Japan was criticized by the U.N. Human Rights Committee last month for allowing hate speech to proliferate. According to experts on the committee, in 2013 there were more than 360 cases of racist demonstrations and speeches in Japan. The committee demanded to know what actions the country would take to counter the recent proliferation of hate speech. Their demand needs to be answered.
Most of the hate speech took place at demonstrations and in public speeches, though an increasing amount of hate speech shows up on the Internet. The xenophobic, hate-filled ranting is usually directed toward Koreans, but also toward Chinese and foreigners in general. Often the demonstrations and marches are conducted in Korean neighborhoods.
The government needs to consider how to curb hate speech. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Japan has ratified, states that advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law. At present, the police may not intervene to stop hate speech.
Legislation need not restrict speech that is simply filled with unpopular, shocking or disturbing ideas. Freedom of such speech deserves full protection. Hate speech is different. In most developed countries it is restricted because dehumanizing groups of people and making death threats against them fuels discriminatory practices and violent actions.
Hate speech also destroys respect and fair treatment for all individuals. A free and just society should tolerate speech that is strange, different or offensive; however, hate speech denies the basic humanity of certain people and advocates illegal and discriminatory actions as well as violence, often on a large scale.
Speech that demands absurdities like cutting off all ties with neighboring Asian countries should not be considered hate speech. But the speech proliferating over the past two years in Japan that describes minority groups as inhuman or advocates massacres can be called hate speech.
Free speech is the basis of all democratic societies, but hate speech that impugns people’s dignity, restricts their rights and promotes violence should have no place in even the freest society.
Because hate speech contributed to many of the worst acts of mass violence and genocide in the last century, most countries have severely restricted it or banned it outright.
The media can help the general public understand the history and culture of minority groups in Japan and the complex consequences of word use. The government needs to put forth legislation that helps to restrict the most hostile and virulent forms of speech, even while ensuring that foolish or unconsidered ideas, not to mention more valuable ones, can still be expressed openly by all.