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UN Independent Investigator Raps Japan for Discrimination

11 July 2005

Doudou Diene
As Japan makes a push to join the U.N. Security Council, it is getting some unwelcome news. An independent investigator from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights says he will report that discrimination in Japan is "deep and profound."

After nine days traveling across Japan, visiting with officials, non-governmental organizations and minorities, the special rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Commission says he is troubled by what he heard.

Mr. Doudou Diene told reporters in Tokyo he found no strong political will to combat racism and discrimination. He also noted what he called a strong xenophobic drive among the Japanese public. "This xenophobic drive is expressed by associating minorities, certain minorities, to crime, to violence, to dirt," he said.

Mr. Diene said the worst discrimination appears to be the problems a Japanese social outcast group, known as "burakumin" face with finding housing and employment. He called their condition "shocking and terrible," and said their plight would be included in his preliminary report.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said the situation is improving, because government has been working with the business community to reduce discrimination in the workplace. "We believe that those efforts have been bearing fruit. There are [sic] less discrimination in society right now in Japan, compared with 10 years, or 20-years ago," he said.

With a surge of Chinese students and workers in Japan in recent years, discrimination against other Asians including long-time Korean residents, is very much in the public eye.

The special investigator said racism against Koreans and Chinese is deeply rooted in Japan because of history and culture.

Mr. Diene lamented that he was not able to meet any state ministers during his visit and that Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who has made controversial remarks about foreigners, was apparently too busy to meet him. But the independent U.N. official praised Japan's government for fully cooperating with his investigation, saying it had not hindered his visit in any way.

Mr. Diene said Japan needs to pass a national law condemning racism, discrimination and xenophobia. "As a special rapporteur, and based on international instruments, which are my basis of work, I will certainly strongly recommend such a national law," he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Takashima said Japan is trying very hard to reduce the problem. "Because of the trend of the decreased birth rate in this country and very rapid aging society, we, after all, need to have the helping hand from various ethnicities, foreign workers, foreign workers and so forth," he said.

Mr. Diene's visit marks the first time a U.N. special investigator on racism has come to Japan.

He has made similar visits to more than 10 countries, and is to submit his final report to the U.N. General Assembly in March, after receiving an official Japanese response to his preliminary report, which will be issued in several months.

Mr. Diene declined to say whether Tokyo's human-rights attitude should have an influence on Japanese suitability for a U.N. Security Council permanent seat. He said that issue was not part of his mandate.

Many countries that have been targeted for criticism by special rapporteurs have chosen to essentially ignore their reports. As Mr. Diene notes, the U.N. investigators have "no guns or armies" to force any country to make changes.

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