Japanese gov't urged to implement anti-hate speech laws amidst growing concern

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed concern that increasing hate speech in Japan is fanning the flames of discrimination on such bases as race and ethnicity -- and has urged the Japanese government to implement concrete policies such as anti-hate speech legislation.

The remarks took place during a two-day examination of human rights in Japan that concluded on July 16 as part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights session, which is presently underway in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the examination, Israeli committee member Yuval Shany pointed out that more than 360 demonstrations and incidents of public street propaganda had reportedly taken place in Japan last year with the aim of ostracizing people including Korean residents.

Speaking with regard to hate speech in Japan, Shany asked whether Japan had any laws regulating such forms of racist demonstrations.

Japan's representative replied that regulations involving hate speech directed toward an unspecified number of groups "will necessitate serious consideration in terms of the connection with freedom of speech." The representative emphasized that efforts are being made in Japan to provide education with respect to eliminating discrimination and prejudice.

Shany mentioned the international human rights treaty which stipulates the legal prohibition of "inciting racial hatred," noting in this regard, "Victims are sometimes unable to seek legal action, so it is desirable for the government to establish restrictions." Shany also advocated crackdowns such as revisions to existing criminal laws.

Numerous committee members additionally referred to the case of Iwao Hakamada, a former death-row inmate who was recently released after spending nearly a half-century behind bars, and also pointed out problems with respect to the systems of the death penalty and placing suspects and defendants in "substitute prisons" (daiyo kangoku) inside police stations.

In addition, concern was expressed regarding the potential for the recently approved special state secrets law to severely curtail the media. At one point, the committee chair also issued a harsh reprimand when a spectator applauded following a mention of the Japanese government's stance that it is "inappropriate to refer to ('comfort women') as sex slaves."

The human rights examination was the first that Japan had been subjected to in six years. Final remarks will be publicly delivered later this month.

Megumi Komori, who works with the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) -- a nonprofit organization that is participating in an opinion exchange with the committee members -- commented via a telephone interview, "Alarm has been expressed at the level of the United Nations with respect to the problem of hate speech. I believe this will also be reflected within the final recommendations that are issued."

July 17, 2014(Mainichi Japan)