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JAPAN 2021

Ethnic minorities and LGBTI people continued to experience stigma and discrimination. Legislation allowing for the indefinite detention of undocumented foreign nationals remained in place. Detainees were denied the right to adequate medical care.

Background

Japan hosted the delayed Olympic Summer Games 2020 against a background of rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and hostile public opinion. On 3 September Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation as prime minister amid public anger at the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Discrimination

Long-standing discrimination continued towards Japan’s ethnic Korean minority, especially those deemed to be aligned with North Korea. In July, the Supreme Court dismissed a claim for damages filed by a Pyongyang-related school and some of its graduates over the government’s decision to exclude such Pyongyang-related Korean schools from a programme to provide tuition subsidies for high schools. Four cases on the same issue had previously been rejected by other courts.

LGBTI people’s rights

In May, after intense negotiation between the ruling and opposition parties, a statement that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable” was added to the ruling Liberal Democratic Partys (LDP) proposed bill to promote public awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, during the LDP’s internal process of approving the cross-party bill, many discriminatory remarks were made by conservative LDP lawmakers about the proposed addition. Following a public outcry at the remarks, an executive member of the LDP announced that they would not submit the bill to Japan’s National Diet. It was still pending at the end of the year.1

The government took no steps towards the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. However, in March, the Sapporo District Court ruled in a lawsuit brought by three same-sex couples that the governments failure to recognize same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs were among 13 couples who had filed similar lawsuits on Valentines Day in 2019.2 A total of 141 local municipalities had introduced ordinances or guidelines that acknowledged same-sex unions by the end of the year.

Pressure increased from civil society to reform the Act on Gender Identity Disorder by removing requirements that contravene rights under international law for individuals seeking to change their legal gender. Under the Act, anyone wishing to change their legal gender was required to be unmarried, aged over 20, without minor children, and sterilized or otherwise unable to reproduce. They were also obliged to undergo surgery so that their genitalia more closely resembled that of their new legal gender and were required to undergo psychiatric assessment and receive a diagnosis.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Authorities continued to subject asylum seekers and irregular migrants to indefinite detention and ill-treatment including inadequate medical care in immigration detention facilities. In March, a 33-year-old Sri Lankan woman, Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, died while in immigration detention. An investigative report released by the government’s Immigration Services Agency in August admitted flaws in the medical care system.

Authorities continued to use the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to indefinitely detain undocumented foreign nationals, including irregular migrants and asylum seekers, until their deportation. In February, the government submitted an amendment bill to the Act. The bill maintained the presumption of detention, and proposed amendments did not provide for maximum periods of detention and continued to deny due process to individuals by failing to allow for judicial review of detention orders. Moreover, despite very low rates of acceptance of asylum applications – under 1% annually since 2012 – the bill included provisions that allowed the authorities to deport detained asylum seekers after a limited appeals procedure. The government withdrew the bill in May following domestic criticism and international pressure.

In September, the Tokyo High Court found that a decision to deport two Sri Lankan men the day after their asylum claims were rejected was unconstitutional. It ruled that the immigration authorities had essentially deprived the men of the right to appeal and ordered the state to pay ¥600,000 (approximately US$5,300) in compensation.

Death penalty

Three death row inmates – Yasutaka Fujishiro, Mitsunori Onogawa and Tomoaki Takanezawa – were hanged on 21 December, in the first executions since 2019. All three men had been found guilty of murder. Yasutaka Fujishiro suffered from a personality disorder. Mitsunori Onogawa and Tomoaki Takanezawa were waiting for the results of requests for retrial at the time of their execution.3

Iwao Hakamada, who spent 47 years on death row and endured long periods of solitary confinement having been found guilty of murder in 1968, remained out of prison on temporary release awaiting a retrial following a Supreme Court decision in 2020. His case and original trial highlighted ongoing concerns about the use of torture by the police to extract “confessions”.


  1. “Japan: Government must deliver an LGBTI bill that ensures zero tolerance of discrimination”, 1 June
  2. “Japan: Judicial ruling marks groundbreaking step towards equality”, 17 March
  3. “Japan: Abhorrent executions crush hopes of progress under new prime minister”, 21 December