Despite harsh criticism from civil society and academics expressing fears that human rights would be weakened, parliament passed a controversial law targeting conspiracies to commit “terrorism” and other serious crimes. Authorities in Osaka city approved a same-sex couple as foster parents, and two municipalities moved towards recognizing same-sex partnerships. Detention of a prominent peace activist raised fair trial concerns. A District Court supported tuition waivers for a Korean school that was excluded due to their alleged ties to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Executions continued to be carried out.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
While pervasive discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity continued, some progress was made in local municipalities.1 Under the foster care scheme providing support to children without guardians or children who are neglected or abused, authorities in the city of Osaka approved a gay couple as foster parents. The couple had been looking after a teenage boy since February. This was the first case of a same-sex couple becoming foster parents and being considered as a single household by the city. Sapporo City and Minato Ward advanced towards recognizing same-sex partnerships, following the practices of five other municipalities in 2015 and 2016.
Freedom of expression
In June, the Diet (parliament) adopted an overly broad law targeting alleged conspiracies to commit “terrorism” and other serious crimes. The law gave authorities broad surveillance powers that could be misused to curtail the rights to freedom of expression, association and privacy, without sufficient safeguards.
The law also presented a threat to the legitimate work of independent NGOs, as the definition of “organized crime group” was vague and overly broad and not clearly limited to activities that would constitute organized crime or pose a genuine threat to national security. Protests were held in multiple locations against the law’s potentially adverse effect on civil society.
Freedom of assembly
Prominent peace activist Hiroji Yamashiro was arrested and detained for five months from late 2016 until March 2017, under restrictive conditions and without access to his family, for his role in protests against new US military construction projects on Okinawa.2 The protracted detention of one of the most vocal opponents of the US military construction on Okinawa, without respecting the presumption of release pending trial, had a chilling effect on others exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Some activists hesitated to join protests for fear of reprisals.
Discrimination – ethnic minorities
In July the Osaka District Court ruled as illegal the government’s exclusion of Osaka Korean High School from its high school education tuition waiver programme. The Court found that this hindered the right to education of children of Korean origin. This was the first ruling in a number of similar lawsuits on the eligibility of such schools for the programme. Although public high schools had been exempt from tuition fees under the programme since 2010, the government excluded Korean schools due to concerns that the subsidies may be misused because of the schools’ historical ties to North Korea.
Workers’ rights – migrant workers
In November, the government began to accept the first of 10,000 Vietnamese nationals to be admitted over three years under the Technical Intern Training Program to meet Japan’s labour shortage. The scheme had been harshly criticized by human rights advocates for causing a wide range of human rights abuses. Critics feared that expanding the scheme without addressing its problems would result in increased incidents of sexual abuse, work-related deaths and working conditions amounting to forced labour.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
While the number of asylum applications continued to increase dramatically, the government reported in February that it had approved 28 out of 10,901 claims in 2016, which was a 44% increase in claims from the previous year.
Violence against women and girls
President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) made a statement in December that the 2015 agreement between Japan and South Korea on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery System failed to solve the issue, following the findings of the task force appointed in July to review the deal. The agreement had been criticized by civil society organizations as well as historians for its failure to provide a fully victim-centred approach and to provide an official, unequivocal recognition of responsibility by Japan for serious human rights violations committed by its military against women and girls before and during World War II.