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With last week’s decision by the Osaka Municipal Assembly to delay a decision on what would have been Japan’s first city ordinance to combat hate speech and to issue a nonbinding statement instead, local legal efforts to crack down on racist rhetoric have slowed.

Although the assembly may take up the issue again when it reconvenes in September, there are numerous hurdles remaining to realizing an ordinance. All political parties agree something should be done to halt racial slurs and threats of violence against ethnic minorities. But differences of opinion over how effective an ordinance would be and whether it could give too much authority to an outside committee loyal to the mayor meant that unanimous approval by the assembly, sought by all parties, was impossible.

Last week’s statement adds to the many local calls for the central government to enact legislation that would effectively combat hate speech and protect the rights of minorities.

“In recent years, hate speech directed at foreigners in Japan with a specific nationality has taken place, creating concern about human rights problems involving foreigners. In the streets of Osaka as well, demonstrations involving hate speech have frequently occurred,” the statement noted.

City assembly members also pointed out that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed concern about the spread of speech that meets the definition of racial discrimination under the terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Japan, as a signatory to the convention, has long been advised to adopt measures to combat such racially biased speech.

In addition, through legal restrictions, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has strongly recommended Japan adopt measures to deal with hate speech.

Last August, a CERD report on Japan recommended the country take five specific actions to combat hate speech: 1. Firmly address manifestations of hate and racism as well as incitement to racist violence and hatred during rallies; 2. Take appropriate steps to combat hate speech in the media, including the Internet; 3. Investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute individuals, as well as organizations, responsible for such acts; 4. Pursue appropriate sanctions against public officials and politicians who disseminate hate speech and incitement to hatred; 5. Address the root causes of racist hate speech and strengthen measures of teaching, education, culture and information.

The issue of hate speech in Osaka has become particularly sensitive due to the large number of Korean residents and an incident that took place in 2013 in the city’s Tsuruhashi district, home to many Koreans. At a public demonstration sponsored by the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai, a 14-year-old girl began screaming racial slurs and death threats at Koreans.

Videos of the event were quickly translated into several languages and uploaded on YouTube, earning Osaka an international reputation as a place that condones hate speech against ethnic minorities.

“Furthermore, as a recent example, on Dec. 9, 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a group that engaged in hate speech. That decision confirmed an Osaka High Court decision that the group’s activities met the convention’s definition of racial discrimination and was beyond something that was protected speech. We strongly request that, from the view of guarding human rights, the central government promote effective legal measures to lead to the eradication of hate speech,” the June 10 statement concluded, referring to the decision against the right-wing hate group Zaitokukai.

The group appealed decisions by the Osaka High Court and the Kyoto District Court after both ordered it to pay nearly ¥12 million in compensation to a Kyoto school whose students are ethnic Koreans, after it came under attack by Zaitokukai members during demonstrations in 2009 and 2010.

Since then, pressure has been growing on the city of Osaka to publicly condemn acts of hate speech. But embarrassed by Zaitokukai and emboldened by the court decisions, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, as well as his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) political group and other assembly members, decided to go a step further and try to pass an ordinance, even though there were questions about whether it would violate the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The proposed ordinance was developed with input from local Korean human rights’ organizations and lawyers. It would define as hate speech expressions that call for the elimination of ethnic groups and individuals from society and restrict their freedoms and rights, or incite violence against them. Written attacks on the Internet and social media against groups and individuals might also be defined as hate speech.

Key to determining what the city would define as hate speech would be a committee of five legal experts and others involved in human rights issues. They would be appointed by the mayor to examine specific hate speech allegations, and would be responsible for gathering testimony if they decided a particular case warranted investigation.

Each member would serve for two years and could not publicly discuss any secrets (designated by city bureaucrats) they come across while doing their jobs, even after their term as a committee member ends. Violating the secrecy agreement would be grounds for dismissal by the mayor.

In the event the committee’s probe concluded there was merit to a claim of hate speech, the city would offer assistance if the victim decided to take the perpetrators to court. This includes an as yet undetermined amount of financial assistance for legal fees. In addition, there would be a “name and shame” effort whereby the names of the groups and individuals who made the comments, and the content of their remarks, would be posted on the city’s website.

“The committee of third-party experts would make decisions based on existing laws, and the opinions of legal experts would have to be respected. It’s clear we have to make rules that prohibit hate speech,” Hashimoto said last month when the resolution proposal was formally taken up.

Whether such an ordinance will pass soon, especially before mayoral and gubernatorial elections in November, is questionable. Kim Kwang-min, secretary-general of the Osaka-based nonprofit organization Korea NGO Center, expressed disappointment, but not surprise, that the assembly only voted for a nonbinding statement.

“The ordinance resolution wasn’t perfect but it is needed. A lot of politicians are saying that Osaka should wait on the central government to pass a national law against hate speech. But I think on this issue, it’s the local governments, which are closer to the problem, that can take the lead,” Kim said.

Kansai Perspective, appearing on the third Tuesday this month due to Monday’s press holiday, focuses on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.

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