Japan’s first anti-hate speech law passed the Diet on Tuesday, marking a step forward in the nation’s long-stalled efforts to curb racial discrimination.
But the legislation has been dogged by skepticism, with critics slamming it as philosophical at best and toothless window dressing at worst.
The ruling coalition-backed law seeks to eliminate hate speech, which exploded onto the scene around 2013 amid Japan’s deteriorating relationship with South Korea.
It is the first such law in a country that has long failed to tackle the issue of racism despite its membership in the U.N.-designated International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Critics, however, have decried the legislation as ineffective.
While it condemns unjustly discriminatory language as “unforgivable,” it doesn’t legally ban hate speech and sets no penalty.
How effective the law will be in helping prevent the rallies frequently organized by ultraconservative groups calling for the banishment or even massacre of ethnic Korean residents remains to be seen.
Critics including the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees have also pointed out the law is only intended to cover people of overseas origin and their descendants “who live legally in Japan.”
The law’s mention of legality, they say, will exclude many foreign residents without valid visas, such as asylum seekers and overstayers.
Submitted by lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, the bill initially limited its definition of hate speech to threats to bodies, lives and freedom of non-Japanese as well as other incendiary language aimed at excluding them.
But at the urging of the Democratic Party, the scope of the legislation was expanded to cover “egregious insults” against foreign residents.
The law defines the responsibility of the state and municipalities in taking measures against hate speech, such as setting up consultation systems and better educating the public on the need to eradicate such language.
The Justice Ministry’s first comprehensive probe into hate speech found in March that demonstrations organized by the anti-Korean activist group Zaitokukai and other conservative organizations still occur on a regular basis, although not all involve invectives against ethnic minorities.
A total of 347 such rallies took place in 2013, while 378 were held in 2014 and 190 from January through September last year, the Justice Ministry said.