National / Social Issues

Japan human rights improve but problems persist: U.S. State Department

by Alastair Wanklyn

Staff Writer

Human rights in Japan have improved in some areas, the U.S. State Department said Thursday in an annual survey of nations worldwide, but it listed a slew of failings that remain unaddressed.

Among the improvements, the department’s 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted reductions in the use of solitary confinement in prisons and an increase in the recording of interrogations by police and prosecutors.

However, it pointed to persistent problems such as poor conditions in prisons and detention centers and the sexual exploitation of teenage girls.

“A trend known as ‘JK business’ continued to grow; these businesses include cafes that feature underage female servers and massage parlors staffed by high school-age girls,” the report said. “NGOs helping girls in ‘JK business’ reported a link between these activities and child prostitution.”

The report said Japan lacked a law to address the “unfettered” availability of sexually explicit cartoons, some of which depict child rape.

“Experts suggested a culture that appears to accept the depiction of child sexual abuse harmed children,” said the report, which cited official figures and the testimony of specialists, and included data from 2014.

Meanwhile, the report said conditions were improving for some national minorities in Japan.

“Societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans who were permanent residents or citizens continued to grow,” it said.

It added, ultra-right-wing groups who used racially pejorative terms were accused of hate speech by the press and politicians, and senior government officials publicly repudiated harassment of ethnic groups.

Regarding non-Japanese workers, the 2015 report restated a complaint from previous years that employers can forgo pension and insurance contributions on behalf of their foreign employees who teach languages, whereas Japanese nationals in equivalent roles may receive the benefits.

It noted that a system in which employers can use different contracts for foreign nationals was generally upheld by Japanese courts as nondiscriminatory.

The report aimed some of its harshest criticism at failings in the penal system, starting with racially targeted interceptions by police. It cited testimony showing that dark-skinned Asians and people of African descent were sometimes arrested without cause.

It hailed increasing reliance on recordings of interrogations by police and prosecutors but said problems persist: “Authorities edit the recordings selectively, and courts therefore may not see any psychologically coercive tactics that reportedly often lead to confessions.”

The report restated a previous complaint that cold-weather clothing and blankets provided by prisons and detention centers were “insufficient.”

It noted that the government enacted a new law in an effort to resolve the shortage of doctors working for correctional institutions, but said failings in prison health care remained widespread.

“Police and prison authorities were particularly slow in providing treatment for mental illness and have no protocol for offering psychiatric therapy,” it said.

However, it cited an NGO as saying prisons have reduced the use of solitary confinement, a punishment that is widely seen as fueling mental health problems among prisoners.

The State Department has surveyed human rights conditions in nations worldwide since 1976. In the latest report, Japan’s chapter was slim compared with the litany of failings recorded for nations such as China or North Korea.