Human Lights Council: Universal Periodic Review
Review on Japan: Opening Speech by the Head of Japanese Delegation
Geneva, 9 May 2008
Thank you, Mr. President,
1. I am greatly honored to be able to attend this session of the Universal Periodic Review as the representative of Japan. I am grateful to Ambassador Costea, President of the Human Rights Council, and all the delegates for their efforts in launching the UPR in April. I would also like to express our appreciation to Madame Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the staff of the OHCHR Secretariat for their efforts in organizing this session.
2. Since the Human Rights Council was established in 2006, Japan has been actively involved in the discussions on institution building, including the establishment of the UPR.
Japan shares the idea that the UPR should be a cooperative and effective mechanism. Japan hopes that under this idea the UPR will function as a mechanism that can contribute to the improvement of human rights situations in every country, and we are ready to extend its maximum cooperation to the troika countries and to the OHCHR.
3. Now let me introduce some examples of Japan’s international efforts in the area of Human Rights.
Japan supports the view that human rights are a legitimate concern of the international community, and accordingly, Japan intends to make a positive contribution towards the improvement of human rights, while taking into consideration each country’s situation, such as its history, traditions, etc., and keeping in mind our basic approach “dialogue and cooperation.”
In order to improve human rights standards globally, it is essential that more countries ratify the major human rights instruments and that State Parties respect the obligations stipulated in these instrument and make efforts to fulfil them. With this in mind, Japan has already ratified most of the major human rights instruments and fulfills the obligations set out in these instruments. In April of this year, Japan presented to the United Nations its Third Report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its First Report on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, its First Report on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and its Sixth Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Japan also signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance last year and is now making efforts to ratify these conventions at the earliest possible juncture. Moreover, Japan is lending its support to treaty body reform for the purpose of establishing even more effective monitoring systems within treaty bodies.
Japan strongly supports the value of the rule of law and is making efforts to promote and realize such value in the international community. Japan became a State Party to Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court since last October.
4. Prior to this session, we have received various questions from member states on our international efforts. First, I would like to answer to the question about our cooperation with Special Rapporteurs. Japan has been and is willing to cooperate with them. We are ready to know each special rapporteur’s interests and arrange his or her visit to our country as time permits.
Another question we were asked was about the prospects of concluding the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Japan is now studying the relationship between the provisions of the protocol and our domestic legislation and other things, including how the “visits” mentioned in the protocol will be carried out in practice.
Another question was how Japan regards the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, and Cooperation in respect of Parental responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. Japan regards them as effective tools for the protection and promotion of children’s rights and welfare, although Japan has ratified neither of them. We will continue to study the possible conclusion of the two conventions by giving due consideration to the current social system, cultural situation of Japan and other things.
5. I would now like to explain Japan’s efforts to promote and protect human rights in our country.
Based on its Constitution, which emphasizes respect for fundamental human rights, Japan firmly maintains a democratic political system and has been persuing the policy of protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Japanese Constitution, which was promulgated in 1947, stipulates that, “The people shall not be prevented from enjoying any of the fundamental human rights. These fundamental human rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution shall be conferred upon the people of this and future generations as eternal and inviolable rights.” Based on its firm belief that human rights are universal, that all rights including civil, political economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and that it is necessary to protect and promote those human rights equally, Japan has been making continuous efforts to improve its domestic human rights situation
In particular, Japan attaches great importance to human rights education, based on the conviction that in order for all people to enjoy human rights and live contented lives, each citizen must fulfill his or her responsibility to hold the freedoms and rights guaranteed to them, and at the same time must correctly understand of and respect other people’s human rights. Following the enactment of the Act for Promotion of Human Rights Education and Encouragement in 2000, the Basic Plan for Promotion of Human Rights Education and Encouragement was formulated in 2002. And since then Japan has been promoting human rights education and raising people’s awareness of human rights by means of school education and social education. As for human rights of foreign residents in Japan. Japan is responding to various needs in human rights counseling by establishing Human Rights Counseling Offices for Foreign Nationals with interpretation services at some Legal Affairs Bureaus.
6. We also have received various questions from member states on our efforts in our country.
In March 2002, the Ministry of Justice submitted the Human Rights Bill to establish a new Human Rights Commission which would function as an independent administrative commission and would create a new human rights redress system. In the Bill, the Human Rights Commission would retain its independence from the government and would function to redress human rights and to promote its human rights, as well as submit opinions to the government and the Diet. The deliberation of the Bill was not completed because of the dissolution of the lower house in October 2003, and the Ministry of Justice continues to review the Bill.
7. We have received the question about our measures for eliminating racial Discrimination. The Constitution of Japan stipulates in Paragraph 1 of Article 14 that all of the people are equal under the law. Japan acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Japan became party in 1979, also prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity. Based on the principle of the Constitution and the Covenants, Japan has been striving to realize a society without any form of racial or ethnic discrimination.
In order to prevent human rights violations by racial or ethnic discrimination, our Government pursues the strict implementation of relevant domestic laws and promote activities for raising public awareness.
8. Let me now respond to the question of discrimination of woman. Based on the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society, the Cabinet adopted the Second Basic Plan for Gender Equality in December 2005. The plan defines the necessary measures to promote policies to form a gender-equal society in a comprehensive and a well-planned manner.
Under this Plan, the GOJ implements concrete measures to eliminate discrimination of women.
Concerning the role of NGOs, the GOJ asked opinions from all levels of civil society including the NGOs for preparing and drafting the Second Basic Plan for Gender Equality. We also wish to hear opinions from NGOs when we revise the Basic Plan in the future.
There was also a question regarding Japan’s marriageable age. In February 1996, the Legislative Council of the Minister of Justice submitted an outline of a Bill to Revise Part of the Civil Code suggesting that a marriageable age should be 18 years of age for both men and women equally. This issue constitutes an important subject that involves the marriage system and the concept of a family. Since there are various opinions across all levels of civil society, close attention is currently being paid the trends in public opinion.
9. We have received a question on the treatment of detainees. As was explained in our National report, Japan has been making active efforts to improve its criminal justice proceedings, through the enactment of a law in 2005 and another law in 2006 to completely revise the legislations governing the treatment of sentenced inmates, and the treatment of pre-sentenced inmates respectively. This demonstrates the efforts of Japanese Government to improve the treatment of detained persons.
Let me respond to the question about the police detention system. In Japan, except in the case of being caught in the act of a crime, a suspect cannot be arrested without warrants. In addition to this, the necessity of detention will be strictly examined by the police, a prosecutor, and a judge in due order, and then a judge will decide its necessity and placement of the detention for a maximum of 10 days. A prosecutor and a judge will respectively review the necessity of extension of the detention, and a judge order is also necessary for the extension. Detention is strictly controlled by the judicial authority. Moreover, the extension cannot exceed 20 days in total. Detention is limited only to shortterm. Under such condition, the substitute detention system that keeps suspects in police detention facilities as an alternative to detaining them in penal facilities is indispensable to carry out prompt and effective investigations. I would like to stress one more thing. The investigation division and the detention division are totally separate organizations. At the police detention facilities, investigative officers are not allowed to control the treatment of detainees. Detention operations are conducted by the detention division of the facility, which is not involved in investigations at all.
The police detention facilities treated and treats the detainees with due consideration to their human rights. Regardless of the type of crime committed, detainees can have consultations with their lawyer at anytime even on holidays or evenings except late at night as their right to defense. There is no official watch person during the meeting and no time limitation. Furthermore, under the Penal and Detention Facilities Act, the principle of the separation between investigation and detention is made legally clear, and a new system has been introduced to make up a third party committee to inspect detention facilities and to state their opinions on the management of the facilities. In addition to that, a complaints mechanism has been developed in order to ensure appropriate treatment of detainees.
With regard to the treatment of the inmates in the penal institutions, Japan does its utmost to conduct appropriate treatment, in full respect of human rights, in accordance with new legislation which defines the rights and obligations of inmates and also regulates the requirements and procedures to restrict inmates’ behavior and lifestyle. Compared to the old law, the new law provides additional care for the loan and supply of clothing and food. The range and requirements for using self-supplied articles are clarified. The living standard of inmates has been raised through guaranteeing adequate hygiene and medical care. The complaint mechanism has been improved. Thus, the new legislation shows increased consideration for the human rights. As for the issue of over-crowded prisons, Japan is trying to settle this issue by constructing new penal institutions to expand the total capacity.
10. Let me now respond to the question of the death penalty. Japan considers that the issue of the continuing application of the death penalty should be studied carefully based on domestic public opinion, the crime situation, and the criminal policy of the country concerned, and the decision on this issue should be made by each country of its own accord. The death penalty system in Japan is an issue that should be studied carefully from various standpoints including how to achieve justice in society, while paying full attention to its public opinion. The majority of Japanese people considers the death penalty to be unavoidable in case of extremely vicious crimes, and in view of the current situation in which heinous crimes such as mass murder and abduction-murder continue to take place, the Government believes that the application of the death penalty is unavoidable in case of significantly serious heinous crimes, and therefore the abolition of the death penalty is inappropriate. For this reason, Japan cannot support the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly seeking a moratorium on executions as a precedent leading to the abolition of the death penalty. We are not considering either granting a moratorium on executions or abolishing the death penalty . At the same time, I would like to stress that the death penalty is mandated as a statutory penalty only for the most serious of crimes such as murder and robbery with murder, and sentences of death are handed down only in extremely heinous cases and after very cautious trials by courts.
11. There was also a question regarding Japan’s “saiban-in”system, which is due to commence in May 2009. In this system, those members of the general public, called “saiban-in”, are to participate in deciding conviction or acquittal, and sentencing with equivalent weight in their opinion as the professional judge. Sufficient explanation will be given to the “saiban-in” regarding necessary legal knowledge and procedures of trial before and throughout the trials by the professional judge. Under the new system, appropriate decision is expected to be reached through discussions between judges and “saiban-in” by sharing different perceptions and experiences. As such, fair trials are expected to take place through cooperation between them under the new system.
12. We were also requested to explain how we have incorporated opinions of civil society in the process of preparing our national report. Discussion meetings with NGOs and ordinary citizens have been held as a part of process for drafting our government report for each human rights convention. In order to this, NGOs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have co-hosted the Public Forum for United Nations Reform six times so far since August 2005, and each time we had a separate session to exchange opinions with citizens, members of NGOs and international organizations, on human rights issues. In drafting this report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also posted information on the UPR system and process on its web-site, and asked for opinions of NGOs and ordinary citizens about our government report. As a result, we received opinions from 11 NGOs and 214 ordinary citizens.
13. Before finishing my opening speech, I would like to add one more thing. As we recognize there is still room for improvement, our Government will take further efforts for bettering human rights situation in Japan.
As for our efforts in the international community, due to globalization and environmental changes, we are facing new challenges and new kinds of human rights problems and the governments of all countries have to tackle them and take necessary measures. Japan will continue its contribution to achieve better results for the human rights in the international community, in close cooperation with the United Nations, regional communities, other national governments, and civil society.
Finally, we sincerely hope that in the course of interactive dialogue we could have frutful and constructive exchange of opinions on Japan ‘s human rights situation.
Thank you very much.