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How a U.N. committee riled Japan with its criticism of women’s rights

by

Staff Writer

Recent recommendations issued to Japan by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women sparked a sharp response from Tokyo.

The U.N. body touched on several politically sensitive issues, including that of the so-called “comfort women” forced to serve troops during World War II. Below, we look at what the committee does and the accusations it leveled at Japan.

What is the committee?

The committee monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted at the 34th United Nations General Assembly in 1979.

In total 189 countries have signed the convention. Japan joined in 1985.

The committee consists of 23 independent experts on women’s issues who convene about three times a year to track progress by member states in meeting the convention’s requirements.

The committee is chaired by Japanese women’s rights lawyer Yoko Hayashi, who was elected to the post in February last year.

What is the reviews process?

About six or seven states party to the convention are reviewed every time the committee meets. At the session that took place between Feb. 15 to March 4, the committee examined eight countries, including Japan.

Party states are obliged to submit a report every four years. The country under review must answer preliminary questions in writing before it attends the committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. A task force within the committee is set up to review each country, and the committee produces a final report based on the discussion.

What was said about Japan?

The committee did recognize Japan’s efforts toward better working conditions for women, but it urged the nation to make changes in several areas, especially those related to parenthood.

For one, the committee pointed out that the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Act forced persons with disabilities into sterilization. It said approximately 16,500 cases of sterilization were conducted without consent, noting that Japan made no efforts to compensate victims — and nor did it apologize. The report recommended that Japan conduct a study on the forced sterilizations and prosecute and punish those who conducted them.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights also pointed to this issue back in 1998, but Tokyo has taken no action to remedy it, as the program was allowed under the law of the time.

Tomoko Yonezu, a member of DPI Women’s Network Japan, which advocates for the rights of women with disabilities, said the recommendation represents pressure on the Japanese government and is a big step forward.

“Some women with disabilities are still asked if they really want to have babies and are even advised to have abortions,” said Yonezu, 67, who suffered from polio. “Some Japanese people still harbor a bias against disabled people, and think they should not have children.”

The U.N. body also expressed concerns that Japan prohibits women from remarrying immediately after divorce, but not men. The Supreme Court last December ruled that the six-month ban is unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision, women still must wait 100 days to remarry.

The U.N. also urged Japan to amend the Maternal Protection Act to “ensure the legality of abortion.” Under the current law, abortion can only be conducted with spousal consent, even if the pregnancy is a result of rape, or if the economic or physical conditions would gravely endanger the mother’s health. The U.N. urged Japan to remove the requirement of spousal consent and ensure that abortion can be allowed in case of serious fetal impairment.

How did the government react?

The recommendation this year touched on several politically sensitive areas.

Especially controversial were the commission’s comments on the agreement reached between Tokyo and Seoul last December over comfort women: It criticized the deal for not fully adopting a “victim-centered approach.”

The report went on to say that some of the victims died “without obtaining an official unequivocal recognition of responsibility” from Japan for the “serious human rights violations that they suffered,” and urged Japan to “provide full and effective redress and reparation, including compensation, satisfaction, official apologies and rehabilitative services.”

Under the bilateral accord, Seoul is to set up a foundation to which Tokyo will provide ¥1 billion in a fund for surviving victims. Additionally, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse” to all the women.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the U.N. criticism is “deplorable and unacceptable.” He also holds that the concluding observations are far from the perception of the international community, and said the criticism missed the point.

A high-ranking government official said Japan had worked hard to build consensus around the issue. He added, he suspects that the mention of the comfort women was politically motivated, as the task force that reviewed Japan was headed by Xiaoqaio Zou, a Chinese committee member.

Tokyo was also unnerved by the committee’s initial intention to criticize the 1947 Imperial Household Law, which only allows a male to succeed the Chrysanthemum throne. The government lodged a protest with the committee, which later removed the criticism.

Abe on Monday restated criticism of the matter, saying the Imperial household system, rooted in the county’s history and traditions, has long been supported by the public.

“It is obvious that (the law) does not intent to discriminate against women,” Abe said at a meeting of an Upper House committee. He said the move by the U.N. committee was “totally inappropriate.”

  • Steve Jackman

    Shoot the messenger!

  • TV Monitor

    No one takes Japan seriously nowadays anyway, Japan is a pariah state just like North Korea, with its denial of historical atrocities, resumption of whaling, and denial of equal rights for women.

    • HyperMoot .

      amaot !!

    • Bruce Chatwin

      TV Monitor and Tachomanx: flip sides of the same coin.

    • Fred Orangefield

      I don’t think so. It’s ROK who teaches their kids fabricated version of history. Japan doesn’t like to pick on bad points of others. Two Koreas share the same cultural values. From your stance, I know you really hate Japan, and the reason you stick around is obvious too.

      • TV Monitor

        Fred Orangefield

        Considering the fact that California schools teach Korean version of Asian history over Japan’s version, guess who’s fabricating history.

      • TV Monitor

        Fred Orangefield

        Considering the fact that California schools teach Korean version of Asian history over Japan’s version, guess who’s fabricating history.

  • blondein_tokyo

    We don’t mean to discrimniate aginast women.. It just, you know, kinda HAPPENS. That’s not our fault, so why are you always *critisizing* us? *cries* *whines*

    • http://twitch.tv/guilty_swordz Arthur Strong

      GO HOME THEN! NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO STAY THERE! DON’T LIKE IT, LEAVE! IT’S NOT YOUR COUNTRY! WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO CHANGE IT? GO CHANGE YOUR HOME.

      • blondein_tokyo

        LOL. How precious. :)

  • blondein_tokyo

    We don’t mean to discrimniate aginast women.. It just, you know, kinda HAPPENS. That’s not our fault, so why are you always *critisizing* us? *cries* *whines*

  • Roy Warner

    Nice photo! I was not aware that the Prime Minister practices tai chi chuan.

  • johnniewhite

    In the second paragraph the author defines “comfort women” as those ‘forced to serve troops during World War II’. This assumption is wrong, and historians need to work hard to inform those who just wish Japan to be baddy.

    • Lorenzo Amato

      Sure, all those Korean women were abducted and raped (and many died) with their consent (sarcasm, if you missed it)

      • johnniewhite

        Why do you assume that they were abducted and raped? Is it the only thing you can do? Can’t you consider any other form of evidence that they might have been lying all along?

      • Lorenzo Amato

        Well, considering that international tribunals have stated that the women were not lying, and that there are indeed proofs of what happened, and also of other matters such as human experiments in Manchuria, I’d like to know what proofs do YOU have to show that thousands of witness (including, BTW, Japanese soldiers and officials) are lying on the matter.

      • johnniewhite

        What proofs do you refer to? If you are referring to the testimony of the Korean former comfort women, then there is evidence of them being not telling the accurate and truthful account of what had happened to them. As regards the international tribunals, they are misled by Asahi Shimbun — did you hear what Mr Sugiyama said last months at UN? The 731 story is also being made up by the allies. Please do not believe (or simply repeat) what is being told by the propaganda machines of CCP. More reliable accounts of what had happened have been widely reported. Can’t you seen what CCP is doing?

      • Lorenzo Amato

        Sure, the Asahi Shimbun is ruling the world. I wonder where the evidence is for these statements

      • Lorenzo Amato

        Well, considering that international tribunals have stated that the women were not lying, and that there are indeed proofs of what happened, and also of other matters such as human experiments in Manchuria, I’d like to know what proofs do YOU have to show that thousands of witness (including, BTW, Japanese soldiers and officials) are lying on the matter.

    • AJ

      So in the context of this article, are you trying to say Japan has never done anything to violate the rights or dignity of women? Or more narrowly, of women in the territories that Japan occupied (apparently conceding that the government may have mistreated Japanese women)?

    • AJ

      So in the context of this article, are you trying to say Japan has never done anything to violate the rights or dignity of women? Or more narrowly, of women in the territories that Japan occupied (apparently conceding that the government may have mistreated Japanese women)?

    • Fred Orangefield

      Nuance is lost, I think. More accurate way of describing will be something like this: ‘those comfort women who were deceived by Korean men or sold by their parents to the Korean agents who brought them to comfort stations….’ The person who used ‘force’ is Korean men, and not Japanese troops. There are numerous newspaper report about these Korean men doing terrible things, and they were ordered to be conroled.

      • AJ

        So at what point does Japan take responsibility? They controlled Korea at the time, paid the brokers, and built facilities for the women to be kept. Nobody ever claims the Japanese military returned women who said they had been deceived or wanted to refuse service.

        This line of reasoning doesn’t hold water at all in terms of absolving Japan or deflecting the blame back to Koreans.

      • Fred Orangefield

        Those who push Japan to take responsibility merely think of bashing Japan and that is the fundamental aim. They don’t care about Tibetans and Uighurs being killed today by CCP or fishermen of Vietnam or Philippines being kicked out of their livelihood. These two are connected — actually the master plan of CCP.

      • AJ

        But this logic seems to be the height of cynicism. You’re essentially saying that because this is political in nature, there is no merit or value in Japan taking responsibility for its past disgraces. And then deflecting blame by pointing to other country’s problems.

      • Fred Orangefield

        Japan is not pretending that they are angels. Much of accusations have little factual basis — mostly fabricated and propagated with political intent. Spend that much energy on those people who really suffer. Free Tibet!!

      • Fred Orangefield

        Japan is not pretending that they are angels. Much of accusations have little factual basis — mostly fabricated and propagated with political intent. Spend that much energy on those people who really suffer. Free Tibet!!