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HOME > Public Statements and Opinion Papers > Statements > Statement Regarding Issues One Year after the Great East Japan Earthquake

Statement Regarding Issues One Year after the Great East Japan Earthquake

March 11, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (the “Disaster”).

 

Looking at situations in the disaster-stricken regions with little progress of reconstruction, and areas which are contaminated with radioactive substances arising from the nuclear accident even almost a year after the earthquake, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (the “JFBA”) cannot help but still feel the pain with the graveness of the Disaster and of the subsequent nuclear accident and the seriousness of the damage.

 

In the face of the Disaster, with the fundamental perspective of “restoring humanity” which seeks recovery of basic human rights for each person, attorneys and bar associations directly listened to the voices of each of those affected by the disaster and victims through activities including the following: over 37,000 cases of legal consultation; support in the loan problems faced by disaster victims with the use of schemes such as the Guidelines for Individual Debtor Out-of-Court Workouts; implementation of alternative dispute resolution procedures relating to the Disaster and to the nuclear accident; relief of the victims of the nuclear accident; claims of damages filed against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”); and assistance for nationwide evacuees.

 

Those affected by the Disaster and victims are saying things such as the following: “agony of uncertainty about the future still remains”; “I am already overwhelmed by mental and physical exhaustion”; “because of a delay in response to the disaster, recovery and reconstruction, people already left our community”; “measures of reconstruction should be promptly executed”; “there is a lack of support for business to provide a livelihood”; “the loan is a heavy burden on me”; “despite my willingness to work, there are very few job opportunities”; “we are conflicted over the issue of the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation”; “the elderly and people with disabilities are left without information or assistance”; “decontamination has proceeded very little”; “something needs to be done about the issue of disposal of debris”; “the system of food inspection and examination makes us uneasy about our health conditions”; “I feel cut off, living far away from home”; “I want to go back home, but cannot do that”; “children are seriously affected”; “our family ties are being broken”; “I lost my community”; “details of the compensation for nuclear damage are filled with injustice”; “I harbor distrust of information disclosure, control of the nuclear accident, and other responses by TEPCO”; “nuclear power generation should be immediately abolished”; and “the national government which has promoted nuclear power stations as a national policy should be brought to account”.  Their voices are all compelling.

 

The JFBA has sincerely listened to those voices, provided assistance for resolution, and put forth its utmost effort to improve the legal system through the issuance of as many as 102 statements, opinion papers, and other activities.  As described by the voices of those affected by the Disaster and victims, however, there are still numerous problems even a year after the Disaster.

 

This statement points out five causes among a number of possible causes of the problems that the affected areas are facing below:

 

The first of these lies in the fact that the basic human rights of each person are not being respected. A society which does not honor the dignity of individuals cannot accomplish true reconstruction. Second, the national government has not conducted a fundamental review of the policy of promoting nuclear power.  Unless the national government clearly states its intention to put a halt to the policy of nuclear power generation and nuclear fuel cycles, all measures it takes will result in failing to become fully effective.  Third, the capacity of local governments to govern is weakening.  Due to the negative impact of personnel reduction resulting from a municipal merger and insufficient transfer of the authority and financial resources through decentralization, the capacities of quake-resistance are becoming weaker.  The fourth cause is that discussion is concentrated on the issue of financial resources rather than on concrete measures of reconstruction. Although limitation of financial resources is unavoidable, restrictions based on the mindset of ordinary times, which are not appropriate for the current situation in the disaster-affected regions, are having an adverse impact. The fifth cause is flaws found in the legal system and its operation concerning disasters and reconstruction.  The system should be reviewed to help with support for victims and assistance of reconstruction which are appropriate to the current situation of the Disaster.

 

The JFBA is determined to continue the activities to support victims that it has been engaged with. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Disaster, taking on board the above causes, the JFBA further clarifies its willingness to undertake the actions described below with its utmost energy:

 

First of all, making the concept of “restoring humanity” clearer, the JFBA will commit itself to establishing universal principles of disaster responses.  While it has been recently pointed out that disaster capitalism rises in the aftermath of catastrophes which have occurred around the world, putting forward a guarantee of human rights has become a global trend as seen in the “IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters.”  Being one of the countries most frequently hit by natural disasters in the world and also having the Constitution of Japan with the fundamental principle of reconstruction, Japan should assume the international duty to provide an exemplary guideline.  Nuclear power generation should also be swiftly abolished from a perspective of the responsibility for future generations and the guarantee of human rights. In addition, it is necessary to give due consideration to preventing violation of the rights of disaster victims resulting from the emphasis on deregulation when the system of the special zones for reconstruction is utilized.

 

Second, the JFBA aims for the realization of a society which reflects a diversity of opinions of the people in the disaster-stricken regions.  In an ideal reconstruction, it is important to achieve the principle of the sovereignty of those affected by the disaster that they make their own decision, and it is also significant to make a system to assist their autonomy.  While disaster victims need to play a major role in plans of reconstruction and revitalization and the process of town development, women should also be asked to participate in a key decision-making body to achieve gender equality.  Additionally, opinions of the elderly and minorities, including people with disabilities, children and sexual minorities, should be actively reflected.

 

Third, now is the time to promote decentralization based on the purpose of local autonomy. The capacity of governance of a local government determines i) disaster prevention with a high degree of resilience to disasters, ii) policies of recovery and reconstruction in which the disaster-affected regions take the initiative, and iii) fine-grained support for each disaster victim, however, this is currently difficult.  While fulfilling its responsibility for maintaining and expanding national minimum standards such as social security, the national government should firmly assist the local governments through measures such as appropriate transfer of the authority and financial resources to the local governments.  At the same time, local governments in the disaster-affected regions should take proactive actions as the primary leader of disaster response with awareness of that role and duty.  In addition, local governments outside the disaster-affected regions should seek ways of mutual assistance through backup activities for the disaster-stricken regions.

 

Fourth, the JFBA will call for sufficient relief assistance in every aspect for victims of the accident at the nuclear power station (the “Nuclear Accident”). Those affected by the Nuclear Accident live every day, having left their hometowns, frightened of radiation, and suffering various forms of damage to business such as damage caused by harmful rumors.  It is incumbent on the national government to implement, in addition to provision of support for basic livelihood, housing, medical care, education and welfare, measures including strengthening of long-term provision of medical examinations for prevention of health damage, storage of results of medical examinations, development of systems and other mechanisms for inspections of all food items, and it should promptly put them into practice.  Decontamination and monitoring should also be conducted from a perspective of securing the safety of each resident.  The JFBA intends to call on the national government and TEPCO for fulfilling their responsibility to restore the affected areas as much as possible with the aim of restoring them to the state before the Nuclear Accident, while committing itself to achieving a complete restitution on the basis of responsibility for infliction of the damage with regard to the compensation for damage caused by the Nuclear Accident.

 

Fifth, the JFBA will exert itself to improve the legal system.  There are a number of problems to be addressed, including improvement of the implementation of the Disaster Relief Act, revision of the Act on Support for Reconstructing the Livelihoods of Disaster Victims, further improvement of the implementation of the Guidelines for Individual Debtor Out-of-Court Workouts, effective application of the Act on the Incorporated Organization for Supporting the Turnaround of Businesses Damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, improvement of the system of the special zones for reconstruction, and establishment of the act on assistance for victims of the nuclear accident, the act on comprehensive assistance for the disaster victims and the act on assistance for nationwide evacuees.  In particular, restrictions like requirements of civil legal aid stand in the way as a major hindrance to disaster victims’ seeking an attorney for assistance in reinstating their rights. With reference to the precedent of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, special measures of the Comprehensive Legal Support Act are thus required to be taken.  The JFBA will decisively promote legislation of these acts.

 


 

March 9, 2012
Kenji Utsunomiya
President
Japan Federation of Bar Associations