Japan: Government must deliver an LGBTI bill that ensures zero tolerance of discrimination

Ahead of the Japanese parliament’s discussion on a cross-party bill to promote public awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra said:

“This is a historic opportunity for Japan to send a message to the world that discrimination has no place in the country. The only way to achieve this is for discrimination to be explicitly prohibited in this bill. Anything less would fall short of the Japanese government’s international human rights obligations to provide full and equal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

“This bill must not be shelved. With the Olympic Games approaching, the government can make a timely decision to champion equality and inclusion for all. This not only chimes with the spirit of the Olympic Games but would also fulfil the long-awaited aspirations of LGBTI people, their families and allies, and all those who value equality and justice in the country.

“This bill should do more than merely raise awareness of LGBTI discrimination in Japan. It must genuinely and comprehensively set clear rules to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and establish an effective redress system for victims of discrimination.

“With this legislation, the Japanese government can take the first step towards devising policies that address the deep-rooted social stigma and discrimination facing LGBTI people in the country on daily basis.”

Background
Discussions on introducing anti-discrimination legislation in Japan have dragged on for years. In 2016, while opposition parties submitted a bill to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presented an outline of a bill aimed only at promoting a tolerant society.

Many Japanese LGBTI rights organizations, including Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), criticized the LDP’s bill for containing no mention of prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In May 2021, after intense negotiation between ruling and opposition parties, the statement “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable” was added to the bill drafted by the LDP.

However, during the LDP’s internal process of approving this cross-party bill, a number of conservative LDP lawmakers have expressed concerns over the added statement, saying it “could cause confusion by increasing trials on the grounds of discrimination”. During discussions at the LDP meeting, many discriminatory remarks were made, including one congressman’s comment that being LGBTI “goes against preservation of species”.

Amid a public outcry over the discriminatory remarks, an executive member of the LDP announced this week that they would not submit the cross-party bill to Japan’s National Diet, the country’s legislature.

Therefore, the submission of the bill is still open to debate. Amnesty International is urging the LDP to submit the bill swiftly and incorporate the prohibition of LGBTI discrimination into the legislature.

Japan is set to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games starting in July 2021. In January 2021, more than a hundred LGBTI rights organisations in Japan sent a letter to the Japanese Prime Minister urging the government to enact an anti-discrimination law in keeping with the Olympic Charter’s ban on “discrimination of any kind”, including on the grounds of sexual orientation as a “fundamental principle of Olympism”.

Japan has also ratified core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both treaties obligate the government to ensure protection against discrimination.

In March 2021, a local court in Japan made the first judicial ruling that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The decision is set to pave the way for marriage equality in Japan. So far, 102 municipalities and three prefectures have established civil partnership registration system for same-sex couples.