On 6 June 2008, both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Diet of Japan unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes the Ainu as indigenous people of Japan. The resolution drafted by the "Diet Members' Group for Considering the Rights of Ainu People" states that the government must solemnly accept the historical fact that many Ainu were discriminated against and forced into poverty, despite being legally equal to Japanese people. It also calls for the government to recognize that the Ainu are indigenous people who have their own language, religion and culture. Moreover, the resolution calls for comprehensive measures, incorporating the opinions of specialists, to recover the Ainu People's rights in the light of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
According to the report prepared in 1996 by the Chief Cabinet Secretary's private panel called "Advisory Committee of the Learned on the New Japanese Policy concerning the Ainu People", the Japanese government recognized as a historical fact that the Ainu people indigenously inhabited northern Japan, but did not take radical steps to eliminate disparities between them and other Japanese people, prevent discrimination against them, or act to recover their human rights. Instead, the government simply established the Ainu Cultural Promotion Law to enhance Ainu traditions and culture. Sapporo District Court, however, considered the Ainu as indigenous people in the 1997 Nibutani Dam incident.
Nevertheless, the Japanese government denied recognition of the Ainu as indigenous people in the report stage of the UN Treaty Bodies including the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In the report stage of Japan at the Committee in 2001, the government avoided making a clear statement, claiming there was no internationally concrete definition of indigenous people. On the other hand, the Committee and other Treaty Bodies recommended that "Japan take steps to further promote the rights of the Ainu as indigenous people". In the universal periodic review of the UN Human Right Council in May, several countries recommended that Japan should make substantial policies to implement the "UN Declaration".
The resolutions of both Houses mentioned the adoption of the "UN Declaration" in their introduction: "The UN human rights watchdog body calls for the Japanese government to take concrete measures based on the purpose of the declaration".
"The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" was adopted by the first session of the Human Right Council in June 2006, after more than 20 years of draft work, and passed a resolution at the UN General Assembly in September 2007. The declaration consists of 46 articles, stating: i) that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development; ii) they have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture; iii) that states shall provide effective mechanism to prevent the dispossession of indigenous people's lands and territories; iv) that they have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned; v) they have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution, just, fair and equitable compensation for the lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or used, and which have been confiscated, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent, among other things. Japan joined the adoption at the UN Human Rights Council with supplementary comments on their collective rights and regulations concerning property.
The Japanese government had recognized as a historical fact that the Ainu people indigenously inhabited in Hokkaido and other areas, but it had not clarified whether Ainu people were indigenous or not. After passing the resolution, the Chief Cabinet Secretary announced on 6 June that the government recognized the Ainu as indigenous people living in northern Hokkaido who have their own language, religion and culture, and promised policy measures to further eliminate discrimination while referring to the "UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples". Setting up an expert panel to discuss specific measures is also under consideration. (12 June 2008)
·Resolution that Recognizes the Ainu as Indigenous People (House of Representatives) [Japanese]
·Resolution that Recognizes the Ainu as Indigenous People (House of Councilors) [Japanese]
·Concluding Observations, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2001) (OHCHR)
·Report of the WG on the Universal Periodic Review on Japan A/HRC/8/44 (UNHCR) [English]
·United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues)
· Written Reply No. 24 received on 25 September 2007 (written reply / House of Representatives) [Japanese]
·Announcement concerning "Resolution to recognize the Ainu as Indigenous People" by Chief Cabinet Secretary (Prime Minister's Office)
·"Diet officially declares Ainu indigenous" June 7, 2008, Japan Times