U.N. rights panel urges Japan to crack down on hate speech


The U.N. Human Rights Committee on Thursday recommended that the central government ban all propaganda advocating racial superiority or hatred, and punish perpetrators.

In a report, the committee expressed “concern at the widespread racist discourse” in Japan, such as hate speech, against members of minority groups, including Koreans.

The committee also noted a large number of authorized extremist demonstrations, harassment and violence against minorities, and the open display of “Japanese only” signs in private establishments.

The U.N. report comes at a time when rallies and confrontations involving anti-Korean groups and those opposed to their activities are on the rise, particularly in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district and Osaka’s Tsuruhashi area, both of which are known as Koreatowns.

People who are targeted by such acts have “insufficient protection” under the criminal and civil codes, the report said.

Japan “should prohibit all propaganda advocating racial superiority or hatred that incites to discrimination, hostility or violence” as well as demonstrations intended to disseminate such propaganda, the committee said.

The country “should also take all necessary steps to prevent racist attacks and to ensure that the alleged perpetrators are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions,” the report said.

The United Nations also called on Japan to accept full blame for pressing women from Korea and other Asian nations into sexual slavery during World War II.

“We want Japan to make the kind of statement that the families and the women themselves — the few who are still surviving — can recognize as an unambiguous, uninhibited acceptance of total responsibility,” said Nigel Rodley, head of the committee.

It also recommended that victims and their families should be given access to justice, that all evidence should be disclosed, that Japanese schoolbooks should deal with the issue frankly, and that denial and defamation of victims should be roundly condemned.

Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also China, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Asian countries, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels as “comfort women.”

Japan issued a landmark apology in 1993 — known as the Kono statement — and mainstream public opinion holds that the wartime government was culpable.

But a tranche of the political right, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, continues to cast doubt on the matter, claiming the brothels were staffed by professional prostitutes.

Japan recently held a review of the issue that upheld the apology but asserted there was no evidence to corroborate the women’s testimony, sparking regional anger.

“I suspect that the Kono Statement would have sufficed, had it not been for the fact that it has so evidently been put into question,” Rodley said.

The committee accused Japan of contradicting itself by denying that the women were forcibly deported to brothels but also admitting they were recruited, transported and managed by coercion.

Rodley said that was a worse stance than in the committee’s five previous hearings on Japan’s record.

“What is troubling is that the delegation now seems to need to speak out of both sides of its mouth,” he said.

The U.N. panel recommended that Japan consider scrapping the death penalty, referring to the case of Iwao Hakamada, who was released from death row after spending decades in prison.

It also asked that Japan apply its state secret protection law in compliance with the strict requirements included in the law.

The report was released after a two-day committee meeting focusing on Japan from July 15, the first such occasion in six years. Recommendations in the report are not legally binding.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Any normal newspaper would ask for a comment from the government on such a report. And any normal government would provide one. Why not JT?

  • Tim Johnston

    This is sad news, but news that needs to be reported. I have lived in Japan for a long long time and have always wondered when Japan would take down the no foreigners signs………….Does this happen in any other countries? It’s appalling to see and uncalled for in modern times.

  • kension86

    “The U.N. Human Rights Committee”

    So I guess UN doesn’t consider freedom of speech to be human right…. ?

  • phu

    This is ridiculous. I’m not sure what the UN is hoping to accomplish here, but singling out Japan right now is a seriously poor way to address the current situation in east Asia.

    Yes, Japan has problems that should be addressed, and this does point out some of them. I’m not going to make the logical failure of “well there are other places that are worse,” but I will point out that concentrating on (and taking sides in) divisive historical issues in Japan despite the increasing expansionism in China and North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program is extremely short-sighted.

    Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Yet another impotent, non-binding set of recommendations from an organization that can’t or won’t actually DO anything is par for the course; if the UN could actually accomplish things instead of simply issuing weak declarations and polite requests, it might be taken seriously. As it is, this unhelpful and poorly-timed “report” will serve only to alienate Japan and take attention away from far more serious and pressing human (and international) rights violations. “United” Nations indeed.

  • Iain Macpherson

    Japan should ignore at least 99% percent of this pressure to conform with other lib dems. Its constitutional defence of free speech – however offensive that free speech – is one of the excellent aspects of Japanese society. In fact, other lib dems should be more like Japan in this regard! Japan should be lecturing the UN on this matter, not the other way around.

    Noisy demonstrations that objectively interfere with daily life should be shut down, but with ‘public nuisance’ laws, not censorship.

    ‘Japanese Only” policies should be disallowed, but this is not a free speech vs censorship issue.

    And possibly most importantly — Any increase in Japanese censorship is only going to be coopted by Shinzo Abe’s crypto-fascist agenda.

  • itoshima2012

    Frankly speaking nobody cares what the UN says…..

  • Merchant Mmo

    I find it very odd this article. Between japan, china, and korea, japan is the country with the least racial propaganda, to the point where you can almost call it ignorant. Not to say that they have non, I think they do have to a certain extent, but nothing greatly noteworthy.

    #1 among them would be china perhaps as we all know they censor their own information to the chinese public. #2 would be korea as they do not make it any secret to hold animosity, however many generations ago it may be, to the current descendents. I’ve seen pictures where korean children are taught (prolly somewhere in the country) propaganda and their ‘japan hate’ are shown as drawings on public train station walls. There are countless wooden plaque prayers in japan shrines vandalized in korean writing with hate quotes, and lets not forget international sports events where hate banners are brought in as well as celebrating the 2011 earthquake.

    Its true that japan has things to make up for in the past. Its not something that you can ignore. But at the same time, there are some things that need to be set straight like these. I suspect that this is part of the UN talking before they gain all information before talking out of their arse. Hillary clinton stated something like this in the past, before she got all her facts straight, and she did embarrass herself later.

  • Darryl McGarry

    The UN is merely stating something everyone non-Japanese who has lived in Japan is aware of. The Japanese system will not let the admonition from the UN have any real impact on the way Japanese society functions. In Japan, there are two classes of people: pure-Japanese and gaijin, be they Dutch or Korean or Chinese etc.

    Sadly, when Abe was in Australia recently he admitted Japan’s wrongdoing. Now, he will spend his time denying it mealy-mouthed. I like the term “professional prostitutes” as a description for incarcerated women organised to serve Japanese soldiers on leave.

    If Abe has the courage he should take the UN reprimand and use it to reform Japan’s society so Japanese can truly say that Japan is better than China.

  • Steve Jackman

    Now, the UN needs to conduct an in depth review of Japan’s corrupt, rigged and unfair judicial system. The Japanese judicial system (judges, lawyers, and court clerks) is deeply racist and it discriminates against foreign residents of Japan, by openly breaking Japanese laws and court rules/procedures.

    The denial of due process to foreign residents by the Japanese judicial system is an infringement of their basic civil and human rights, yet it goes on unabated.

  • RGW

    I dont give two hoots in hades what the UN thinks about the state of affairs in Japan.
    Ive lived here and worked here for more than a decade, and I have never had a problem avoiding or removing myself from the vicinity of *hate speech* that was directed at me because of my foreign face. Every country has people that dont like foreigners, including the country I left behind.

    But I cant believe what Im reading in some of the comments- Japanese people are *harboring* feelings of superiority? What?!

    So now Japanese peoples private thoughts are judged offensive by you? Why would any adult care or need the approval of Japanese people so much?

    This is Japan- the country was built almost exclusively by and for Japanese. They are allowing you to live in their beautiful and safe country and frankly they dont have to- and you dont have to live here, either if you are non-japanese.

    I dont understand who complain about hate speech toward foreigners dont go live in one of those other utopian destinations that they claim are so much more welcoming to non-native people- Im sure Chinese people would welcome them with open arms.

    No doubt they would be able to live a safe, comfortable life there in China with a well-paying job, clean streets and air and the ability to express themselves freely on public forums such as this one with no fear of reprisal. Go on, the peoples paradise is waiting for you :)

    Back here on earth, things are different. If you spend time in NYs Chinatown or Harlem, unless you match the racial demographic you will find out pretty fast that you are not welcomed as a member of those communities. And that is in the US, with its history of immigrants, and a multi-racial population.

    Why do you expect the situation to be better in Japan?

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    I’ll give you just one example from my experiences here. 10 years ago when I decided to get out of my shared apartment, my girlfriend and I started hitting the real estate agents. She wasn’t upset when one of the asked “Are any of your friends black?” but I was. She was reduced to tears though when after an hour, and some 15 phone calls to customers of the agent who all “declined” the offer of a foreign renter, when she asked the staff “Would it be easier if he wasn’t foreign? “Oh of course!” beamed the pen pusher, “See it’s like when you have a dog. No-one wants them either.” He was still smiling, NO idea how offensive what he’d just said was. Removing signage or whatever would be nice, but it’s going to take a quantum leap for a good percentage of the Japanese to accept that non-Japanese are fellow human beings deserving of the kind of treatment they expect for themselves.

  • Thomas Ralph Nissen

    I’ve lived here in Fukushima for the past 25 years. I’ve never seen a Japanese Only sign anywhere in the country in that time. I don’t doubt they exist, I’ve just never seen any. Also IMHO this UN report is a waste of time and paper. This scolding is about as consequential as a mosquito’s wang. Why can’t they do anything about the stuff in Gaza, Syria, and Ukraine?

  • Thomas Ralph Nissen

    I admit to being a slow learner. But I stand by my comments. Anyone who read my comments is well aware that I stated the UN can’t do anything about what’s happening in Gaza, Syria, and Ukraine. Do you believe their efforts there have produced results? Do you believe this report will be any different? Here’s what Japan hears from this report:” You are bad. You better shape up!” You can guess the response. As I said, a waste of time.

  • Thomas Ralph Nissen

    This was supposed to be a reply to Mr. Jackman’s comments below. Like I said, I’m a slow learner when it comes to this Internet stuff.

  • Steve Jackman

    No one disputes that racists exist in every country and every society. The difference is that racism in Japan seems state sanctioned and is institutionalized. Government entities and state institutions like the police and judicial system in Japan have a deeply entrenched culture of racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

    Furthermore, the scale of racism and the way it permeates throughout Japanese society is much broader than any other developed country. It is these aspects of racism and discrimination in Japan which are so worrying and why Japan is often singled out.

  • wada

    I suppose that Hate speech come from your delusion and uncomprehension.

  • Steve Jackman

    I don’t think there is enough space in the comments section here for me to give you detailed answers to all your questions, so I would like to direct you to the website of Dr. Debito Arudou. He writes a column in this newspaper and I believe you will find detailed answers to all your questions on his personal website.

  • warota

    No one is interested in tu quoque arguments anymore. Really.

    I am interested however in your thought process of how you connected a giant fart machine to racist hate speech.