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lundi 26 novembre 2012

Human Rights in Japan

Japan in general protects its citizens’ human rights. The Japanese people have the right and the ability to change their government. The Diet is chosen with universal suffrage, and elections are scheduled at frequent intervals. Some critics of Japanese politics have pointed out that the same political party— the Liberal Democratic Party—has ruled the country since 1947, suggesting that Japan’s democracy is not as mature as it should be. These criticisms are valid, but they ignore the fact that the Liberal Democrats are divided into different wings and factions and that shifts in electoral results have altered the relative power of these factions and led to changes in the leaders of government. In recent years, other political parties have gained in strength, and the Liberal Democrats have been obliged to participate in coalition governments for the first time.
The Japanese judiciary is independent and largely free of corruption. Japanese trials are fair and open, and the military and police forces are firmly under civilian control. Despite Japan’s high human rights standards, there remain some problem areas. The police have been guilty of occasional abuse against prisoners and detainees. Police sometimes use physical violence or intimidation to obtain confessions from prisoners. Approximately 90 percent of all criminal cases include a confession on the part of the accused. There remains a strong suspicion that some of these confessions are coerced. There have also been some reports of police harassment of foreign immigrants and residents.
Japan’s prisons meet international standards but can be very rough. Insufficient heating in some prisons has led to cases of frostbite among prisoners. Some inmates complain that not enough food is provided. Japan’s prisons are run according to a very rigid set of rules and regulations, which some human rights observers believe contribute to the degradation of prisoners. Prison wardens use solitary confinement liberally, and some inmates have been kept in solitary confinement for many years. Japan allows its citizens freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble. Japanese workers have the right to form unions. Japanese have the right to move freely about, both inside and outside the country. Academic freedom is also protected. Some academics complain that although they are allowed to speak freely, a national reluctance to acknowledge past human rights failures has led to a kind of self-censorship in Japanese textbook publishing. Japanese history textbooks usually touch only lightly on the crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Partly because of this self-censorship in Japanese publishing, some critics believe that Japan has not sufficiently acknowledged the human rights abuses committed by its armed forces during World War II. Japanese troops behaved with great brutality toward Koreans, Chinese, and Filipinos, among others. China and South Korea, in particular, have asked the Japanese government to apologize for Japan’s wartime atrocities. While Japanese leaders have made some statements that admit to wrongdoing, their words of apology have been muted and have not satisfied those who suffered under Japanese rule.  Japan’s reluctance to apologize stems partly from internal political considerations. A significant part of the Japanese population feels that it would be dishonorable to apologize for Japan’s actions; these people also tend to downplay the severity of Japan’s wartime criminality, and most Japanese students grow up very ignorant of these parts of their country’s past.
Theoretically, Japan protects the right to worship freely. While in general this right is protected in practice, there have been some exceptions. The Japanese cult known as Aum Shinrikyo, some of whose members were responsible for a series of poison gas attacks in Japanese subways, has suffered from government surveillance and restriction. Members of the Unification Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses have also complained of government harassment and intolerance. Women suffer some limits on their human rights. Domestic abuse is suspected to be widespread, but social pressure prevents many women from reporting instances of abuse. Sexual harassment remains a common problem in the Japanese business world. Compared to European or American corporations, Japanese women are more likely to suffer sexual harassment or demands for sexual favors by supervisors.
Women are still not regarded as business equals and do not have the same opportunities to advance up the corporate ladder. An ongoing complaint by many women is that sexual groping or molestation occurs in Japan’s crowded commuter trains. Japan strongly protects the rights of children.
The disabled suffer some discrimination in Japanese society, but the government has been making efforts to reduce this problem. Discrimination against minorities remains a human rights problem in Japan. The Ainu are descendents of Japan’s first inhabitants, and are an ethnic minority, who live in northern Japan. They have long suffered from discrimination at the hands of the Japanese majority. The 1997 passage of The Law to Promote Ainu Culture eliminated the legal discrimination that had existed against the Ainu, but social discrimination remains a problem.
Also suffering from discrimination are the Burakumin, a caste of outcasts who traditionally performed “unclean” tasks in Japan’s past. Although discrimination against Burakumin is not supported by law, long time prejudices by the population keep the Burakumin from enjoying full human rights in Japan. Many Burakumin hide their background in an attempt to avoid this discrimination. Discrimination, legal and societal, against foreigners also continues. Culturally, with their homogenous society, some Japanese tend to be suspicious of foreigners. Foreign workers, the largest percentage of whom are ethnically Korean, face employment and societal discrimination. The government places difficult hurdles in the way of ethnic Koreans, even long time residents, who wish to become Japanese citizens.
Japan cooperates with international and local human rights organizations and is very open to accepting human rights observers. Japan is also very active in promoting human rights around the world, and often is one of the main financial backers of international human rights missions.

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