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Newly appointed Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa pledged reforms Friday to the nation’s justice system, including policies that impact foreign nationals residing in Japan, aiming to improve its transparency and help “create a society where no one is left isolated.”

The 67-year-old Kamikawa was reinstated as justice minister in the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Sept. 16, having assumed the position twice — from 2014 to 2015 and from 2017 to 2018.

“I will make the most of my past experience (during my previous tenure) to regain public trust and confidence,” Kamikawa said during a group interview, hinting at the impacts of past controversies involving the justice system on its public perception. She also pledged changes that would make it “more familiar to the public.”

The minister said she was fully aware of her responsibilities as justice minister, and added that she was planning to continue her previous efforts with a fresh and more global perspective.

Kamikawa pledged to address various challenges faced by foreign nationals residing in and coming to Japan. She said she hopes to offer a more supportive environment for foreign nationals, where they are treated as ordinary citizens and “where people of various backgrounds are accepted … and don’t feel isolated.”

On Wednesday, the minister is planning to visit a recently opened support center in Tokyo where foreign residents can seek advice on employment, visas, laws and humanitarian issues.

Kamikawa also said she would continue her predecessor’s efforts to address the country’s long-term detention of foreign nationals who refuse to accept deportation, amid criticism the practice is problematic in terms of immigration control and the health of detainees.

She plans to submit to the Diet as early as possible recommendations for supervisory measures that will allow the release of foreign nationals applying for refugee status who would be expected to be in detention for more than six months, allowing them to engage with the community. The recommendations, which include punishments for foreigners who ignore deportation orders, have been included in a proposal for revising the immigration law.

Yayoi Kondo (right), the mayor of Adachi Ward in Tokyo, submits to Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa on Wednesday a request for measures to be taken against Aum-linked groups. | KYODO 
Yayoi Kondo (right), the mayor of Adachi Ward in Tokyo, submits to Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa on Wednesday a request for measures to be taken against Aum-linked groups. | KYODO 

Kamikawa also said she was planning to make sure all legal foreign residents in Japan have access to Japanese-language education.

Regarding border controls introduced in relation to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the minister added that she was planning to work closely with other government bodies towards further softening border measures while ensuring all required steps are taken to prevent any increase in infections.

Japan’s travel restrictions were implemented as a temporary measure in April, and until the end of September banned in principle most travelers to the nation from areas considered high risk.

A graduate of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with a masters degree in public administration, Kamikawa said she would also focus on policies aimed at strengthening support to those who are underprivileged, especially children and the victims of crime.

Previously she served as gender equality minister in the Cabinets of former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, and is one of only two women appointed to ministerial positions by Suga. Among her commitments are a vow to speed up digital reforms within the ministry and to work with other government institutions in order to make working environments more flexible for both men and women.

Among those who have held the post of justice chief since Japan lifted its 40-month moratorium on the death penalty in 1993, Kamikawa has ordered the most executions, at 16. Thirteen of those individuals were former members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

The moratorium was implemented in November 1989 in response to increasing international pressure to abolish capital punishment, but was lifted during the administration of former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

When asked whether the practice should continue, Kamikawa suggested she would uphold Japan’s adherence to capital punishment, saying the practice is unavoidable in cases of extremely heinous crimes.

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