Japan veering away from global human rights standards, says Amnesty International

Kyodo

Amnesty International has slammed Japan for its handling of ethnic minorities, for levels of violence against women, and for curbing transparency through a recently imposed secrecy law.

In its latest global human rights report, released Wednesday, the group said Japan “continued to move away from international human rights standards.”

The global human-rights lobby group said the government had failed to speak out against discriminatory rhetoric against ethnic Korean residents and their descendants, whom right-wing groups routinely harass and denounce with racially pejorative terms.

The report covers 2014, a period the group said was characterized by government inaction in passing legislation that would outlaw hate speech in line with international standards.

On violence against women, Amnesty said Tokyo “continued to refuse to officially use the term ‘sexual slavery,’ and to deny full and effective reparation to survivors,” in reference to women, mostly from other Asian countries, procured for “the military sexual slavery system” during World War II. They are euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan.

“Several high-profile public figures made statements to deny or justify the system,” the report said.

The London-based group also took issue with a controversial law that came into force in December and empowers the government to designate information as state secrets on national security grounds.

“The law could restrict transparency by limiting access to information held by public authorities,” because the definition of specially designated secrets was “vague” and the monitoring body “lacked binding powers,” the group said.

Turning to global issues, Amnesty said the response from world leaders to a recent upsurge in global atrocities has been “shameful.”

The international community needs to “act urgently” in order to protect civilians from violence caused by armed groups and states, the report said.

Speaking of “horrific violence and human rights abuses”, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Salil Shetty told journalists: “Millions of civilians have been killed, maimed and abandoned resulting in large scale displacement and probably the largest number of refugees (15 million) we have seen since the Second World War.

“The world watched as millions suffered. This can and must change. We are not powerless.

“Unfortunately the human rights violations were caused on the one hand by armed groups such as Islamic State . . . but in far too many cases also by governments,” it said.

“The response has been dismal and shameful.”

The group is increasingly concerned about the rise of armed groups like Islamic State, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The report notes that armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries in 2014.

Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, said in a press statement: “As the influence of groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State and Al Shabaab spills over national borders, more civilians will be forced to live under their quasi-state control, subject to abuse, persecution and discrimination.

“Governments must stop pretending the protection of civilians is beyond their power and help roll back the tide of suffering of millions. Leaders must embrace a fundamental change in the way they respond to crises around the world.”

Amnesty is urging the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities, a move it believes would send a powerful deterrent message to armed groups.

Shetty said the veto had often been used by some members to assert geopolitical influence when it was clear that world powers should have acted to avert human rights abuses.

Giving up the veto could pave the way for the United Nations to implement measures to prevent mass atrocities in the future, he said.

The group is calling on the international community to stop weapons going to countries which may use them to commit war crimes and human rights abuses.

Amnesty also warned governments from imposing draconian counterterrorism laws which could actually have the effect of encouraging terrorism.

  • Pete Wagner

    Amnesty Int’l should be looking closer to home.