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  5. HURIGHTS OSAKA in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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FOCUS June 2020 Volume 100

HURIGHTS OSAKA in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Osamu Shiraishi

Since the beginning of 2020, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) started to spread in many parts of the world at an incredible speed and the number of infected persons exponentially increased. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized COVID-19 as a pandemic. The entire world has been seriously affected by the pandemic. No country and society have been spared.
Responses to the pandemic and measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have been drastic in many countries, including lockdowns and quarantines. In Japan, the government declared on 16 April 2020 a state of emergency for the entire country that restricted people’s movement and business activities.

Under the emergency measures, people have experienced various difficulties, not only being exposed to the risk of virus infection but also loss of jobs and income, suspension or restriction of civil, political, economic, social and cultural activities. Damages are widely inflicted on people in general, but particularly and seriously on the vulnerable and socially marginalized people.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that “human dignity and rights need to be front and centre” in the governments’ effort to mitigate the negative impact on people and their lives provoked by the anti-pandemic measures. Other United Nations agencies issued similar statements and guidelines to deal with the pandemic. International, national and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also take this crisis caused by the pandemic as a serious human rights concern and have appealed to the governments to protect and respect human rights especially at this time of pandemic.

In this situation of the pandemic, civil society organizations including NGOs have important roles to play. Acutely aware of this, the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) has taken up its role as a human rights information center. It has been accumulating and posting as much information as possible on human rights and the new coronavirus pandemic on its Japanese-language website. It aims to focus on the human rights perspective of the information collected and disseminated and to draw attention of the national government, local authorities, those working in the frontlines and the general public in Japan to the difficulties experienced by the affected people and also to their appeals directed to the authorities.
HURIGHTS OSAKA seriously takes up this role as a human rights information center.

HURIGHTS OSAKA - Inception and Transformation

HURIGHTS OSAKA was not what it is now. It has come through a few substantial changes since its establishment.
HURIGHTS OSAKA was established in 1994 by the initiative of a group of civil society organizations in Osaka, joined by an association of labor unions, a business association, and the association of mayors of cities and townships of Osaka Prefecture. The governments of the Prefecture and the City of Osaka supported its establishment as a public foundation with substantive financial, administrative and logistical contribution. At the time of its establishment, HURIGHTS OSAKA was conceived as a human rights information center aiming at actively developing international cooperation with human rights organizations in the Asia Pacific region as well as cultivating awareness of human rights among the local general public in Japan, with a certain degree of official involvement of the Osaka Prefecture and the City of Osaka. In a way, HURIGHTS OSAKA acted as a close partner of the Osaka prefectural and city governments in implementing human rights-related policies and projects.

The original aims of HURIGHTS OSAKA were set as wide and far reaching as follows: 1. to promote human rights in the Asia Pacific region; 2. to contribute to the advancement of international human rights protection and promotion with Asia Pacific specific inputs; 3. to ensure inclusion of human rights perspectives in the Japanese official international cooperation and contribution in the Asia Pacific region; and 4. to build awareness among the general public of the international standards of human rights. 

The situation surrounding HURIGHTS OSAKA changed drastically with the election of a new Governor of Osaka Prefecture in February 2008. The Governor considered support to a large number of organizations incorporated and registered in the Prefecture for social, cultural and human rights purposes and activities as a “waste of public funds” and vowed to discontinue it. HURIGHTS OSAKA was one of these organizations. Stating that no justifiable reason was found to continue substantial support to HURIGHTS OSAKA, the Prefecture decided to discontinue completely its financial, administrative and logistic support to HURIGHTS OSAKA from the fiscal year of 2009. Without hesitation, Osaka City also withdrew support to HURIGHTS OSAKA. The sudden loss of substantial support from both local governments left HURIGHTS OSAKA with no choice but to reconsider its role and to work out its operational strategy. Downsizing the organizational setup and budget, it had to prioritize projects and operations. It reached a conclusion that HURIGHTS OSAKA should focus more on the needs of people, become more actively responsive to the local human rights situations and issues and reorganize its information management using the information and communication technology. Consequently, it had to reduce its international engagements such as organizing international human rights conferences and seminars as well as participating in human rights events outside Japan. It came to concentrate more on information management and awareness building on human rights issues and activities. Relying on its own funds, HURIGHTS OSAKA was reborn as a civil society organization, no more dependent on the support from the Osaka Prefecture and the City of Osaka. It was a new start as an independent “human rights information center.”

In 2011, HURIGHTS OSAKA experienced another organizational reform following the revision of the law governing public interest corporations. As an organization incorporated and registered in Osaka Prefecture, HURIGHTS OSAKA put more emphasis on staying close to local human rights issues and contributing to the local needs. This included responding to the needs of the business sector in Osaka in building human rights awareness and incorporating respect for human rights in the business practice.

HURIGHTS OSAKA's Role and the COVID-19 Pandemic

HURIGHTS OSAKA is expected to remain attentive to the needs of people.

In the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vulnerable and socially neglected people have been suffering most. This is certainly the case in Japan. These people are, just to name a few: people with underlying health conditions; people in poverty, including single mothers and children; children without adequate schooling; the aged; people with disabilities; homeless people; those with unstable employment and the jobless; migrants and their families; irregular immigrants and applicants for refugee status who are confined indefinitely in the detention centers; women facing widespread gender discrimination; those exposed to domestic violence. Their precarious conditions require the serious attention of the national government, the local authorities and the society in general.

HURIGHTS OSAKA definitely is in a position to accumulate information in cooperation with those organizations wishing to share their first-hand information on people who face extraordinary difficulty and disseminate it widely so that the society is informed of their plight and what needs to be done with an emphasis on the primary consideration of their human dignity and rights.

Furthermore, together with other civil society organizations, HURIGHTS OSAKA is able to send out human rights alert messages that emergency measures taken by the government and local authorities may infringe the human rights of people through unchecked utilization of surveillance methods and overwhelming control of people’s behavior and their personal data. The guarantee of access to information, transparency and accountability in the imposition of emergency measures to deal with the pandemic must be emphasized in such messages addressed to the government.

HURIGHTS OSAKA is expected to actively assume the role of a human rights information center, even if it sometimes has to disseminate information and messages inconvenient to the government and the local authorities. After all, HURIGHTS OSAKA has committed itself to protecting and promoting human dignity and human rights of all.  

Osamu Shiraishi is the President of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA).
For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.