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Human Rights Developments Within Japan

While Japan generally had a good human rights record, social and legal discrimination continued against indigenous people, Koreans, alien workers and residents. In addition, women experienced discrimination in the workplace, despite legal protections; at least three executions took place; and trafficking of women from Southeast Asia was a major problem. But the most serious abuses of all were those that occurred in prisons and during pre-trial detention.

In March 1995 the results of a 1994 Human Rights Watch delegation's visit to Japan were published, simultaneously in English and Japanese, in a major report, Prison Conditions in Japan. The report analyzed the Japanese prison and police detention systems, and criticized the widespread use of solitary confinement, restrictions on legal representation, and other abuses. It called on the government to undertake a thorough reform of the system and to adopt new prison legislation in conformity with international standards. The Justice Ministry declined to make any public comments on the report.

In February, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture raised concerns about the Japanese practice of extended police detention, a case of severe mistreatment of a Chinese resident by police, and another case of prolonged solitary confinement.

In Japan's Foreign Policy
Under socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, Japan continued to emphasize its ties with its Asian neighbors while maintaining a fundamental security relationship with the U.S. The Foreign Ministry tried to strike a balance in its human rights policies toward other countries by supporting the universality and importance of human rights in general terms, while at the same time avoiding creating political tensions with its most important trading and aid partners over their abusive rights practices. In the process, Tokyo tended to downplay human rights and often failed to use its substantial political and economic leverage to promote human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the Foreign Ministry's annual "white paper" (published in September 1995), Japan's Official Development Assistance (ODA) bilateral aid program was the world's largest in 1994, totaling over $13.2 billion. In 1995 the government also indicated that it planned in the future to redirect some of its ODA away from Asian countries with booming economies and toward Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, while within Asia the ODA program would increasingly be used to enhance the development of "democratization" and free-market economies in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Mongolia. However, the bulk of both yen loans and grant assistance was again given to Asian governments (slightly less than 60 percent of all ODA), with China the number one aid recipient.

The "white paper" reiterated the government's commitment to its ODA Charter, first adopted in 1992, which specifies promotion of human rights and democratization as well as opposition to military exports/imports and nuclear proliferation as guiding principles for ODA decisions. But application of the Charter's human rights provisions remained spotty and highly inconsistent. The Foreign Ministry's Annual Report on ODA in 1994 (published in March 1995) stated that "when there are clear problems in light of these principles...Japan reviews its aid policy to such countries" but avoids applying the guidelines "mechanically because it could hinder flexible implementation of official development assistance." The report gives several examples of situations in which ODA was actually suspended, at least in part, on human rights grounds, most of them in Africa (Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi and Sierra Leone_see Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 for details); no examples were cited in Asia, except for Burma (described below).

The Foreign Ministry also invoked the Charter's human rights language, but usually only in general terms, in its regular "policy dialogues" with ODA recipient governments and also at the time of high-level political visits. For example, in the case of Vietnam, Prime Minister Murayama met with Communist Party Secretary Do Muoi when he visited Tokyo in April 1995 and alluded to the ODA Charter's human rights clause. But the Japanese government did not link specific ODA decisions to Vietnam's human rights performance, nor did it intend to raise human rights concerns at the November 1995 donors' meeting convened by the World Bank. In 1995, Japan was again Vietnam's largest single aid donor. In January, notes were signed committing the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund to $480 million infrastructure loans for 1995, initially pledged at the November 1994 international donors' meeting. During Do Muoi's visit, Japan pledged a $700 million infrastructure loan plus $36 million in grant assistance.

On the other hand, in the case of Indonesia, Japan's representatives used the occasion of an annual development aid conference in Paris in July 1995 to raise concerns about restrictions on press freedom in Indonesia, as well as human rights problems more generally. Tokyo alsopledged $1.8 billion in ODA to Jakarta. Following the killings by Indonesian troops of six civilians in Liquica, East Timor, in January 1995, the Japanese government quickly urged an investigation into the incident, but did not hint that Indonesia's response would affect foreign aid flows.

Japan did use ODA to promote a key foreign policy objective in August 1995 when the government announced it would freeze most grant assistance to China to protest Beijing's nuclear testing program, thus reducing it from $81.5 million in fiscal year 1994 to only $5.2 million for the new fiscal year beginning in April. The Chinese government reacted angrily, saying the move would affect bilateral relations. But the decision on grant aid was clearly a compromise in response to calls from some political parties and politicians for a freeze on all ODA lending to Beijing. It also appeared to be a token gesture, given that the Japanese Foreign Ministry said a new three-year package of $6.9 billion in low-interest yen loans would go forward in 1996 as planned. In its ODA report, human rights is not even mentioned in the discussion of the ODA Charter and its application to China. Meanwhile, two-way trade between Japan and China increased to a record $50 billion, making Tokyo China's largest trading partner after the United States.

Japan's willingness to risk offending China on the nuclear testing issue contrasted sharply with its reluctance to exert pressure on human rights concerns through its ODA program with China or in its bilateral relations with Beijing. But it did join other governments in multilateral human rights initiatives. At the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in March, Japan again co-sponsored a resolution criticizing China's human rights record.

Following the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in July, Japan signaled a fundamental shift in its policy toward Burma, where ODA had in principle been suspended since the 1988 crackdown except for some limited humanitarian grant assistance. Within days of her release, a senior Foreign Ministry official went to Rangoon to meet with Daw Suu. But at a conference of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in late July, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told his counterpart from Burma that Japan was considering resuming some ODA projects following Rangoon's "great and brave decision" to free the democracy leader from house arrest. In the interim, Tokyo would give $15 million in grant aid for a nurses training school. Despite a rebuke by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself in a press interview in which she cautioned Japan not to move too quickly, and despite pressure from its Western allies including the United States, Tokyo said in August it was firmly committed to restoring aid, saying it was "unavoidable" that Japan would follow its own policy on Burma.

An ODA mission visited Burma in October and it appeared that a $48 million ODA loan was being prepared to upgrade Rangoon's electrical infrastructure; this was one of the projects suspended in 1988. Privately, Japanese officials also indicated that they now shared ASEAN's "constructive engagement" approach to Burma_a departure from Japan's previous posture acting as a bridge between the "isolationist" policy of the U.S. and the approach taken by Burma's closest neighbors. In late October, General Maung Aye, a top official in the Burmese government, visited Tokyo to encourage Japanese investment in Burma.

The Foreign Ministry vaguely indicated that progress towards "democratization" in Burma, including adoption of a new constitution and transfer of power to a democratically elected government, would somehow affect future ODA decisions. But Tokyo refrained from directly conditioning ODA on any specific human rights improvements. Meanwhile, at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March, Japan supported a resolution on Burma which was adopted by consensus.

Japan endeavored to protect the gains made in Cambodia since the peace settlement as well as to demonstrate its willingness to make a constructive contribution to peacekeeping and democratization in the region. Japan continued to be the number one aid donor to Cambodia. It pledged over $89.3 million at a conference on Cambodian reconstruction held in Tokyo in 1994. In addition, Japan gave $2.5 million for landmines clearance through the U.N. voluntary fund.

Japan was more active on human rights in various multilateral fora, including at the Fourth U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, but it also faced criticism for some of its policies and positions at the Subcommission in Geneva and at the Sixth Committee of the U.N. General Assembly.

In Geneva, the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a resolution in August welcoming the Japanese government's decision to establish a private, voluntary fund for women sex slaves and forced laborers. But the subcommission also urged Tokyo to establish immediately an administrative tribunal to handle claims for state compensation from the World War II "comfort women."

In New York, at an August meeting of a working group to review a draft statute establishing an International Criminal Court to consider "crimes against peace and security," Japan was criticized by Human Rights Watch for adopting an obstructionist position when it urged further review of the draft statute, considerably slowing down the process. The Japanese delegation said it strongly supported creation of the Court, but claimed that both substantive problems with the draft and a lack of support for the Court among many developing countries warranted a delay.

One indication of the Foreign Ministry's ongoing interest in developing a distinctive human rights policy for Japan was a decision in July to co-host with the U.N. University in Tokyo a high-profile symposium on "Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region: Towards Partnership for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights." The meeting had academic, governmental and NGO participants from the region; the ministry planned to hold such seminars on an annual basis.

The Right to Monitor
Human rights groups in Japan faced no legal restrictions on their activities.

U.S. Policy
There was little demonstrable progress in the U.S.-Japan dialogue on cooperation on human rights, initiated in 1994. At Japan's urging, human rights were omitted from the broad "Global Partnership" agenda of issues on which the U.S. and Japan formally cooperate, such as environmental and population problems, and therefore human rights concerns were not raised during bilateral meetings on the Partnership in 1995. There was, however, informal contact and coordination between the administration and Tokyo on some specific issues, such as resumption of ODA to Burma and the U.N. resolution on China.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia concentrated its efforts in the area of advocacy, attempting to influence Japanese foreign policy and highlighting Japan's potential role in promoting human rights given its enormous political and economic clout, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1995, Human Rights Watch also turned its attention to the domestic human rights situation in Japan and published its first major report on Japanese prisons; it also embarked on a study of the trafficking of women in Japan, due to be completed in 1996.

The report on prison conditions in Japan was released at a press conference in Tokyo in March that received wide coverage, and a Human Rights Watch representative spoke at a conference in Japan that launched a new penal reform organization, the Center for Prisoners' Rights and at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Human Rights Watch/Asia traveled to Japan in September to engage in a dialogue with policy makers, NGOs and others on Japan's ODA policies, its activities at the United Nations, and other aspects of Japanese foreign policy. In November, our representative participated in NGO activities surrounding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Osaka. During the year, the Washington office of Human Rights Watch/Asia continued a regular dialogue and exchange of information on human rights matters with the Japanese embassy.

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