Restoring Japan’s image as one of the world’s most crime-free nations is a key demand of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — and one newly appointed Justice Minister Chieko Noono hopes to meet.

“It is a great concern that public security is being endangered by vicious, and in many cases, juvenile crimes, and even international terrorism,” Noono said. “I think it is a pressing issue for the government to ensure that society is safe and secure.”

Noono noted the results of a recent Cabinet Office survey, in which nearly 90 percent of the respondents said Japan is less safe than it was a decade ago. Meanwhile, 43.2 percent voiced fears over foreign criminal organizations and illegal immigrants.

But the 68-year-old House of Councilors member warned that foreigners shouldn’t be scapegoated on issues of public security. “It is not that foreigners do bad things and Japanese don’t,” she said.

Noono also noted that as the government tries to combat crimes, regardless of who commits them, it must consider how to create a preventative environment.

The minister said Koizumi also instructed her to come up with appropriate screening procedures for refugee applicants. Japan often draws criticism for having a closed-door policy on accepting refugees, with only 10 out of 336 applicants granted asylum in 2003.

In May, the immigration law was revised to let nongovernmental experts participate in reviewing objections filed by asylum-seekers who have been turned away.

“I think refugees who are unable to find a place to live elsewhere should be welcomed here,” Noono said. “But that does not mean anybody can come.”

Noono served as vice health minister in 2001. As a lawmaker in the Liberal Democratic Party, she also helped enact various laws, including one allowing people with gender identity disorder to change the sex listed on their family registries and another that expands protection for victims of domestic violence.

Noono’s position on capital punishment is the same as that of her predecessor. She stressed that a great portion of the Japanese people still support the death penalty.

“But the death penalty is a sad thing,” she said. “There are so many people involved, from the victims to the offenders. However, if (the sentence) is handed down after (the case) is thoroughly gone over, I think it is my duty to obey the law” and, as required of her position, sign the execution order.

She noted, however, that through her experience as a maternity nurse, she has helped bring people into the world, people she always hoped would follow a proper course and live their lives to the fullest.

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