(Tokyo) – Japan’s international aid agency should do much more to promote and protect human rights both at the policy level and in its projects, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Akihiko Tanaka of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). While Japan has long been one of the world’s largest aid donors, JICA has failed to make human rights a priority in its work and has not devoted the resources needed to understand rights concerns in partner countries.

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Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has researched JICA’s human rights policies and practices, including through meetings and correspondence with the agency. JICA too often sees even an abusive government as its main beneficiary of its aid, while spending too little time consulting with communities, local experts, and the broader public. As a result, JICA staff are often not well informed about the broader human rights and political environment in the country.

“For nearly 25 years Japan has proclaimed human rights as one of its aid principles, but there is a big gap between official rhetoric and real action to make sure that rights are respected,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “JICA should change course and use its leverage as one of the world’s largest donors to press for human rights improvements.”

Even in autocratic, repressive, or rights-abusing countries, JICA has spent a disproportionate amount of time building relationships with governments instead of beneficiary communities. JICA rarely intervenes on behalf of communities or individuals facing intimidation, violence, or legal action from governments that receive its aid.

JICA Press Conference

JICA press conference on June 24, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan with HRW's Brad Adams, Asia director, and Kanae Doi, Japan director.

In a February 13, 2015 letter to Human Rights Watch, JICA discounted any responsibility for addressing rights concerns, stating that “project proponents including recipient governments bear the ultimate responsibility for the environmental and social considerations of projects.” But to make sure that its assistance is actually benefitting the people and communities its aid is intended to serve, JICA should invest resources before, during, and after projects to understand the national and local environment so that human rights and political dimensions can be integrated into their projects.

JICA has also neglected to create monitoring systems to ensure that subcontractors uphold JICA standards and don’t commit human rights abuses since many rights abuses in private or public development and economic activities are committed by subcontractors. JICA should develop and apply the same standards to monitor them, and seek detailed background information before contracts are awarded.

Other recommendations to JICA to promote and protect human rights include:

  • Raise rights concerns publicly and privately with governments that receive aid;
  • Consult with affected communities before, during, and after projects;
  • Reach out to minority groups, marginalized groups, and local and international human rights groups, to understand the situation at proposed project sites and make sure all voices are heard;
  • Ensure that community members can easily reach JICA with suggestions, complaints, or reports of human rights abuses;
  • Train JICA staff to respond expeditiously and effectively to local community complaints and concerns; and
  • Incorporate gender, minority, and disability considerations into every technical cooperation project, community-based project, infrastructure project, and others.

“With greater attention and commitment, Japan can play an increasingly important role in promoting and protecting human rights around the world,” Adams said. “Japan’s new Development Cooperation Charter calls for actively promoting basic human rights, but Japan will need to put its words into action.”