The government introduced measures to prevent harassment of LGBTI people at work, but no law was passed to protect them from overall discrimination. Domestic violence against women increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorities’ responses to the pandemic excluded certain ethnic minorities.
On 28 August, Shinzo Abe announced his resignation after serving as prime minister for almost eight consecutive years. The Tokyo Olympics and the UN Congress for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, both scheduled for 2020, were postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
In June, a law was revised with the goal of ensuring that companies take measures to stop employees from being harassed by staff in positions of relative power. The revision included provisions to protect LGBTI people from “outing” or other abuse based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Small and medium enterprises had until April 2022 to introduce relevant measures, while compliance from larger companies was expected immediately.
The national government took no steps towards the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, but an increasing number of local municipalities introduced ordinances or guidelines that acknowledged same-sex unions. There were 69 such municipalities, covering approximately one third of the population at year’s end. A bill introduced in 2018 by opposition political parties to outlaw discrimination against LGBTI people remained under examination at the national Diet (parliament) at year’s end.
Violence against women
The numbers of women reporting domestic violence, which had been on the rise for 16 consecutive years, increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.1 There were 13,000 reported cases in April, 29% higher than the same month in 2019.
Journalist Shiori Ito won a civil lawsuit in December 2019 against a high-profile male journalist, who had sexually assaulted her after inviting her to dinner to discuss a job opportunity in 2015. Although no criminal charges were brought against him, the verdict was considered a major step for the #MeToo movement in the country, where victims of sexual harassment or other such abuse rarely speak up. Despite winning the court case, Shiori Ito faced further attacks on social media, which led her to file defamation lawsuits in June against a woman cartoonist and two men.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers and their families faced discrimination in access to services. According to media reports, some health workers were subject to abuse during house calls, or were denied medical care, taxi or restaurant services. The family members of some health workers were suspended from work. Although the authorities warned that discrimination against health workers and their families was unacceptable, there were media reports that children of health workers were denied day care services and access to recreational facilities, or became targets of bullying.
Authorities responsible for distribution of COVID-19 assistance discriminated against ethnic Korean schools. In March, the city government of Saitama excluded an ethnic Korean kindergarten from an initiative to distribute face masks to workers providing care or education to pre-school children. Students at the Korea University in Tokyo were excluded from government payments designed to help students facing financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. The university is attended primarily by ethnic Koreans, some of whom were Japanese citizens.2
Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
In March, the authorities reported that 44 out of 10,375 asylum applications in 2019 were accepted as refugees. Existing laws allowed the authorities to indefinitely detain undocumented foreign nationals, including asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, until such time as their deportation took place. When considering the detention of two asylum-seekers in August, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that such detention was arbitrary and discriminatory.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, detainees in immigration facilities complained of overcrowding, poor ventilation and lack of adequate distancing measures to protect them from infection. To reduce the number of individuals in immigration detention facilities, the authorities provisionally released more than half of all detained foreign nationals scheduled for deportation starting in April, but did not give them permission to work nor the means of an adequate standard of living. Instead, civil society organizations provided assistance for their survival.
While no executions took place during the year, the government took no steps towards abolishing the death penalty. People with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities continued to be at risk of execution. In February, the Osaka District Court denied Kenji Matsumoto’s eighth request for a retrial. He was sentenced to death in 1993 after police allegedly coerced him into “confessing” to two robberies and murders. He was born with a severe intellectual disability, and developed a delusional disorder while in detention.
In December, the Supreme Court overturned a 2018 Tokyo High Court decision denying a retrial of the case against Iwao Hakamada, who had spent 46 years on death row.