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FOCUS June 2007 Volume 48

Combating Discrimination on the Internet in Japan

Keihatsu Renkyo

In the early summer of 2001, two tragedies struck the Kansai region in western Japan. In June 2001, a man broke into a primary school, stabbed eight young children to death, and injured many more before getting subdued and arrested. In July 2001, people rushing to and from a fireworks display on the beach crushed ten young children and two elderly people to death on an overcrowded pedestrian overpass

Subsequently, vicious messages began to appear on an internet message board called "2 Channel" insinuating that the victims of the incidents were of Buraku origin and praising the perpetrators. These messages are examples of the rising number of discrimination messages on Japanese cyberspace

Discrimination on the internet

Discrimination on the Japanese internet is a serious challenge. A study on the extent of discriminatory postings on the internet in 2002 shows that 75.8% of the messages involved discrimination against people of Buraku origin. What is being aired in cyberspace is a reflection of the actual situation in society, and the figure indicates the extent of discrimination against people of Buraku origin that remains in the minds of the Japanese people

The study shows that postings included messages slandering particular groups of people (those of Buraku origin, Korean residents, people with disabilities and people recovering from Hansen's disease), statements inciting discrimination as well as listing of the locations of Buraku areas

Discriminatory postings, including on the Buraku issue in general, on the internet continue to proliferate in many prefectures in Japan, and recently seem to have become worse. Some use websites set up abroad, or anonymous websites to attack a particular individual or organization. There have been serious cases, in which even the families have come under attack. The worsening situation is confirmed by data from the Ministry of Justice, which indicate an annual increase in the number of human rights violations on the internet from seventeen cases in 1999 to one hundred ninety-nine cases in 2004

A recent trend seems to be postings on sites that can only be accessed by mobile phones. Numerous discriminatory messages on the electronic message boards on such sites are posted. It is very likely that those writing and reading such messages are junior and senior high school students. One site uses an internet provider in the United States

Combating discriminatory messages

The internet messages discriminatory to people of Buraku origin and the Korean residents that came out subsequent to the stabbing of school children and the deaths in a stampede, prompted some members of the Nara Prefectural Liaison Council for the Promotion of Awareness Raising on Human Rights and Dowa Affairs (Keihatsu Renkyo) to create a special unit to combat discrimination on the internet

Keihatsu Renkyo is composed of representatives of departmental sections within the local governments of the municipalities in Nara Prefecture, responsible for public awareness-raising on human rights and Dowa affairs. These awareness-raising programs aim at public opinion that supports an environment that does not allow human rights violations to happen. Keihatsu Renkyo was established in 1988 to make more effective the local governments' efforts at human rights awareness programs. The local governments are duty-bound to provide the social environment that enables the public to participate in learning about human rights and join in actions toward eliminating discrimination

Keihatsu Renkyo became the core organization combating discriminatory postings on the internet in Nara prefecture. It launched in 2002 the Project Conference on Discriminatory Messages on the Internet (Project Conference) to study the issue. Initially conceived as a project team within the Keihatsu Renkyo, the Project Conference includes a broader range of people - local government staff members, representatives of civil society organizations working on human rights education and anti-discrimination, as well as private companies. By the time the Project Conference was set up, there were eighty participants

Project Conference activities

The Project Conference spent its first year mostly increasing the understanding of this form of discrimination, through study meetings. In the second year, it began to study the scope of the problem. An "internet station" was set up within the municipal hall of Nara Prefecture, as the base from which to conduct the studies. It tries to persuade operators of internet sites found to have discriminatory messages to delete such abusive postings, and to raise the issue among relevant people

In one case, it discovered a series of postings on a site targeting a teacher and naming her as well as the school she worked in, and repeatedly emphasizing that she was of Buraku origin. The postings continued persistently for about two months. The team working on it decided that it was necessary to notify the relevant authorities, the Keihatsu Renkyo secretariat and parties, involved in view of the seriousness of the case. The Keihatsu Renkyo secretariat informed the human rights office of the Prefectural Government of Osaka, and also tried to contact the website operator to request deletion of the postings. The site was eventually found to have been set up by an unknown individual, who could not be contacted. The case was documented and the records kept for future use as teaching material

It is seriously monitoring mobile phone sites that host discriminatory messages, as the possibility that young people in Nara accessing it is very high

The Project Conference also organizes annual symposiums, supports educational initiatives (including the development of teaching materials). It started computer classes as part of the efforts to eliminate illiteracy and fill in the "digital divide." It has grown into an organization with fifty teams, and two hundred fifty members

In the 2004 symposium, it adopted the following actions to take on the fight against discriminatory messages:

  1. Raise public opinion against discriminatory postings on the internet message boards, and create a nation-wide sentiment and movement.
  2. Strongly demand the deletion of postings that violate human rights
  3. Initiate judicial proceedings against pernicious postings
  4. Call for more effective legislative measures
  5. Widen the circle of people who take a stand against discriminatory postings.

Although Keihatsu Renkyo made some progress in its activities, it still faces an uphill struggle in combating the remaining problems. In particular, human rights awareness-raising activities within the information society and remedial measures for the victims of human rights violations in cyberspace remain insufficiently effective. It bears in mind that at the start of its efforts over 70% of the discriminatory postings involved Buraku issues. It needs to confirm once again that the activities it undertakes are a part of efforts to eliminate Buraku discrimination

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA