The Justice Ministry in mid-December made public an outline of a bill to set up a human rights protection committee. In 2002, the Liberal Democratic Party government submitted an earlier version to the Diet, but it was eventually quashed mainly because it contained a clause to control mass media concerning the human rights of people who become subject to their coverage. Informed discussions should be held on the new version to determine whether the proposed committee would be effective in safeguarding human rights while upholding democratic principles and avoiding excessive use of coercive power. The government is likely to submit the bill during the regular Diet session that begins Tuesday.

The United Nations committee on the operations of the International Covenant on Human Rights in 1998 called on Japan to establish an organization to protect people against discrimination, abuse and other human rights violations. Under the Justice Ministry’s outline, a human rights protection committee will be established as an external organ of the ministry, with the status of a state committee independent of the government. The appointment of its head and members must be approved by the Diet.

Even though it will be an independent committee, its status as an external organ of the Justice Ministry can cause problems. Utmost care must be taken to insulate the planned committee against influences exercised by public prosecutors, who are under the jurisdiction of the ministry, and high-ranking ministry officials.

A Democratic Party of Japan team decided to make the committee an external organ of the Justice Ministry because it will be able to use organizational resources of the ministry’s Human Rights Bureau and civil rights commissioners, who are under the jurisdiction of the ministry. Investigation into human rights violations will be carried out on a voluntary basis. If people who become the subject of investigation decline to cooperate, they will not be punished.

If the committee decides that human rights have been violated, though, it can carry out mediation or file an accusation against those who have infringed on human rights. It can make public the names of public servants or government organizations that fail to stop rights violations. Discussions must be held on whether it is appropriate not to force public servants to cooperate with the committee’s investigation.

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