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FOCUS September 2007 Volume 49

Japan's Initial Report to the Committee against Torture

Kayoung Lee*

* Mr. Lee Kayoung is a staff of the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute.

The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and HURIGHTS OSAKA jointly organized on 30 July 2007 a meeting on the initial report of Japan to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Ms. Aya Kuwayama of the Center for Prisoners' Rights made a report on the matter.

The Convention entered into force on 26 June 1987, but Japan ratified it only in 1999. It also submitted its initial report late, or only in 2005. Moreover, it remains reluctant to ratify the Optional Protocol.[1] While there have been very little discussion within the country about this Convention, it may help in implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights related to torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, etc.

Japanese Government Report

As required under the Convention, Japan as State Party submitted its initial report to the Committee Against Torture though five years late. Under the "constructive dialogue" scheme of the Committee, the presentation of the report was made on 9 May 2007 and lasted for a total of six hours. The Japanese Government representative gave an oral presentation, followed by questions from the Committee Members. On the following day, the Japanese Government representative responded to the Committee Members' questions, which were followed by further questions and answers from both sides respectively. The Committee had introduced a formal session for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for which they should find ways to fully utilize. Ms. Kuwayama participated in this session, and lobbied the Committee Members as a member of a coalition of Japanese NGOs called the CAT-Network, consisting of the Center for Prisoners' Rights Japan, Immigration Review Task Force, and the Tokyo Center for Mental Health and Human Rights.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a hearing on 20 April 2007 prior to the Committee session, but it was more of a briefing from the NGOs than an exchange of information. The results of the hearing were not reflected in the Government report, which was limited to a presentation of relevant provisions in the domestic laws. During the Committee session, there was a discussion on the complaint procedures in places of detention, but the Japanese Government representative's response did not go beyond what was written in the report.

The results of the NGO lobby could be seen in the Concluding Observations, such as in the reference to victims of trafficking and gender issues. Meanwhile, the issue of the refugee recognition process and that of treatment within immigration facilities were put together under the heading of prohibition of non-refoulement, which is probably problematic. As final recommendations, the Committee requested the Japanese Government to provide follow-up information within a year on issues of particular importance (non-refoulement, substitute prisons, confessions, trafficking in human beings).

Ms. Kuwayama stressed that the Concluding Observations of the Committee must be properly utilized. It can be used as material in legislative deliberations. Using the document to raise questions to the government during Diet sessions, as was done by M r. Nobuto Hosaka of the Social Democratic Party regarding the Concluding Observations and its views on the treaty monitoring process of the UN, is an example.

Lastly, she pointed out that the NGOs emphasize their criticisms on the responses of the Japanese Government to questions about its report. But in order to maximize the effect of the Concluding Observations, they need to be aware that they are also actors in implementing the Convention.

(Translated by Kimiko Okada)
For further information please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

Endnote

1. The Optional Protocol is meant to "establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 1.


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