The Justice Ministry’s Council for Human Rights Promotion released a package of proposals Friday that includes establishment of an independent organ to beef up measures to counter abuses.
Based on a report submitted to Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama, the ministry will push legislation to launch the new organ “as soon as possible,” a ministry official said.
Tentatively named the Human Rights Committee, the proposed group will be tasked with providing swift and effective measures to curb social and racial discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic abuse and maltreatment in the workplace, while protecting citizens from human rights infringements by public authorities and the media.
To this end, the committee must remain neutral and independent of authorities, the council’s report says.
The committee will be formed through a reorganization of the ministry’s Civil Liberties Bureau, the official said. To secure transparency in the selection of personnel, the report suggests members be appointed by the Diet.
Although the Civil Liberties Bureau is currently charged with human rights issues, an internal government organ of this nature lacks reliability and true independence when investigating alleged rights violations by public authorities such as police and the ministry’s Immigration Bureau, the report says.
Intended to complement judicial actions such as trials and dispute settlements, the new organ should provide “active relief measures” by arbitrating between conflicting parties, urging wrongdoers to voluntarily correct their practices, or publicizing their acts, the report says.
If such relief measures fail to have their intended effects, the committee should be able to help sufferers launch lawsuits by collecting and providing them with investigative materials and participating in legal proceedings, the report says.
The likely targets of the new organ will be human rights infringements by authorities; maltreatment in the home, workplace and other facilities; and discrimination based on race, creed, gender, social standing, family origin, physical impediment, disease or sexual orientation.
While the ministry’s Civil Liberties Bureau is not empowered to launch compulsory probes, relying instead on voluntary cooperation from the parties involved, the report recommends that the new organ be given investigative powers.
The proposed committee should be able to order parties to submit documents and to conduct on-the-spot inspections where human rights violations are suspected to have occurred, the report says. Penalties, including fines, should be considered against those refusing to cooperate with the committee’s investigations, it adds.
The report says the Justice Ministry should take measures to ensure authorities also cooperate with the committee’s investigations.
Active measures should also be sought to deal with media infringements on the rights of private citizens, including crime victims and their families, the report says.
To respect the freedom of expression and social responsibility of the press, however, the council said it expects the media to exercise restraint, noting such organizations should only be asked to cooperate with the committee’s investigations on a voluntary basis.
The proposed organ, which would have a secretariat in major cities, would be staffed with human rights experts and rely on volunteer civil libertarians for assistance.
In fiscal 2000, the Justice Ministry received about 650,000 human rights-related complaints, 17,000 of which were recognized by the ministry’s bureau as rights violations.
Friday’s report came in response to a request made in 1997 by then Justice Minister Isao Matsuura for advice on ways to end rights infringements — in line with a U.N. guideline issued in 1995 — against victims of discrimination, including descendants of the former “buraku” outcast class.
Established for a five-year term in 1997, the council is chaired by Hiroshi Shiono, a law professor at the University of East Asia in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and consists of 20 members, including jurists, scholars, businesspeople and local government leaders.
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