government claims again and again that Japan does not need an anti-racial discrimination law. As Japan’s government said in its reply to the 2001 UN report mentioned above:
“5)… We do not recognize that the present situation of Japan is one in
which discriminative acts cannot be effectively restrained by the
existing legal system and in which explicit racial discriminative acts,
which cannot be restrained by measures other than legislation, are
conducted. Therefore, penalization of these acts is not considered
Even the UN doesn’t believe this, issuing reports highly-critical of Japan. The Committee on the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Japan joined in 1979) said as far back as Nov 1998, specifically about the BOHR and the Japanese police:
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// “9. The Committee is concerned about the lack of institutional mechanisms available for investigating violations of human rights and for providing redress to the complainants. Effective institutional mechanisms are required to ensure that the authorities do not abuse their power and that they respect the rights of individuals in practice. The Committee is of the view that the Civil Liberties Commission [i.e. the BOHR–the name is rendered differently per report] is not such a mechanism, since it is supervised by the Ministry of Justice and its powers are strictly limited to issuing recommendations. The Committee strongly recommends to the State party to set up an independent mechanism for investigating complaints of violations of human rights.
“10. More particularly, the Committee is concerned that there is no independent authority to which complaints of ill-treatment by the police and immigration officials can be addressed for investigation and redress. The Committee recommends that such an independent body or authority be set up by the State party without delay.” (http://www.debito.org/CCPR1998.html#yougobu)
Without delay…? Five years later, plus non change.
Eye-opening stuff. Deserves to be more known about. The more people the better, which is why this report. I’m experiencing it as a naturalized citizen of racial difference not enjoying the equal protection of our Constitution and laws. A small case study, yes, but one that offers incontrovertible evidence that the Japanese government is ignoring UN recommendations and lying about the the state of its human-rights enforcement. Let’s keep an eye on things, and hope that both domestic and international shame will force our country to keep its international promises.
Arudou Debito Sapporo http://www.debito.org June 17, 2003
The Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination reports on Japan 1999
and 2001, with answers from the Japanese government, can be found at:
The Convention on Civil and Political Rights report on Japan 1998 can be