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2012年9月24日 (月)

人権委設置法案 理解に苦しむ唐突な閣議決定

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 24, 2012)
Abrupt Cabinet decision on human rights body dubious
人権委設置法案 理解に苦しむ唐突な閣議決定(9月23日付・読売社説)

We find it difficult to fathom why the government so hastily made a Cabinet decision on a bill riddled with problems while the Diet is in recess.

The Cabinet gave the go-ahead Wednesday to a bill for setting up a human rights commission that will create a body dedicated to human rights protection.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the Cabinet decision was to "confirm the bill's content on the premise of submitting it to the next Diet session."

Providing relief to people who have suffered unfair discrimination and abuse is vital. However, the bill has generated deep-rooted fears that ordinary activities conducted under the freedom of speech and expression could become subject to investigations by law-enforcement authorities as "suspected infringements of human rights."

In its election pledges, the Democratic Party of Japan committed to establishing an entity to oversee human rights relief efforts. The abrupt Cabinet decision was probably made to defuse criticism that the party had broken this commitment--and with an eye on the next House of Representatives election.


Definition of violations vague

A bill for creating a body to prevent human rights violations was presented to the Diet during the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 as a human rights protection bill.

That bill was scrapped after coming under fire for provisions that would punish those who refused to be investigated under the planned legislation, as well as for measures empowering law-enforcement authorities to warn news organizations to suspend coverage of certain topics.

The latest bill gives no coercive powers to probes by the envisioned commission, and includes no provisions that would restrict media activities.

Yet, we still harbor doubts over the planned legislation.

The biggest problem is that the bill's definition of a human rights violation is ambiguous.

The Justice Ministry has come out with a view that human rights violations are "acts that can be deemed illegal in light of the Civil Code and the Penal Code and infringe on the human rights of certain people."

Whether certain deeds and verbal criticism of another person or people should be considered defamation, however, is a highly delicate issue. Court decisions have often been split on this issue.

If the planned commission has the scope to make an arbitrary, extended interpretation of the law's provisions, it could open the door to restrictions on the freedom of expression.

The government intends to designate the envisioned commission as an "Article 3 committee" under the National Government Organization Law. Article 3 committees are entitled to a high degree of independence, so there are concerns that the Diet would find it hard to keep possible excesses by the commission in check.


Boost existing system first

The government is considering making the commission an external organ under the Justice Ministry. This is because the government plans to have the ministry's regional bureaus and district legal affairs bureaus across the country act as local arms of the commission.

But can these organizations deal rigorously with human rights abuses of inmates in prisons, or at immigration offices and other facilities under the ministry's jurisdiction?

Laws are already in place to prevent the abuse of children and the elderly. In addition, the ministry's departments in charge of human rights protection investigate about 20,000 cases a year in response to claims filed by people who say their rights have been violated. In the bulk of these cases, assistance is provided in one form or another.

Rather than establishing the planned commission, the existing human rights protection system should be improved and more effective relief provided to people whose rights have been violated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 23, 2012)
(2012年9月23日01時13分  読売新聞)


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