Discrimination in Japan ‘deep,’ U.N. rep says after 9-day visit

Kyodo News Agency

Tuesday, July 12, 2005 at 08:20 JST
TOKYO — Discrimination in Japan is “deep and profound,” with government leaders lacking recognition of the depth of the problem and the public having a “strong xenophobic drive,” a U.N. special rapporteur said Monday in wrapping up a nine-day visit in Japan.
Doudou Diene of Senegal, appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, called for stronger political will at the highest level to combat the issue, for Japan to enact a national law condemning racism as is obligatory under international conventions, and to improve its public education about minorities in the country.
“It will be a long-term task to change people’s mentality and it must be done through education,” said Diene, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
During his stay since July 3, Diene met with officials of both national and local authorities to determine the extent Japan is complying with its international human rights obligations. He also visited communities of minorities such as the aboriginal Ainu, the “burakumin,” formerly social outcasts in feudal Japan, and people of Korean and Chinese descent.
From these meetings, Diene concluded there was a clear gap between the perceptions of the reality of discrimination between government officials and the minority communities.
Japan has liaisons nationwide that aim to eliminate discrimination against the “burakumin” and the Diet passed a law in 1997 to help preserve Ainu traditions and culture.
But citing cases in which the “burakumin” were listed by private groups and discriminated against in employment, Diene criticized the lack of government action to combat such practice and said, “I find this shocking and terrible.”
“Japan has no comprehensive national law against discrimination,” Diene said at a news conference. “I strongly recommend such a national law be drafted not only based on international instruments Japan takes part in, but that the minorities concerned have to be consulted.”
A spokesman of the Justice Ministry, which Diene visited last Wednesday, declined to comment on the special rapporteur’s remarks but said a human rights protection bill is under deliberation in parliament.
Describing the discrimination against the Ainu, “burakumin,” and Korean and Chinese residents as being “deeply rooted” in historical and cultural aspects, Diene urged the Japanese government to set up an organ at the national level to promote equality for minorities.
Having examined samples of Japanese junior high school textbooks provided to him by the education ministry, Diene said Japan must ensure that the roles and contributions of minorities to the country be taught accurately and appropriately so that Japanese people have the right perception.
Without specifically naming Japan, Diene also criticized the current global trend in which xenophobic sentiment stemming from measures to combat terrorism and illegal immigration has “slowly made its way into the platforms of democratic parties.”
Diene said he had requested a meeting with Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara, known for his nationalistic views and controversial remarks against foreigners, but was denied an appointment.
But the special rapporteur gave a positive appraisal of the Japanese government’s cooperation with his visit and said this indicated “in a positive way” that Japan is willing to accept recommendations to tackle the problem.
Diene said he shared his preliminary findings with the Japanese government Monday morning and will wait for Japan’s response before completing a final report to be submitted to the Commission on Human Rights next March.
He will also present a summary of his findings in an interim report to the U.N. General Assembly this autumn. It was the first time a U.N. special rapporteur on racism has visited Japan. (Kyodo News)


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