Amnesty International Report 2016/17 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Japan

Progress towards a revision of the Constitution by the governing Liberal Democratic Party gained momentum after the party and its coalition members secured a two thirds majority in both houses of the parliament following upper house elections. There were fears that the revision could curtail human rights guarantees. Several municipalities and large corporations took measures to acknowledge same-sex unions in a context of pervasive discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. Executions of prisoners on death row continued.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

More municipalities adopted written instruments to recognize same-sex unions. A growing number of mostly multinational corporations amended their internal rules to extend benefits to employees in same-sex unions. The major political parties pledged to campaign for LGBTI rights ahead of upper house elections in July.

Discrimination against LGBTI people continued, particularly in rural areas. A transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the state after she was refused hormone injections while imprisoned. Parents of a gay student at Hitotsubashi University in the capital, Tokyo, filed a lawsuit against the university and another student for accountability and compensation; their son had committed suicide after being “outed” and bullied.

Discrimination – ethnic minorities

In May the parliament passed the first national law to condemn the advocacy of hatred (“hate speech”) towards residents of overseas origin and their descendants. The legislation followed an increase in demonstrations promoting discrimination. Its effectiveness was questioned by civil society organizations and lawyers due to its narrow focus and the fact that it failed to legally ban “hate speech” or to set penalties. Later that month in Kanagawa prefecture, a court issued the first-ever provisional injunction preventing an anti-Korean activist from organizing a rally within a radius of 500m of the premises of an organization supporting ethnic Koreans.

Also in May, the Supreme Court dismissed a case brought against the police practice of blanket surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community, including people perceived as Muslim. In 2010, 114 internal Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department documents had been leaked online which included personal and financial information about Muslims labelled as suspected “terrorists” in Japan. The Court confirmed that there was a breach of the right to privacy, but left this type of intelligence gathering unchallenged.

Violence against women and girls

Following the bilateral agreement with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in late 2015 on the military sexual slavery system before and during World War II, in July the South Korean government launched the Japanese-government-funded “Reconciliation and Healing Foundation”. The Japanese government emphasized that the funds were not for reparations, in line with its stance that all such claims were settled during post-war negotiations. Civil society in South Korea continued to call for the 2015 agreement to be revoked, deeming it unconstitutional and invalid because survivors were not represented during the negotiations. While the Imperial Army had forced women from throughout the Asia-Pacific region into sexual slavery, by the end of the year Japan had not started negotiations with any other countries.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Authorities continued to reject a majority of asylum applications. The government reported that in 2015, of the 7,586 asylum applications filed (a 52% increase over the previous year), only 27 were granted. An asylum-seeker from Sri Lanka prepared to sue the state claiming deprivation of his right to seek asylum because he was deported the day after his claim was denied by the Ministry of Justice.

Justice system

The parliament amended a series of laws relating to criminal justice. For the first time the electronic recording of both police and prosecutor interrogations was required, although in a limited number of cases. The existing wiretap law was expanded and a plea bargaining system was introduced. The expansion of the use of wiretapping risked violating the right to freedom of expression.

In June, the Kumamoto District Court granted Koki Miyata a retrial due to doubts concerning the credibility of his “confessions”. Koki Miyata had served a 13-year prison term for murder after being convicted in 1985.

Freedom of assembly

There were renewed protests in Okinawa after construction resumed at the US military base in Takae, marked by scuffles between riot police and protesters. Some protesters were injured during the dispersal.