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Domestic lawyers and human rights groups have welcomed the firm stance of the U.N. Committee against Torture expressing grave concern over major human rights topics in Japan, including the “daiyo kangoku” substitute prisons, capital punishment and wartime sex slavery.

After examining Japan’s first report under the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Geneva-based committee urged Tokyo earlier this month to review its treatment of daiyo kangoku and death-row inmates and to address sex-based violence.

Tokyo acceded to the Convention in 1999, and Seigo Hirayama, chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said in a statement, “Japan, as a member country, needs to take the recommendations seriously and make utmost efforts to implement them.”

On keeping pretrial suspects in police custody in the substitute prisons, the U.N. committee said it is likely to cause abuse of detainees’ rights and “may lead to a de facto nonrespect of the principles of presumption of innocence, right to silence and right of defense.”

Based on such recognition, the committee urged Japan to amend the Prison Law “in order to limit the use of police cells during pretrial detention.”

Suspects can be detained in the substitute prisons for up to 23 days per charge and be interrogated by investigators, sometimes for more than 10 hours a day, with limited access to counsel.

In examining Japan’s report, a member of the U.N. committee said the principle of presumed innocence is ignored under the substitute prison system as it drives suspects into a psychological state in which they feel compelled to make confessions, according to a lawyer who attended the committee session as part of a JFBA delegation.

The JFBA has sought termination of the substitute prison system because it “functions as a system to force confessions, intrinsically breed false confessions, and work to uphold false confessions.”

“It is quite epoch-making that the committee points out the abuses of daiyo kangoku in such a clear and concrete manner,” said Yuichi Kaido, a JFBA delegation member. “It also steps into legislative measures. That means not only the government but also we lawyers have been given a big assignment.”

The committee said that putting death-row inmates in solitary confinement in principle and keeping them on death row for more than 30 years in some cases could amount to torture or ill treatment.

Because inmates are notified of their execution only hours beforehand, “the unnecessary secrecy and arbitrariness surrounding the time of the execution” and “the psychological strain imposed upon inmates and families by the constant uncertainty of the date of the execution” could also be considered torture, it said, requesting an immediate moratorium on executions.

During the session, a committee member called hanging in Japan an anachronism, according to the JFBA delegation.

Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, said it is notable that the committee has urged Japan to ensure the interrogation process in police custody be systematically monitored by such mechanisms as electronic and video recording, as well as ensuring access and the presence of suspects’ lawyers.

“The committee clearly says ‘no’ to daiyo kangoku while pressing Japan to review its overall judicial system,” Teranaka said. “And we have to be aware that capital punishment is maintained in Japan under such an insufficient legal system.”

The committee meanwhile expressed dissatisfaction with “the inadequate remedies for the victims of sexual violence, including in particular survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery practices during World War II.”

The victims of the sex slavery are euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan.

The survivors of wartime abuses, which predate Japan’s entry into World War II, “experience continuing abuse and retraumatization as a result of the state party’s official denial of the facts, concealment or failure to disclose other facts, failure to prosecute those criminally responsible for acts of torture, and failure to provide adequate rehabilitation to the victims and survivors,” the committee said in its recommendations.

The committee called on Tokyo to take action on cross-border human-trafficking, which is facilitated by extensive use of entertainment visas, and its victims are treated as illegal immigrants and deported without redress or remedy.

Hisako Motoyama of the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center said she is focusing on the recommendations that stress the necessity of providing education to address the discriminatory roots of sexual and gender-based violations and provide rehabilitative measures to victims.

“The committee also clearly determines that official denial of Japanese coercion in sex slavery, combined with the insufficient remedies for the victims, constitute additional torture against them,” she said.

The committee is seeking improvements in the refugee recognition process and treatment at immigration detention centers, while indicating it expects Tokyo to take necessary measures “to ensure effective and thorough judicial control over detention procedures in public and private mental health institutions.”

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