Opposition lawmakers on Thursday slammed successive Liberal Democratic Party-led governments for failing during their long decades in power to establish a law against racial discrimination, saying they had no choice but to draw one up themselves to address the recent rise in hate speech mainly targeting ethnic Koreans.
During the first question-and-answer session in the Upper House Legal Committee on the bill to outlaw racial discrimination, opposition lawmakers stressed the importance of enacting the legislation to crack down on racism.
The bill was jointly submitted to the Upper House in May by the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and independent Upper House member Keiko Itokazu
“Hate speech is flourishing because the existing laws can’t do anything about it. . . . It is common sense that a new law is necessary to deal with hate speech,” said Yoshifu Arita, an Upper House DPJ member who had a leading role in drawing up the bill.
Arita criticized the LDP-led governments for failing to create a law to regulate racial discrimination in the 20 years since Japan joined the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995.
“At last, 20 years after (Japan joined the convention), we have this bill. But it’s not the government who initiated the bill,” Arita said. “The government should have taken the responsibility to establish a law in 1995.”
The bill would ban discrimination based on race, skin color or ethnicity. It would oblige the central and local governments to draw up anti-discrimination policies and programs as well as to conduct research on racial discrimination.
The proposed legislation does not, however, include punitive provisions as it is a basic law to stipulate philosophy, according to its proponents.
The opposition lawmakers are hoping to enact the bill this Diet session, which has been extended through Sept. 27. However, they may be facing an uphill battle as LDP members are reportedly reluctant to support it.
Several members of the committee questioned whether the bill would infringe on freedom of expression, as some of its wording is vague.
Acknowledging this point, DPJ member Toshio Ogawa said that because the bill is a proposal for a basic law without punitive provisions, more detailed regulations can be established by the central or local governments.
According to the National Police Agency, about 120 racist demonstrations were held across Japan by right-wing groups in both 2013 and 2014. Between January and July this year, around 30 such demonstrations were held, the NPA said.
But the DPJ’s Arita argued that in reality the numbers are much higher, as sometimes racist demonstrations have taken place without drawing police attention.
Last August, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Japan to regulate hate speech by law, given the rise in racist demonstrations.