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TOTTORI, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) The Tottori Prefectural Assembly passed a bill Friday to suspend indefinitely a controversial human rights ordinance it approved last year that critics have condemned as arbitrary.

The assembly adopted the ordinance last October, before the central government failed in its own attempt to enact a human rights bill. The ordinance was to take effect June 1.

Assembly members, however, changed their minds after the ordinance was criticized for being vague in its definition of human rights violations.

The bill suspending the ordinance is meant to give authorities time to examine actual rights violations in the prefecture and to determine how to address them.

The prefecture set up a 13-member panel of lawyers and other experts to revise the ordinance, setting aside 2.6 million yen in the fiscal 2006 budget to make the changes.

The bill is expected to be amended to include provisions for quick implementation of an “effective ordinance.”

The original ordinance banned eight types of rights violations, including racial discrimination, physical abuse, sexual harassment and slander, allegations of which were to be reviewed by a five-member committee.

When the committee received a complaint, it was to investigate and, where appropriate, advise violators to halt such misdeeds. It would also disclose the names of alleged violators if they refused to comply with the orders of the committee without cause.

A violator who refused to comply would face a fine of up to 50,000 yen. But if the offender was a government organization, it could refuse such an order if the head of the organization was able to argue that doing so would hamper crime-prevention measures or an investigation.

The ordinance was drafted by 35 of the assembly’s 38 members.

Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama previously said the ordinance’s alleged shortcomings, including the risk to freedom of expression, “can be made up for in its operation.”

Katayama, however, reversed his position after the Tottori Bar Association said it would not comply with the ordinance.

The prefecture has since held consultations with attorneys and submitted the ordinance to the assembly last month for revision.

Hideo Shimizu, professor emeritus at Aoyama Gakuin University, said a law regulating human rights issues could be a “double-edged sword.”

Such an ordinance “often takes cases of human rights violations by public authorities lightly, and is detached from freedom of thought, conscience and the press,” Shimizu said.

Yasuhiro Okudaira, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said the ordinance “lacked legislative fact and rationality as to why it was needed in Tottori Prefecture.”

“It was better (to suspend it) than to leave a meaningless ordinance out in the open,” Okudaira said. “The prefectural assembly is responsible for explaining to the public why things have come out this way.”

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