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Human Rights Developments

Japan experienced dramatic changes on the domestic political front in 1994, but the impact on foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights, was negligible. The resignation of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa in April led to the creation of a short-lived minority coalition government headed by Tsutomu Hata; this, in turn, was replaced by a tripartite alliance of political parties, which chose Tomiichi Murayama, chair of the Social Democratic Party, as prime minister on June 29. Murayama came into power pledging a continuation of Japan's existing foreign policy.

Japan's human rights diplomacy continued to be conditioned largely by overriding political and economic interests. On the sensitive question of the participation of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in overseas multilateral operations, however, Murayama's party abandoned its traditional opposition, and Japan agreed in August to send SDF medical, engineering and other forces to provide humanitarian assistance to Rwandan refugees in Zaire.

The guiding principles for Japan's foreign aid program_or Official Development Assistance (ODA)_first adopted in 1991, remained in place, including making provision of aid contingent on respect for human rights and progress towards democratization. Sixty percent of ODA was given to Asian governments in 1993 (the last year for which statistics are available), with Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia among the top ten ODA recipients worldwide. Rather than adopting specific human rights criteria for ODA, the government emphasized constructive improvements through "quiet and continuous démarches." In a handful of cases, "flagrant violations of human rights," clearly designated as such by the broader international community, might result in cut-off or suspension of economic assistance. In 1994, for example, all aid with the exception of certain humanitarian assistance, remained suspended to Sudan (as of October 1992); to Sierra Leone (as of May 1993); and to Malawi (as of May 1992). As of the military coup in September 1991, ODA to Haiti had been suspended. Following President Aristide's return, ODA was restored in October 1994; Japan also pledged the equivalent of U.S.$14 million to help Haiti settle its arrears to international financial organizations. Assistance to Nigeria was suspended on March 18, 1994, with a public statement calling on the military to transfer political power to a civilian government and publish a timetable for the transition.

The only Asian country where aid flows were directly affected by the ODA human rights guideline was Burma, where economic assistance had been suspended in principle since 1988, with the exception of certain projects of a "humanitarian" nature. In February, following cabinet-level discussions, it was decided to give $50,000 to the Burmese Red Cross and another $180,000 to Médecins sans Frontières. In June, a forty-five-member corporate delegation led by Keidanren (the Federation of Economic Organizations) visited Burma to assess the investment potential and met with top-ranking military leaders and oil industry officials. In November, Japan announced it was extending $10 million in humanitarian and medical aid, and was considering full resumption of ODA.

At the same time, on the diplomatic level, Japan continued to call for the release of imprisoned Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while welcoming the September 20 meeting between the imprisoned leader and senior military officials. This message was also conveyed in July at the so-called Post-Ministerial Conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), during a brief meeting between Japan's foreign minister and his Burmese counterpart.

Members of the Diet expressed concern about the human rights situation in Burma and urged action by the Japanese government, in a petition delivered to then-Prime Minister Hata on May 18, 1994, signed by 508 members of parliament.

Aid levels to other major human rights abusers in Asia, however, remained unaffected by the ODA principles on human rights. China, which received $1.05 billion in 1992, was told in 1994 that the next package of ODA loans would be scaled back from five years to three years, but the step appeared to be more a signal of concern about China's growing military budget than about human rights practices. Likewise on India, while Tokyo raised concerns about India's proliferation policies an ODA delegation that visited Delhi in March did not bring up human rights and humanitarian concerns in Kashmir.

In the case of Indonesia, at the annual bilateral donors meeting in July 1994, Japan pledged a record $1.67 billion in ODA in the coming fiscal year, and during the meeting, voiced only very general concerns about the human rights situation. East Timor continued to attract attention from both the foreign ministry and Diet. When an ODA delegation met with President Soeharto in Jakarta in February, there were oblique references made to human rights and East Timor. Five Diet members went to Indonesia in August on a fact-finding mission and publicly called for the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor.

China presented one of the most difficult challenges to Japan in 1994. Tokyo provoked a sharp backlash from Beijing, including a formal protest from its ambassador in Japan, when it co-sponsored a resolution criticizing China at the 1994 session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Shortly thereafter, then-Prime Minister Hosokawa went to Beijing immediately following U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher in March, at the height of the dispute over Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. While there, he reportedly urged Li Peng to take steps to improve China's human rights record, citing the concern of the international community and the final communiqué of the Vienna U.N. human rights conference in 1993 in particular. But Chinese officials and Hosokawa himself later contradicted these reports, acknowledging that the Japanese prime minister had in fact reinforced Li Peng's assertion that human rights are essentially a Western notion_thus effectively undercutting the MFN pressure from the U.S. at a critical time. The Japanese government welcomed Clinton's decision in May to de-link MFN and human rights.

Tokyo further strengthened its relations with Vietnam during the year, while largely ignoring human rights concerns. ODA to Vietnam was resumed in 1992, and by last year Japan was Hanoi's single largest aid donor, supporting construction of thermal power plants and other major infrastructure projects, and giving aid totaling $523 million in fiscal year 1993. When Prime Minister Murayama visited Vietnam in August 1994, he promised even more aid, but said nothing about human rights_thus wasting Japan's considerable potential for urging both economic and political reforms in Vietnam.

As the foreign ministry explored various means of implementing Japan's evolving human rights policy, it commissioned a study group, convened by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to examine the concept of "good governance" and to suggest ways in which Japanese policy might reflect this approach to development assistance. Its study was due to be published at the end of 1994.

Human rights in Japan came into sharper focus during the year with attention to mistreatment of foreign workers, including Asian women trafficked into Japan for prostitution. Prison conditions also came under the scrutiny of international and domestic human rights organizations. (See Human Rights Watch Prison Project section.)

Right to Monitor

Human rights groups in Japan faced no legal restrictions.

U.S. Policy

In February 1994, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, John Shattuck visited Tokyo for talks with his counterparts in the Foreign Ministry. This was the first step in developing a formal means of bilateral cooperation on specific human rights issues. Within the Foreign Ministry, there appeared to be genuine interest in working with the U.S. on human rights problems, while recognizing that Japan's approach and strategy might differ.

Six ranking members of the U.S. Senate, including the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to the Japanese ambassador in March 1994, to express concern about possible resumption of ODA to Burma and to urge Japan's continued support for human rights and civilian rule in Burma.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Asia

Human Rights Watch sent four missions to Japan in 1994. The Washington director of Human Rights Watch/Asia visited Tokyo in March and again in November to continue a dialogue with government officials, Diet members, and others on Japan's human rights policies. Also in March, the Women's Rights Project sent a team to begin investigations of the trafficking of women from Southeast Asia in Japan. In July, the Prison Project sent a delegation to assess conditions in Japanese penal institutions, with a report expected in early 1995.

The Human Rights Watch/Asia office in Washington, D.C. maintained regular contacts with the Japanese embassy and exchanged information throughout the year on a range of human rights concerns.

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