Japan, the EU and Human Security for All: Part II
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Part II of this series on Japanese and European efforts to guarantee human security for all focuses on their commitment to the promotion of civil and political rights. Both Japanese and EU governments pledged to guarantee these rights for all when they signed on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to this covenant civil and political rights include:
- Protection of the individual's physical integrity, as in provisions on torture, arbitrary arrest, and arbitrary deprivation of life;
- Procedural fairness when government deprives an individual of liberty, as in provisions on arrest, trial procedure and conditions of imprisonment;
- Equal protection norms defined in racial, religious, gender and other terms;
- Freedoms of belief, speech and association, such as provisions on political advocacy, the practice of religion, press freedom, and the right to hold an assembly and form associations; and
- The right to political participation.
In principle, Japan's constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights respect this definition of civil and political rights. However, their application, or lack there of, has been of some concern to many NGO's and international organizations. When the ICCPR committee, an organ established to study reports submitted by signatory states on the human rights situation in their country, reviewed Japan's report it gave a mixed appraisal.
On the positive side, the committee noted with satisfaction that a Council for the Promotion of Gender Equality aimed at investigating and developing policies for the achievement of a gender-equal society had been established at the Cabinet level. It also noted steps that Japan had taken in human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice to eliminate discrimination and prejudice directed towards students at Korean schools in Japan, children born out of wedlock and children of the Ainu minority.
Nevertheless, the evaluation was that these measures fell far short of fulfilling Japan's obligations as outlined in the ICCPR. The reasons for this according to the committee was that there was no independent authority to which complaints of ill-treatment by the police and immigration officials could be addressed for investigation and redress. It also mentioned that the steps taken to eliminate discrimination against children born out of wedlock, particularly with regard to issues of nationality, family registers and inheritance rights were insufficient. Concern over the state of discrimination against members of the Japanese-Korean minority, including the non-recognition of Korean schools was also raised. Much disappointment was voiced over the existence of discriminatory laws against women, such as the prohibition on women remarrying within six months following the annulment of a previous marriage, or the difference in age of marriage for men and women. The high incidence of violence against women, in particular domestic violence and rape was also denounced with the committee urging the Japanese government to take concrete action to eradicate this practice.
Certain European practices have also been an issue of concern. For instance Jan Fortin has pointed out that the European Convention of Human Rights fails to adequately cope with attempts to ensure that children are protected from "over-authoritative" parents within the privacy of the home (62 Modern Left Review, 259, 1999). The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has strongly condemned forms of discipline amounting to "inhuman or degrading treatment" in various EU countries, which is legally prohibited. Also of concern is the fact that the number of cases involving domestic violence has risen sharply over the past several years in countries such as Spain, where more than a dozen deaths have been reported in 2002 as a result of physical abuse directed by husbands against their wives. The EU has also often failed to invoke trade suspensions with states that commit grave violations of human rights, such as Israel, Algeria and Egypt, as is required by them under their respective trade agreements.
Many mistakenly interpret human rights conventions as an ideal that should be aimed for. However, the reason why they have been termed "fundamental" human rights is because they represent the "minimum" treatment that states are required to provide to all human beings.
In his speech of 26 April 2002, Romano Prodi declared in front of Japan's National Diet that democracy and human rights were fundamental values that the EU shared with Japan. However, the track records for both are discouraging and much more needs to be done. If Japan and the EU seek to be respected leaders in the international community they must at minimum respect and promote our fundamental human rights. It is hoped that both societies will spur each other's governments on to live up to their obligations with the ultimate objective of guaranteeing human security for all, as is required.
For further reference see:
Henry J. Steiner and Philip Alston, International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals (2nd edition), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.