Declaration of Commitment to Protecting the Lives and Dignity of Disaster Victims under the Mission of Lawyers—Ten Years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake
- Ten years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (the “Nuclear Power Plant Accident”) took place. These ten years have also seen a series of other disasters striking various regions around Japan.
Over the years, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (the “JFBA”) has stressed that the recovery from disasters must be a “humanitarian recovery” where fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Japan are restored. Towards that goal, every time a disaster occurs, the JFBA has rendered various services such as providing legal counseling in different fields of law, disseminating relevant information to disaster victims and support providers, tendering proposals concerning legislation and the operation of legal systems, and coordinating collaborative alliances among support groups. Yet still today, not only have a significant number of disaster victims not achieved “humanitarian recovery,” but on top of that, additional, secondary damage of slurs, calumny, discrimination, and other malevolence are found to be inflicted on people affected by disasters.
- The mission of attorneys is to protect fundamental human rights and it is incumbent on us to strive to maintain social order and improve the legal system (Article 1, Attorneys Act). Considering that the recovery from disasters pursues a “humanitarian recovery” to restore fundamental human rights, engaging in the restorative initiatives and support activities for disaster victims is part of the essential duties of attorneys, in line with this mission.
- Deaths induced by a disaster include not only mortalities directly caused by a disaster, but also indirectly related disaster deaths. It is generally known that the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Nuclear Power Plant Accident as well as the other disasters that followed have entailed numerous indirectly related disaster deaths. To reduce directly related deaths, advance disaster prevention and mitigation measures are imperative. Meanwhile, in terms of reducing indirectly related disaster deaths, it is crucial to analyze and verify as many previous cases of death as possible and develop prevention strategies—regardless of whether they were certified as indirectly related by government bodies or other organizations.
In the Opinion Calling to Accumulate, Analyze, and Publicize Cases of Indirectly Related Disaster Deaths dated August 23, 2018, the JFBA urged that the Government institute an investigative organization to accumulate and analyze cases of indirectly related disaster deaths, and the findings be made public. If the thrust of the Opinion is realized, not only will it help prevent potential indirectly related disaster deaths, but the validity of the previous examinations can be verified, which will contribute to protecting the lives of disaster victims and the dignity of bereaved families.
We attorneys will do our utmost to ensure that thorough investigations will be conducted and effective measures based on the findings thereof will be implemented in order to defend the lives of people affected by disasters against the indirect as well as direct impact of disasters.
- Displacement from the Nuclear Power Plant Accident and the ensuing significant change in living environment have put undue physical and mental stress particularly on the “disaster vulnerable groups”, including older people and individuals with disabilities. Unlike the other two devastated prefectures by the Great East Japan Earthquake, Iwate and Miyagi, Fukushima Prefecture has reported more indirectly related disaster deaths than directly related ones, and the count of the former is considerably larger than the latter. This suggests the impact of the displacement caused by the Nuclear Power Plant Accident was significant and hence, scrupulous verification, taking account of individuals’ personal circumstances, needs to be conducted to assess the appropriateness of the Government issuing the evacuation order before the sheltering sites were adequately equipped, as well as the physical and mental impact of the major change in living environment experienced by evacuees.
In addition, the majority of the disaster victims were deprived of their homes, ousted from their hometowns, and lost their livelihoods. This constitutes a grave violation of right of economic freedom including property right, freedom to choose and change one’s residence, and freedom to choose one’s occupation—all highly relevant to the right of self-determination in life. Moreover, the personal dignity of disaster victims is challenged further by unjustified slurs and calumny, psychological contests among disaster victims between evacuees and non-evacuees, and so forth.
We attorneys are committed to being aware and mindful of the diverse sufferings still experienced by victims of the Nuclear Power Plant Accident and will strive to restore their fundamental human rights.
- The JFBA tendered a proposal, Opinion Calling for a Radical Improvement of the Support System to Rebuild Livelihoods of Disaster Victims dated February 19, 2016, in which it highlighted a need for Disaster Case Management and proposed that the Disaster Case Management be established as a system. The Disaster Case Management is a program that focuses on each affected individual and develops support plans individually needed.
In recent disasters, some municipalities took the Disaster Case Management program to support disaster victims; in Tottori prefecture, they set down the program in the Prefectural Ordinance.
We attorneys will continue to endeavor to provide meticulous support to disaster victims, paying close attention to the dignity of individuals, by way of systematizing the Disaster Case Management.
- The JFBA classifies the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 as a disaster. Amid the so-called Coronavirus crisis, the severe restrictions on movement, social activities, economic activities, etc. are jeopardizing the crucial constitutional right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living, particularly for socially vulnerable members of the population including older people, persons with disabilities, women, and nonregular employees. Additionally, we should not tolerate the slurs and calumny hurled at infected persons, healthcare professionals, care facility staff and other personnel, as well as the widespread discrimination and prejudice directed at them and their families—a situation we have seen in the wake of the Nuclear Power Plant Accident where the dignity individuals are ignored.
We attorneys will dedicate ourselves, in the ongoing Coronavirus crisis involving unpredictability in transmissibility, to the activities to protect the dignity of individuals, paying keen attention to the diverse human rights issues arising from the repercussions on the general life.
- To mark ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Nuclear Power Plant Accident, the JFBA reaffirms that supporting disaster victims is a crucially important essential task of attorneys, whose missions encompass protecting fundamental human rights. In order to protect the lives and dignity of people affected by disasters, the JFBA commits itself to making every effort in the support activities and assisting their recovery.
We declare as above.
October 15, 2021
Japan Federation of Bar Associations