Although the Liberal Democratic Party-led government is moving toward signing the Hague Convention on cross-border parental child abductions, the issue may not be a priority in the next ordinary Diet session, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is keen on building a strong relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama, is expected to visit the White House in February and is likely to say that Japan plans to join the accord.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has also indicated that Japan needs to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction “at an early stage.”

But during an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets Wednesday, Tanigaki pointed to several other important issues that need to be tackled in the Diet, whose next session should kick off at the end of this month, suggesting the Hague Convention and related legislation may once again be put on the back burner.

“I think we have to consider the Hague Convention in a positive manner, but there are so many outstanding bills for the next ordinary Diet session that we may need to narrow them down. . . . I have not come to a conclusion yet about what to do” over the timing of signing the accord and submitting related legislation, Tanigaki said.

The global community, led by the United States, has been pressuring Japan for years to join the 1980 treaty, calling the country a “safe haven” for Japanese parents living overseas who kidnap their children and return home.

But given strong opposition within some parts of the LDP, as well as from Japanese mothers who claim to have fled from abusive foreign partners and fear their children would be sent back to their country of origin, previous LDP governments avoided taking action.

After the Democratic Party of Japan took office in 2009, the issue finally started to be dealt with seriously and a Hague-related bill was submitted to the Diet last year — only for it to get caught up in the wrangling between the ruling and opposition camps. The legislation was eventually scrapped.

Tanigaki voiced his awareness of the domestic violence concerns cited by Japanese mothers, offering an assurance that if Japan joins the treaty, preventative measures will be taken so children won’t be forced to return to abusive households.

But on the timing for joining the convention, Tanigaki explained that he needs to review the bill submitted by the DPJ-led government, saying, “I basically think we need to establish some sort of rule (about cross-border child abductions), but the bill was scrapped and I think we need to take some time to study the original bill to see if it can stand as it is.”

Tanigaki, a former lawyer originally from Tokyo, is serving his 11th term as a Lower House lawmaker from the Kyoto No. 5 district. He has served as finance minister and transport minister in previous LDP governments and led the party for most of its 39 months in opposition after it lost the 2009 general election.

On the death penalty, Tanigaki reiterated his intention to sign off on executions if and when the time comes. The number of death-row inmates reached a record-high 133 as of the end of December.

“The death penalty exists as a system and is supported by the majority of the public,” Tanigaki said, dismissing calls to review capital punishment. “If the time comes for me to make a decision on (an execution), I will carefully examine it and do what is necessary under the law.”

Japan’s capital punishment system is notorious for its extreme secrecy, including that inmates on death row are only told they will be hanged on the day of their execution. Before 2007, the Justice Ministry did not even announce the names of those sent to the gallows.

Tanigaki, however, expressed reluctance to disclose any more information, citing — as usual — the privacy of the inmates and their families.

“Death-row inmates are placed under very delicate circumstances and I don’t think we should simply reveal one piece of information after another,” Tanigaki said. “I know the disclosure of details about executions has changed in recent years, but I think we need to be very careful about actively pursuing this.”

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