National

New Japan Justice Minister Masako Mori vows reforms to protect human rights

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Justice Minister Masako Mori has pledged to prioritize the protection of human rights and support services for victims of crime in her new role.

The lawyer-turned-lawmaker with 25 years of experience in the legal field said protecting the rights of children, in particular, would be a focal point of her tenure.

Mori assumed her post amid criticism of existing government measures to prevent child abuse following a series of cases where children were suspected of being fatally abused by their parents.

“Child abuse is an unforgivable act and I will do what I can to eradicate it,” the mother of two said Thursday during a group interview with reporters.

She said more concerted efforts by police and other institutions handling abuse cases were needed to provide adequate support, as well as ensuring that victims have access to a secure hotline where they can report abuse cases and access those services.

Mori was appointed justice minister on Nov. 1 after Katsuyuki Kawai resigned following media reports alleging his wife was involved in election irregularities.

As one of only three women in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, the former minister for women’s empowerment, child-rearing and gender equality said she hoped her previous experience would help her spur societal change.

“As a female lawyer and a public officer in a male-dominated society, I had to get through challenging times myself,” Mori said. “Throughout my work I’ve approached issues related to gender equality and women’s rights, hoping that women who will follow in my footsteps won’t need to face the same obstacles I’ve met and have similar regrets I’ve been left with.”

She said she was aware of intensifying calls for legal revisions of sexual abuse laws that place an unfairly high burden on victims. As well as focusing on supporting the victims of domestic violence, she added that she would also strengthen assistance measures for parents with dependent children after divorce.

She also wants to push work-life balance policies aimed at creating an environment where men and women alike can balance work with their private lives, and has set an example within her office.

“Since the time I was (a minister) in charge of measures to tackle the low birthrate (in 2012) the ratio of men taking paternity leave has slightly risen, but overall it’s still too low,” she stressed.

Mori also plans to address challenges surrounding new visas available to foreign nationals with certain skills and expertise. The new permits were introduced in April to address a severe labor shortage in 14 industrial sectors including nursing and construction.

Japan plans to bring in up to 345,000 foreign workers under the program, but as of early November only 895 foreign workers had been granted the new blue-collar visas. Mori said she was committed to revising some policies in order to ease procedures for applying to the program or obtaining work authorization for foreign workers, and that she would do more to publicize the program in order to attract more workers.

She also vowed to continue her predecessor’s efforts to tackle the problem of prolonged detentions of foreign nationals at immigration facilities.

When asked about her stance on Japan’s penal code, Mori echoed her predecessor’s reluctance toward abolishing the death penalty.

“In cases of extremely brutal and heinous crimes, such a form of punishment is unavoidable,” she said, adding that imposing the death penalty requires a thorough consideration from various angles and a due process of law.

Mori, a native of Fukushima Prefecture, also pledged to strengthen efforts to reduce the effects of natural disasters in the Tohoku region, which suffered damage from Typhoon Hagibis last month, and to offer more accessible legal advice.

“I want to approach the region’s problems in the belief that it’s my mission,” and respond to the pleas of those affected by the recent disasters, she said.