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A National Human Rights Commission for Japan: Domestic and Regional Implications

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 2:52 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Social Sciences | Comments Disabled

Silvia Atanassova Croydon, Assistant Professor

Hakubi Centre for Advanced Research

Kyoto University


For at least fifteen years, there have been plans to create a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Japan which would not only have the remit of resolving a range of individual human rights disputes, but also be involved in devising the government’s policies towards minorities and other vulnerable groups. These plans, however, have not come to fruition.

NHRCs have been established in most developed states since 1993, when the United Nations (UN) introduced guidelines for the functions and operation of such institutions. Within the community of East Asia in particular, most countries, regardless of the stage of development, have created an NHRC. Although in the case of authoritarian regimes NHRCs tend to be installed merely as a political badge of honour, i.e. in order to whitewash human rights violations, even there they nonetheless often manage, in collaboration with the UN and other transnational organisations, to deliver tangible results for the human rights cause. In Fiji, for example, the NHRC has been credited with the abolition of the death penalty. In Mongolia and the Philippines, to cite two other examples from the East Asian region, the NHRCs are said to have been instrumental in revising torture laws. Amongst the more developed countries in the region, in 2001, South Korea too joined the ranks of those states equipped with an NHRC that contributes to the civil society there.

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the developments with regards to the establishment of an NHRC in Japan, where there exist long-standing human rights conflicts, including the discrimination of Buraku, Ainu and Korean minorities, have been followed with interest by both scholars and human rights campaigners. Aside from the potential impact on domestic human rights policies, the issue of whether a Japanese NHRC will emerge is worth following also because of a development on a regional scale. More specifically, a forum within the Asia Pacific comprised of NHRCs – namely, the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRCs – has recently provided a promise to fill the void in Asia with regards to a regional human rights mechanism. Indeed, the forum in question, which has by now come to resemble, in terms of functions, the inter-governmental human rights arrangements of Europe, North America, the Middle East andAfrica, has, since its 1996 inception, expanded to cover most of the region. Japan, however – a key regional player without whose involvement no initiative in Asia could call itself truly regional, has not yet come on board. Clearly, the prospective establishment of an NHRC in Japan could significantly bolster the credibility of this forum, and so following the developments with regards to the creation of such an institution there is important.

With a view to clarifying the future of human rights protection in both Japan and the region as a whole, this paper proposes to examine the progress towards the establishment of an NHRC in Japan. In particular, the paper will discuss the politics surrounding the submission in Diet on two occasions of an NHRC bill, and the challenges lying ahead.

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