Human Rights in Asia-Pacific; Review of 2019 - Japan


Attempts to establish a national human rights institution have not progressed since 2012 and civil society continues to call for individual complaints procedures that could investigate human rights violations. Although there is some momentum at the political level, discrimination against LGBTI individuals continues. Legal protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families is incomplete in law and Japan has yet to ratify the Migrant’s Convention.

Death Penalty

Japan continues to execute and lacks safeguards to avoid the application of death sentences for people with mental, psycho-social or intellectual disabilities.[1] In June the Citizens’ Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment was established with the participation of Amnesty International to create momentum for a dialogue on abolition.

Discrimination – Education

The Supreme Court dismissed a damages claim filed over the government’s decision to exclude Pyongyang-related Korean schools from its tuition-free program for high schools. On the same day the court upheld an Osaka High Court decision that overturned the district court ruling that the exclusion was illegal. Two cases on the same issue remained pending at High Courts at year end.

Freedom of Expression

On 3 August, an exhibit on political taboos that was part of the Aichi Triennale 2019 was closed after receiving extensive complaints, particularly about two pieces – one that included an image of Emperor Hirohito being incinerated with a blowtorch and another that included a statue of a “comfort woman”, a woman forced into the Japanese military sexual slavery system before and during World War II. The exhibit reopened in October after public criticism about the restriction on freedom of expression.[2]

Migrants’ rights

In April, Japan amended the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (Immigration and Refugee Act), to address a serious labour shortage by creating a new residence status of “specified skilled worker.” Civil society organizations have raised concerns that the this could increase the number of foreign workers subjected to human rights abuses as the amendment do not address the fundamental structures that allow abuses such as sexual abuse, work-related deaths and working conditions that amount to forced labour to occur.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Japanese authorities reported in March that 42 out of 10,493 refugees claims were approved in 2018. As of the end of September, 198 asylum-seekers or irregular migrants had taken part in hunger strikes to protest their extended and indeterminate detention and conditions in immigration detention.[3] On 1 October, authorities stated the death of a Nigerian man in a detention center in Nagasaki on 24 June was a result of a hunger strike. The Tokyo Bar Association noted that the Immigration and Refugee Act allows detention without individually assessing the necessity of the detention.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)

In December 2018, four opposition parties introduced a bill to ban the discrimination against LGBT and the bill was still pending at the end of 2019. The ruling party announced it would also introduce a bill but it aims only to promote a tolerant society and critics have argued it is insufficient to protect LGBTI individuals from discrimination and would not recognize same-sex marriage. In September the Tokyo Metropolitan Government introduced a basic plan on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) to implement the ordinance adopted in October 2018 that banned discrimination against LGBT people.[4]

As of September, 25 municipalities and one prefecture recognize same-sex partnerships. In September a district court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to legal protection similar to opposite-sex non-married couples. The ruling further stated that the phrase in Article 24 of the Constitution that marriage is based on mutual consent of “both sexes” does not mean to deny same-sex marriage.

In May, the legislature passed a law obliging corporations to prevent workplace harassment and an accompanying resolution that specifically called for prevention of harassment based on SOGI.

While individuals have been allowed to officially change their sex under the Act on Gender Identity Disorder, the recognition requirements, such as being deprived of their reproductive organs or reproductive ability, gender confirmation surgery and single status, violate their human rights.


[1] Amnesty International, Japan: Two hanged in deplorable move (Press release, 2 August 2019); Amnesty International, Japan: Execution a shameful stain on human rights record of Olympic hosts (Press release, 26 December 2019)

[2] Amnesty International Japan, Japan: grave concern over cancelation of the Aichi Triennale ‘After Freedom of Expression?’ exhibit (in Japanese only) (Public statement, 8 August 2019)

[3] Amnesty International, Japan: 198 Joined hunger strike in protest of prolonged detention at immigration facilities (ASA 22/1149/2019)

[4] Amnesty International Japan, Japan: Statement on Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s draft basic plan on sexual orientation and gender identity (in Japanese only) (Public statement, 1 October 2019)