U.S. rights report slams Japan on child abuse, prison conditions, asylum system

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights, released Friday, said serious problems persist in how Japan deals with refugees and asylum seekers and that domestic abuse and sexual harassment of women remain rife.

In a wide-ranging review of freedoms as assessed by Washington, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 examines privacy, respect for civil liberties, and political and worker rights in that year or just prior to it.

“Leading human rights problems included lack of due process for pretrial detainees, poor prison and detention center conditions, and the (sexual) exploitation of children,” the report said of Japan.

It said that although Japanese law provides for the granting asylum or refugee status and that a system protecting refugees exists, asylum seekers faced discrimination.

The report said although there were 3,260 applicants for refugee status in 2013, only six received it.

It also said refugees faced problems common to other foreigners, such as limited access to housing, education, and employment. And it quoted nongovernmental organizations as saying police in large cities conducted racial profiling and harassed “foreign-looking” citizens, mainly dark-skinned Asians and persons of African descent.

It alleged that Japan fell short on protecting women’s rights, saying many of them remained targets of discrimination and sexual harassment.

While the law prohibits domestic violence, it said this remained a serious problem, with the National Police Agency statistics showing 49,533 reported cases of domestic violence in 2013, and 93.4 percent of the victims were women.

On prisons, it said most institutions met international standards. However, it said four were reportedly overcrowded and that in some institutions clothing and blankets were inadequate during cold weather.

“Most prisons did not provide heating during nighttime hours in winter despite freezing temperatures, subjecting inmates to a range of preventable cold injuries,” it said.

It noted that deaths in prisons or detention centers were rare but cited media reports of the deaths in 2014 of two detainees — an Iranian and a Cameroonian — at an immigration detention center where a Burmese asylum seeker died in 2013.

For the system as a whole, it said: “Observers documented inadequate medical treatment, including for detainees and prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions. . . . Dental care was minimal and access to palliative care was lacking.”

Meanwhile, it alleged that although nominally illegal, child prostitution remains prevalent.

“The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and ‘delivery health’ (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated child prostitution.”

It praised the central government’s decision to revise a law to criminalize the possession of child pornography last June, but said “no national law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics and video games, some of which depict scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.”

It noted that the NPA maintained that there is no established link between the images and child victimization, but said other assessments suggest that “children were harmed by a culture that appears to accept child sexual abuse.”

But it praised the response to protests by ultraright-wing groups, noting that they were “accused of hate speech by the press and politicians.” It added: “Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone.”