Japan needs to make greater efforts to incorporate human rights as an element of its foreign policy, according to the executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Speaking at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Wednesday, Kenneth Roth, who heads the New York-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to protecting human rights, praised former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, now secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, for starting to address rights issues as part of Japan’s foreign policy.
“Foreign Minister Okada pushed Burma for fair elections and he pressed Sri Lanka for accountability,” Roth said. “Unfortunately, that more activist foreign policy seemed to end when Mr. Okada moved from foreign minister to become the No. 2 official in the DPJ.”
Okada’s predecessors and current Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto have shown little interest in human rights, he added.
Roth said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently commissioned a report that found that the Sri Lankan military killed 40,000 civilians two years ago during the final days of the country’s civil war against the Tamil Tigers, but has yet to send his formal report to the U.N. human rights council.
Roth expressed his disappointment that the Japanese government has taken a neutral stance and not expressed its support for the report.
Roth, an American attorney who has been leading HRW since 1993, also pointed out that the elections that took place in Myanmar last year encountered no serious opposition, and noted that more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in jail.
“Meanwhile, war crimes continue to be committed in various ethnic conflicts along the border. It is clear that the only consequence of the election was that the military took off its uniform and put on civilian clothes,” he said, adding that he was disappointed with Tokyo’s reluctance to formally support plans for the U.N. General Assembly to set up an inquiry to investigate war crimes in Myanmar.
“Japan is a strong democracy and we believe it should be joining other democracies in helping people whose rights are severely repressed,” Roth said.
“We’re hopeful that Japan will continue the trend begun by Mr. Okada and will continue to treat human rights as an important element of its foreign policy.”
Egypt rights dialogue
Japan and Egypt launched their first human-rights dialogue in Cairo earlier this week, exchanging opinions on issues ranging from the Egyptian military’s treatment of detained female protesters to discrimination against Muslims in Japan, a diplomatic source in Egypt said Wednesday.
The talks held Monday marked the first time that the Egyptian government has taken part in bilateral discussions solely focused on human rights. Japan hopes an improvement in the human rights situation will aid the democratization of the country after the resignation in February of long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak, the source said.
At the meeting, Japanese officials took up the issue of forced “virginity tests” the Egyptian military conducted after they took power on women detained at demonstrations. The Egyptian side pointed out its own concerns with Japan, such as prejudice against Muslims. The next round of talks has not been set due to political schedules in Egypt, according to the source.
Egypt’s government is extremely sensitive to criticism on human rights by the U.S. and Europe.