Tottori rights ordinance dies a credibility death

Prefecture cites lack of support from bar

TOTTORI (Kyodo) The Tottori Prefectural Government submitted a bill to its assembly Friday to suspend indefinitely the enforcement of an ordinance aimed at protecting people from racial discrimination and other human rights violations, citing a lack of support from legal circles that are skeptical of its true effectiveness.

The suspension bill is likely to be approved March 24, the final day of the current assembly session, and the June 1 implementation of the ordinance will be postponed indefinitely, prefectural officials said.

“We need to make a thorough review as we have failed to obtain support from legal circles, which is essential for its implementation,” Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama said. “It is better not to set a deadline” for introducing the ordinance, he said.

The assembly approved the ordinance in October, making Tottori the first prefecture to initiate such a measure.

But the Tottori Bar Association has expressed concern about what it calls the arbitrary nature of the ordinance, noting it is left up to authorities to decide whether to reveal the names of rights abusers.

The ordinance was to take effect June 1 and was to run through March 2010. It lists eight types of human rights violations, including racial discrimination, physical abuse, sexual harassment and slander.

Tottori was also planning to establish a five-member committee to look into complaints about human rights violations. Those who refuse to cooperate with the committee without a legitimate reason would have faced a fine of up to 50,000 yen.

If the committee determined that human rights have been violated, it would have had the authority to warn violators and demand corrective action, and could make their names public if they did not comply.

Scholars and critics called into question the independence of the five-member committee and expressed concern about the ordinance’s potential impact on freedom of expression.

Opponents also took issue with the fact that despite the power to impose fines, authorities, including the prefectural police and administrative entities, could refuse to be investigated by the committee.

Critics also objected to the prefecture’s failure to review its alleged human rights violations in the past or examine how they might be corrected.

“Not even checking to see whether there really were violations that could not be corrected without an ordinance proves the prefecture only wanted to be lauded (for being) ahead of the pack in terms of human rights issues,” said Takaaki Hattori, a professor of media law at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.

After the ordinance was approved by the assembly, protesters flooded the prefecture with phone calls and e-mails. Some vowed to boycott products made in Tottori.

The prefecture budgeted some 2.6 million yen for fiscal 2006 partly to set up a committee consisting of scholars and lawyers to review the ordinance, the officials said.