A group of lawmakers made history Friday by submitting a bill to the Upper House that would outlaw racism and hate speech.
Sponsored by lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Japan and Social Democratic Party, the bill would prohibit all forms of racial discrimination, including hate speech, and places responsibility on the state and municipalities to eliminate racism.
The bill is the first anti-discrimination legislation of its kind in Japan and signals that its decadeslong failure to follow through on its signing of the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination may be coming to an end.
“We believe the bill is very significant,” said foreign-citizens rights group Gaikokujin Jinkenho Renrakukai in a statement Friday. “It is a huge stride forward for the state to proclaim the illegality of racial discrimination and to express its intention to take steps to eradicate it.”
The bill does not, however, hold violators liable for criminal punishment — an apparent bid to avoid opposition from those who might argue it infringes on freedom of expression.
There is also no guarantee that the bill will be examined by an Upper House committee — the first step to Diet passage — let alone be enacted.
Nonetheless, human rights advocates view the bill as a potential breakthrough in their long-frustrated ambition to rein in hate speech targeting ethnic Koreans, which sometimes involves death threats.
This is because the bill, they point out, outlaws not only discriminatory or incendiary remarks directed at specific individuals, but also those aimed at “an unidentified number of persons who are of the same racial origin.”
“This clause is a virtual declaration by the state that it opposes remarks targeting a mass audience, such as ‘Kill Koreans’ and ‘Japanese Only,’ ” the rights group said.
Hiroshi Tanaka, a professor emeritus of sociology at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, likewise welcomed the bill.
Although the law would not penalize violators, Tanaka said it would serve as a deterrent.
“Suppose a group like Zaitokukai ever wants to organize a hate-gathering in a community hall,” Tanaka said, referring to the far-right citizens’ group whose vitriolic rallies often target Koreans. “The law will make it easier for owners of such facilities to refuse to rent their venues for the group, with the rationale that they are duty-bound under the law to prevent racial discrimination.”