Comments Marking Sixty Years of the Constitution of Japan
1. Importance of the fundamental principles of the Constitution of Japan and Constitutionalism
On coming May 3, 2007, Japan is going to mark sixty years since the enforcement of the Constitution of Japan (the Constitution) of which the fundamental principles are the sovereignty of the people, the respect for fundamental human rights, and permanent pacifism. The Constitution has become literally flesh and blood of the Japanese people in these sixty years.
Commemorating the 60th anniversary, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) would like to recall the important role having been played by the Constitution and now reaffirm the fundamental principles of the Constitution, underlying philosophies of the respect for individuals and the rule of law, and the importance of philosophy of constitutionalism that a constitution exists for the very purpose of limiting state power and protecting rights of individuals.
2. Peace issues
Based on Japan's reflection on the World War II and in light of the fact that war is the greatest violation of human rights, the Constitution has set permanent pacifism as one of the fundamental principles thereof. Especially, Article 9 stipulates such thorough permanent pacifism that Japan renounces war and does not maintain war potential. This is an unprecedented provision in the world and we can be proud of it as a pioneering concept toward peace.
However, in this decade, many laws have been enacted one after another which greatly affect the nation's course on peace. These laws include the Law Relating to Measures for Preserving the Peace and Security of Japan in the Event of a Situation in the Areas Surrounding Japan, the Law on Special Measures against Terrorism, the Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq, three laws of the national emergency legislation such as the Law concerning Measures to Ensure National Independence and Security in a Situation of Armed Attack, seven laws related to national emergency such as the Law Concerning the Measures for Protection of the Civilian Population in Armed Attack Situations, and repeated revisions of the Self-Defense Forces Law and the Defense Agency Law to expand dispatch of the Self-Defense Force to foreign countries.
Whenever the government enacted such a law, the JFBA pointed out the danger that such a law could conflict with the fundamental principles of the Constitution and fall under the category of the use of military force or exercise of the right of collective defense, which are prohibited by the Constitution, and urged to comply with the Constitution and not to undermine the Constitution through its interpretive revisions.
In this tense situation, the JFBA will further strongly stress the importance of compliance with the pacifist Constitution.
3. Human Rights Issues
The Constitution proclaims that the fundamental human rights guaranteed to the people by the Constitution shall be conferred upon the people of this and future generations as eternal and inviolate rights. In order to realize a fair and harmonious society in which democracy fully functions, it is essential to guarantee the fundamental human rights of the people, especially, freedom of mind (freedom of conscience, thought, religion, and speech and expression), as history clearly tells us.
However, freedom of mind, which is an indispensable right in order for democracy to function, is currently in danger in Japan.
Teachers in public schools are forced to display the national flag and sing the national anthem (at school ceremonies) otherwise a detrimental action will be taken. It is an example that freedom of mind is violated at schools. The principle of respect for individuals should not be undermined in the name of public order. In addition, official visits of the Prime Minister to the Yasukuni Shrine are suspected would violate the principle of separation between state and religion and could interfere with the establishment of religious freedom. Furthermore, there are concerns that the government is trying to restrict freedom of speech as persons who posted flyers containing political opinions were arrested and indicted, or the Diet deliberated on legislation for new criminal offenses of conspiracy which could punish persons at the stage of mere thoughts. There are also concerns that the government might be going to interfere with freedom of the media against broadcasting companies.
In this crisis situation of human rights, the JFBA will keep striving to reinforce our activities to protect human rights.
4. Movement to Amend the Constitution
A current movement to amend the Constitution is accelerating, as various sectors published opinions and drafts to amend the Constitution, and a referendum bill to establish procedures for amendment of the Constitution passed the House of Representatives and is currently under deliberation by the House of Councillors.
The JFBA has pointed out problems arising from the discussions on amendment of the Constitution in the light of the fundamental principles and underlying philosophy of the Constitution. On the other hand, the JFBA also pointed out various problems of the referendum bill such as no provision for a minimum turnout of voters which is the most important matter to be provided, because the Constitution is a rigid constitution which does not expect easy amendments. We are requesting careful deliberations opened to the public andurging the House of Councillors to revise the bill to provide a minimum turnout of voters.
The JFBA believes for further discussions on amendments of the Constitution that necessary and sufficient information should be provided so that the people would be able to make decisions, and a sufficient time frame to have a thorough national debate should be guaranteed. More importantly, discussions always should focus on what the Constitution is and for whom the Constitution exists.
The JFBA strongly requests to firmly uphold the philosophy of constitutionalism and respect the fundamental principles of the Constitution in discussions concerning amendments of the Constitution. We also express our commitment to make every effort for wide-ranging understanding of the people as to the importance of the philosophy and the fundamental principles.
5. Realization of Philosophy of the Constitution
When we look at the current situation in Japan, there is no change at all even today in the significance of the philosophy of constitutionalism and the fundamental principles of the Constitution, which are the sovereignty of the people, the respect for fundamental human rights, and permanent pacifism. Rather the JFBA believes that their importance should be further recognized.
In order for the philosophy of the Constitution to be realized in the true sense, the JFBA reaffirms our commitment to carry out its mission of protecting fundamental human rights and realizing social justice. The JFBA also reaffirms our commitment for the guarantee of the right to live peacefully for all people and the realization of a long-lasting peace in the world by cooperating with people in Japan and all over the world for making the 21st century a bright one.
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
April 27, 2007