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  5. The National Human Rights Education Program in Japan: Some Notes

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FOCUS December 2002 Volume 30

The National Human Rights Education Program in Japan: Some Notes

Kenzo Tomonaga

On 15 December 1995, in response to the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), the Japanese government established the Promotion Headquarters for the Decade (HQ). The HQ is chaired by the Prime Minister, vice-chaired by the Cabinet Chief Secretary and 4 other Cabinet ministers.[1] It also designated the vice-ministers of 22 [2] ministries and government agencies as senior staff. The HQ Secretariat is stationed at the Cabinet Councilors' Office on Internal Affairs.

On 4 July 1997, the HQ announced the adoption of a National Plan of Action on Human Rights Education (1997-2004). This plan was finalized after getting comments from the public, though not all comments were incorporated in the final version. The plan pays special attention to the promotion of human rights education not only in schools but also in private corporations and the civil society in general. It provides for the development of human rights programs for professional groups such as public servants, teachers, members of the police, personnel of the Self-Defense Forces, medical professionals, social care workers, and journalists. It highlights the rights of women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, Buraku people, Ainu people, foreigners, persons with HIV/AIDS, and former convicts. It also emphasizes the need to support the work of the UN in assisting the development of human rights education programs in developing countries.

In December 2000, the Japanese parliament enacted “The Law on the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Human Rights Awareness-raising.” This law defines human rights education as educational activities aimed at nurturing the “spirit of respecting human rights,” and human rights awareness-raising as public relations and other activities aimed at popularizing and deepening respect for and understanding of human rights. This law makes the national and local governments responsible for carrying out human rights education/awareness-raising activities. As required by this law, the “Basic Plan for the Law on the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Human Rights Awareness-Raising” was adopted in March 2002. This new plan is meant to supplement the 1997 plan.

While these developments are laudable, the Japanese government has to deal with the following issues:

  1. inadequate dissemination of information to the general public using the mass media (television, newspapers and magazines) about the Decade;
  2. lack of provision in the national plan about human rights education program for members of national and local assemblies, judges and lawyers, and members of the religious sector;
  3. lack of textbooks on human rights specifically for professional groups and non-integration of human rights education into their training courses;
  4. lack of national focal point for human rights education as suggested in the Decade guidelines. The seriously understaffed HQ Secretariat cannot fully implement a national plan;
  5. non-incorporation of human rights into the policies and programs of all the Ministries and Agencies;
  6. lack of explicit statement on inclusion of human rights education in the "Integrated Learning Program" subject under the new school curriculum (April 2002).

It is also necessary to keep the momentum started by the Decade to continuously increase at the international level. For this purpose, a second Decade is highly recommended. The existing national plan of Japan can be further improved in the context of the second Decade.

Kenzo Tomonaga is the Director of Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute (BLHRRI).

For further information, please contact: BLHRRI, 1-6-12 Kuboyoshi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka, 556-0028 Japan, ph (816) 6568-7337, fax (816) 6568-0714, e-mail: udhr@blhrri.org, URL http://blhrri.org


  1. Under the January 2001 Cabinet reorganization, the four Cabinet Ministers are from the Ministries of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology; Justice; Foreign Affairs; and the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications.
  2. The number of Ministries since January 2001 has been reduced to 15.

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