National / Politics

Debate on anti-discrimination bill begins in Diet

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The Diet started deliberations Tuesday on a bill that would ban racial discrimination, including harassment and hate speech, and oblige the government to draw up anti-discrimination programs that report every year to lawmakers.

The bill, submitted to the Upper House by opposition lawmakers, was crafted to cope with a recent rise in discrimination against non-Japanese, in particular ethnic Koreans.

However, it does not have punitive provisions and whether it will ever be enacted remains unclear, as lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party reportedly remain reluctant to support the proposal.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and independent Upper House member Keiko Itokazu jointly submitted the bill.

Speaking in the Lower House in February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized that racial discrimination, including hate speech, should never be tolerated in Japan.

But at the same time, he indicated he is reluctant to push for a new law, saying the government instead will use existing laws to deal with discrimination and promote enlightenment and educational activities.

“First, the government will properly apply existing laws to eradicate hate speech and racial discrimination,” Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee.

However, as Komeito lawmaker Toru Kunishige pointed out during that committee session, current laws apply only to defamation and insults against specific individuals, and not to hate speech against unspecified people of a racial group.

In August last year, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the Japanese government to regulate hate speech by law, following a rise in racist demonstrations mainly targeting Korean residents.

The Upper House bill would ban:

Unjustifiable discrimination based on race.

Insults and harassment because of the race of a person.

Use of discriminatory and abusive language and activities in public against unspecified people of a certain race.

It would require:

The central and local governments to form basic anti-discrimination policies and programs.

The central government to conduct research on racial discrimination.

The central government to set up a panel of experts on discrimination.

Lawmakers will hold the first question-and-answer session on the bill starting at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Upper House Legal Committee.

As history and territorial issues have flared up with South Korea in recent years, anti-Korean demonstrations with hate speech have been seen on streets in Japan more frequently than in the past.

The Zaitokukai group is among one of the most notorious anti-Korean citizens’ groups in Japan.

In December, the Supreme Court ordered Zaitokukai activists to pay some ¥12 million in damages to a school for ethnic Koreans in Kyoto, and banned the group from demonstrating near the school.

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