An Upper House Diet committee on Tuesday began deliberating a bill that seeks to eliminate hate speech, labeling it as “unforgivable.”

The Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling bloc portrays the bill as a landmark achievement.

However, there is mounting criticism from some quarters that the legislation is toothless and even risks exacerbating discrimination because of a narrow focus on “legal” residents. It also imposes no penalty on violators.

If enacted, the law would be the first of its kind in a nation that has long failed to outlaw race-based hate speech despite joining in 1995 the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The bill, however, fails to declare hate speech illegal, so human rights groups say it may be ineffective. Moreover, they say its narrow definition of hate speech could allow xenophobia to flourish.

In a statement Tuesday, the Japan chapter of Amnesty International called for the bill to be rewritten.

Far from mitigating hate speech, it “could aggravate discrimination” against certain minority groups, it said, noting that it is designed to protect only a limited cohort of ethnic minorities.

The bill defines hate speech as being directed at non-Japanese who have residency papers and their offspring.

Amnesty says this means those deprived of a visa for one reason or another would remain unprotected by the bill, which would require municipalities and other authorities to set up a consultation system for non-Japanese and educate the public.

The bill’s narrow focus “runs squarely counter to” the U.N. convention’s commitment to banning “all forms of” racial discrimination, the group said.

Amnesty called the LDP-backed bill ineffective, given that despite declaring hate speech unacceptable, it falls short of banning it.

The Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees last week expressed similar concerns that the bill may stoke xenophobia.

The group said some asylum seekers fleeing persecution have no choice but to enter Japan without a valid visa. Such people, and their undocumented children born in Japan, would remain unprotected, the group said Friday.

Given a recent surge in prejudice against asylum seekers worldwide amid the global refugee crisis centered on Syria, it could “reinforce the misguided notion that discriminatory remarks over asylum seekers are tolerable as long as they have no valid visa,” it said, calling for the bill’s reference to “legal” non-Japanese to be removed.

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