Expert disputes Japan government claim that conspiracy bill needed to ratify U.N. treaty

Kyodo

A criminology expert has disputed a key argument made by the Japanese government to justify the controversial conspiracy bill, which introduces penalties for the planning of certain crimes.

The government has said the bill is needed to ratify a U.N. treaty on international organized crime and that it would boost counterterrorism efforts ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But Nikos Passas, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston who drafted a legislative guide for the U.N. treaty, takes issue with the proposition that the purpose of the treaty is to tackle terrorism.

“I do not agree,” he said in an interview, noting that the convention is drafted to exclude crimes not motivated by material gain.

Passas’ remarks may raise further public doubt over the necessity of the bill, which has also been criticized by Joseph Cannataci, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy, who wrote that its potentially broad application could lead to undue restrictions on privacy and freedom of expression.

Under the bill, which is currently being deliberated in the Diet, members of terrorist groups or other organized criminal groups could be punished for the planning or preparatory actions of 277 crimes — ranging from arson to copyright violation.

The bill was submitted with the aim of adapting national legislation to the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Japan is the only country in the Group of Seven that has yet to ratify the convention despite signing it in 2000.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued in favor of the bill in the Diet.

“To prevent terrorism, it is essential to work closely with the international community over information gathering and investigative cooperation and … the ratification of the convention … is an extremely important premise to build such cooperative relations,” he said. “If we cannot prepare domestic laws for the treaty and ratify it, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we cannot host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

But Passas said the purpose of the convention is “to promote cooperation to prevent and combat transnational organized crime more effectively” as stated in Article 1, and that the convention targets crimes for material benefit, meaning that it is “intended to exclude ideologically motivated crime” like terrorism.

“Japan, of course, is free to introduce whatever laws it chooses. But this (terrorism issue) is not an obligation” under the convention, he said, noting that other U.N. conventions and U.N. Security Council Resolutions are in place to tackle terrorism.

To ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, member states should take measures to establish either or both of the following criminal offenses — agreeing with others to commit a serious crime for material gain and taking part in criminal activities of an organized criminal group.

The government seeks to penalize the former offense by creating new conspiracy crimes, but some legal experts have expressed concern that the bill would significantly expand the number of criminal acts punishable from a very early stage and possibly lead to increased wire-tapping and other surveillance for investigations.

Asked about the need to create safeguards for privacy, Passas said it is an “internal matter” for Japan to deal with, but added, “Every country is expected to respect the principles of human rights, rule of law and its fundamental legal principles.”

Although the main opposition Democratic Party and other parties are resisting the passage of the bill, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito seek its passage during the ongoing Diet session, set to end later this month.