Statement on the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee
On November 3, 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the “Committee”) issued its concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Japan on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, following the Committee’s review held on October 13–14, 2022.
The Committee welcomed the progress made over the eight years since its last review, such as the approval in 2020 of the Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality and the related legal actions taken; the amendment of Article 731 of the Civil Code equalizing the minimum age of marriage for men and women; the adoption of the Act partially amending the Criminal Code pertaining to sexual offences; the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure implementing mandatory video recording of interrogations; the enactment in 2016 of the Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees; and the enactment in 2015 of the Act on Special Provisions for the Subsidiary Work and Working Hours of Correctional Medical Officers.
While noting the progress made, the Committee urged the implementation of institutional measures to improve the overall human rights situation in Japan, such as ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Covenant which provides for individual communications; establishing a national human rights institution independent from the government; and enacting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Among other things, the Committee expressed its regret at the lack of clear progress towards establishing a national human rights institution (Items 4-9 of the concluding observations). The Committee requested that this matter be further addressed in a follow-up report by Japan, making the enactment of an act to establish such institution a matter of urgency, which is welcomed by JFBA.
The Committee addressed eighteen individual human rights issues and made more detailed recommendations than ever before that are responsive to the latest situation in Japan. The following seven matters are of particular note when it comes to institutional measures to improve the protection of human rights in Japan.
1. The Death Penalty
The Committee expressed its regret that the government had not taken steps to abolish the death penalty or to limit the number of capital offences, and it has no intention to do so. The Committee also expressed its concern at reports of executions being carried out while requests for retrial were still pending, and accordingly recommended that the government consider abolishing the death penalty; inform the public about the desirability of abolition, including through appropriate awareness-raising measures to mobilize public opinion; reduce the number of capital offences; give reasonable advance notice of the scheduled date and time of execution to death row inmates; refrain from imposing prolonged solitary confinement on death row prisoners; ensure that the death row regime does not amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment including the use of 24-hour video surveillance of death row prisoners; allow requests for retrial or pardon to have a suspensive effect; etc. (Items 20 and 21)
2. Criminal Procedures and the Treatment of Criminal Detainees
The Committee recommended that the government review its policies on the pre-indictment bail system and the right to government-appointed counsel from the time of arrest; limit the length of interrogations; ensure the recording of interrogations in their entirety in all criminal cases, including prior to a formal arrest; provide adequate medical services to detainees in accordance with the Nelson Mandela Rules; further reduce the use of solitary confinement; and review its legislation denying convicted prisoners the right to vote; etc. (Items 26 and 27).
3. Gender Equality
The Committee expressed its concern about Article 750 of the Civil Code, under which married couples are required to have the same surname, in practice often compelling women to adopt their husband’s surnames, and accordingly called on the government to combat stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men in society and ensure that such stereotypes are not used to justify violations of women’s rights to equality before the law by amending Article 750 among other articles of the Civil Code (Items 14 and 15). Furthermore, the Committee recommended that the government address discrimination based on sexual orientation by rectifying discriminatory treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the contexts of public housing, change of gender in the family register, access to legal marriage, and treatment in correctional facilities (Items 10 and 11). The Committee also called on the government to address violence against women by further strengthening training, education, and awareness-raising programs on combating domestic violence for law enforcement officials including the Immigration Services Agency, and recommended that the government ensure the right to access prompt and adequate assistance, support services, and protection for all victims, regardless of immigration status (Items 18 and 19).
4. The Human Rights of Foreign Nationals, including the Technical Intern Training Program and Refugees
The Committee called on the government to enhance victim identification procedures, particularly with regard to victims of forced labor, including under the Technical Intern Training Program. The Committee further recommended that the government establish an independent complaint handling mechanism, effectively investigate all forms of trafficking in persons, prosecute perpetrators, and, if convicted, impose adequate penalties (Items 30 and 31). Furthermore, the Committee, being alarmed by reports of the deaths of three detainees, recommended that the government address the human rights of foreign nationals, including refugees, by promptly adopting comprehensive refugee protection legislation in accordance with international standards; taking all appropriate measures to guarantee that immigrants are not subjected to ill-treatment in detention facilities, including developing an improvement plan in accordance with international standards that provides access to adequate medical assistance; providing the support necessary to immigrants who are on provisional release and consider establishing opportunities for them to engage in income-generating activities; and taking steps to introduce a maximum period of immigration detention, etc. The Committee requested that this matter be further addressed in a follow-up report by Japan.
5. The Freedom of Expression, Thought and Conscience, the Right to Privacy
As for issues related to legislation which can lead to a surveillance society, and threats to the freedom of expression that the JFBA has been raising the alarm on for the past 10 years, the Committee called on the government to clearly define the concept of “public welfare” and address issues regarding the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and its application (Items 36 and 37); consider amending the Act on Punishment of Organized Crime and Control of the Proceeds of Crime (a.k.a. the Conspiracy Law) which targets many acts that are unrelated to terrorism and organized crime, unduly restricting fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and the freedom of association; and adopt appropriate measures to ensure that the application of the aforementioned Act does not violate any human rights (Items 16 and 17). The Committee also called on the government to promote plurality of opinions in the media and ensure that the media and media workers can operate free from undue state interference (Items 36 and 37). Furthermore, as for the enhanced surveillance authority and system of the government, etc. in light of the right to privacy, the Committee recommended that the government address the lack of sufficient safeguards against arbitrary interference with the right to privacy by requiring prior authorization by a court and introducing effective and independent oversight mechanisms (Items 34 and 35).
6. Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
The Committee called on the government to ensure that all displaced persons, regardless of the distinction between “voluntary” and “mandatory” evacuees and of whether they decide to return to their land, continue to have access to support, including by reactivating the free housing support. Also, the Committee expressed its concern about a high number of children in Fukushima having been diagnosed with, or are believed to have, thyroid cancer since the disaster, and called on the government to continue to evaluate the impact of the nuclear disaster on the health of persons exposed to radiation and consider providing free, periodic and comprehensive health checks for all such persons (Items 22 and 23).
7. The Rights of Minorities
The Committee called on the government to take tangible steps to increase the representation of women, including minority and indigenous women, in decision-making positions (Item 15); take further steps to ensure the rights of Ainu and Ryukyu and other Okinawa communities to their traditional land and natural resources and facilitate, to the extent possible, the education of their children in their native languages; remove the barriers preventing access by Zainichi Korean residents to the pension scheme; consider amending the relevant legislation to allow Zainichi Korean residents the right to vote in local elections (Items 42 and 43).
All of the matters addressed in this year’s review, including those not mentioned in this statement, are serious issues that need to be resolved urgently. The JFBA strongly urges the Japanese government to accept the recommendations made by the Committee with sincerity, make efforts to implement and improve the legal systems, including through legislation, and enhance training, etc. in order to resolve the issues. To this end, we will do our utmost to implement the recommendations in the concluding observations, including by making requests to the Japanese government.
November 9, 2022
President of Japan Federation of Bar Associations