• Kyodo

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A report commissioned by a United Nations panel on human rights has voiced concern about the continuing Japanese social practice of discriminating against the descendants of former social outcasts in Japan, not only in marriage and employment but also in the use of derogatory terms.

The study, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s subcommission on the promotion and protection of human rights, likens the Japanese attitude toward the so-called Buraku people to the caste system in the Indian subcontinent, where social discrimination is based on occupation and descent.

While acknowledging that the living standards of Buraku people, or “burakumin” in Japanese, has improved, the report says discrimination in marriage and employment continues.

The report raises concern about the practice in Japan of printing lists of Buraku households with the names of the occupants to prevent the employment of burakumin at major companies.

“Particularly hurtful is the use of derogatory terms in speech and writing” about the Buraku people, the report said.

Historically, the burakumin were shunned in Japan as people who worked in trades handling the flesh of four-legged animals, such as butchers and leather artisans, thus violating Buddhist strictures against killing. People who made their living as security guards, executioners and performers were also shunned.

While the report, characterized as a working paper, is not intended as the basis for a formal resolution, it provides the basis for discussion among members of the U.N. human rights subcommission.

As the issue of discrimination based on work and social descent has increasingly been raised by nongovernmental groups and within government councils, the Japanese government may find it necessary to address the concerns raised in the U.N. report.

The report lays out the history and development of the burakumin phenomenon in Japan and cites official estimates that put the current number of hamlets where the Buraku people are concentrated at 4,442 and the number of Burakumin at 1.2 million.

Unofficial figures are much higher, 6,000 hamlets and 3 million burakumin, the report says.

The report cites government efforts in Japan to address the issue, noting that many antibias laws have been enacted, beginning with the Emancipation Edict in 1876.

The report also cites Article 14 of the postwar Constitution, which mandates equality before the law and bans discrimination based on race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.

In addition, the report noted, the Japanese government has passed a series of special laws to address the issue, including a 2000 “law on the promotion of human rights education and human rights awareness-raising” targeted at liberating the Buraku people.

“It is admitted that the living standard of Buraku people has improved, but discrimination in marriage and employment continues,” the report says.

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