Date: Tue, 27 Oct 98 08:43:49 CST
From: Amnesty International <>
Subject: Japan: Japan's human rights record must be challenged
Article: 46274
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Japan's human rights record must be challenged

Press release by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, News Service 207/98, AI INDEX: ASA 22/13/98, 26 October 1998

The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) should challenge the Japanese Government over its failure to protect the rights of detainees, prisoners, and asylum seekers, said Amnesty International as Japan prepares to defend its human rights record before the international monitoring body.

After Japan's last report to the HRC in 1993, the Committee highlighted several areas where the Japanese Government had failed to fulfil its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These included concerns about the application of the death penalty and the treatment of detainees. However, the Japanese authorities appear to have made little effort to address these concerns and implement the HRC's recommendations, Amnesty International said.

The death penalty is still applicable to 17 crimes and prisoners sentenced to death are still kept in solitary confinement for years on end with very little contact with the outside world. After their sentences have been finalized, they never know which day will be their last and their family and lawyer are still not informed in advance of the execution.

These practices amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and must be stopped. Japan should declare a moratorium on all executions pending abolition of the death penalty, the human rights organization added.

Other prisoners and detainees also continue to face harsh conditions of detention. Those held in detention centres and prisons are expected to obey an array of secret rules and regulations on pain of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. For example, prisoners are often prevented from making eye-contact with each other or talking to each other. Often, they may not even wipe sweat from their brow without asking permission.

Prisoners have been subjected to severe sanctions for minor infractions of the rules. Forms of punishment include being forced to sit in a fixed position in their cells for hours on end for up to two months. They are allowed no exercise, baths or mental stimulation.

Other prisoners have been confined to so-called protection cells and restrained in leather body belts and leather and metal handcuffs. They have been forced to eat like animals and wear trousers with an open crotch so they can go to the toilet without using their hands.

The government is treating prisoners like animals, and the HRC must react accordingly, Amnesty International said.

Despite the HRC's concerns about Japan's substitute prisons (whereby suspects may be kept in police custody for up to 23 days without charge) in 1993, this system remains in place and continues to facilitate human rights violations against suspects in police custody. For example, Govinda Prasad Mainali, a Nepali national, claims to have been beaten, interrogated for long periods and denied access to his lawyer following his arrest in March 1997.

Lawyers are prevented from attending interrogation sessions by the police and state-funded lawyers are still only appointed upon indictment.

Foreign nationals have also been subjected to harsh discipline and ill-treatment in immigration detention centres. In July 1997, Mousavi Abarbekouh Mir Hossein died in suspicious circumstances while being held in an immigration detention centre in Tokyo. His body was bruised and battered and his neck was dislocated. Although police referred immigration detention officers to the public prosecutor, the latter reportedly dropped the case. Amnesty International continues to call for a full, independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Asylum seekers who enter the country without documentation are generally detained in violation of international standards. They may be held in detention for many months while the government processes their asylum applications. Earlier this year, Li Xuemei, a pregnant Chinese woman was subjected to five months' detention and tried as a criminal even though she had applied for asylum.

Those who apply for asylum more than 60 days after arriving in the country appear to be automatically rejected. In the four years between 1994 and 1997, there were 516 new applications for asylum and yet only one person was recognized as a refugee in each of these years. Asylum seekers are not given sufficiently detailed reasons for their rejection, and this makes it almost impossible for them to lodge an effective appeal against the decision. There continues to be no independent or judicial intervention in the decision-making process.


The UN Human Rights Committee is a body of 18 experts elected by the States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to monitor the way these states implement their obligations under the Covenant. The experts act in their personal capacity and do not represent any government. The Human Rights Committee meets three times a year to review written reports from states. It is currently meeting to consider reports from Austria, Armenia, Belgium, Iceland, Japan and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.