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Tuesday, June 3, 2003
THE ZEIT GIST
Proposing rights for foreigners
Model law to stamp out discrimination a positive step
I think most of us face it after a while -- slammed doors due to how foreign we look.
The realtor who won't show you certain apartments because the owners want Japanese renters only. The cop who stops you for a spot ID check for riding a bicycle.
The fearful looks on bank customers thanks to police notices warning the public of "bad foreigners" lurking around ATMs. A Tokyo Governor who asserts that Chinese are criminals due to their "ethnic DNA," and calls upon the Self-Defense Forces to round up "illegal foreigners" on sight after the next big earthquake.
How can these people get away with it? Because it is not illegal. Japan is the only OECD country without an antiracial-discrimination law. Ironic, since Japan ratified the U.N. International Convention on Eliminating Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1995, promising "without delay" to enact one.
Meanwhile, businesses have put up "Japanese Only" signs, spreading overt exclusionism nationwide.
The Japanese government's response? "We do not recognize that the present situation of Japan is one in which discriminative acts cannot be restrained by the existing legal system. . .a law prohibiting racial discrimination is not considered necessary."
Say what? Even after all the international promises and clear evidence of social damage, it can arrive at this conclusion?
Result: Got a problem? Take it to court at substantial cost for several years, and hope that a conservative judiciary sees it your way.
Just to get rights which are constitutionally guaranteed? Screws are loose. Even the U.N. agrees (see box below).
This is why a May 19 announcement is so important.
The Japan Civil Liberties Union (JCLU), a group of lawyers and legal scholars of civil and human rights, had its Subcommittee for the Rights of Foreigners release a proposal for a law against racial discrimination.
It can be seen at www. jclu. org , but a brief assessment:
First the good news. The proposal defines "Race" as "race, color of skin, ethnicity, nationality or national origin," going further than the U.N. CERD by making no applicable distinction between citizens and non-citizens.
It also flatly says, "no person (not 'citizen,' avoiding the loopholes in the Japanese Constitution) shall suffer Racial Discrimination."
It then describes specific instances of discrimination: "Direct" (treating any person at a disadvantage to others in the same circumstances, based on race), "Indirect" (application of neutral rules to disadvantage people of race), and "Harassment" (acts based on race creating "intimidation, insult, derision, or an unpleasant environment").
It also earmarks specific sectors for protection: Treatment in the labor force both as employee and potential employee, public and private sector; Medical treatment and social security, including national health insurance, protection of livelihood (for those who have lived in Japan more than one year), and welfare services.
Education is included, including public-sector support for bilingual and ethnic education, and school instruction on eliminating racial discrimination.
Housing is there (finally, protection against stoneheaded landlords!), and access to public goods and public groups.
Finally, it prohibits public officials (meaning all government employees) from causing, engaging in, or inciting racial discrimination. It also makes them responsible for creating policies at all levels promoting the elimination of racial discrimination.
Breathtaking stuff. But now for the fine print:
It allows caveats in interpretation. For example, "instances in which said rules or standards are objectively justifiable for a reasonable purpose" are excluded as examples of "Indirect Discrimination."
Read that again. I can see public officials, unable to decide whether a certain rule is "reasonably justified," sitting on their hands.
They already do so with the Freedom of Information Act, refusing to release information jeopardizing the "privacy of individuals" (even when that individual wants information about himself).
The worst thing about this proposal is that there is no mechanism for enforcement. No punishments, such as public apologies, fines, imprisonment, or even temporary suspension of business licenses for lawbreakers, are listed.
Why? The argument runs that specific sanctions will be eliminated anyway by chary legislators. Or that too much at once will kill an embryonic bill. So get something passed now and improve it later.
Unfortunately, history shows this doesn't happen.
For example, the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, effected in 1986 with no punishments to date, has been utterly ineffective in curbing Japan's gender-based salary differentials (still the highest in the OECD).
On the other hand, the antistalker law, promulgated in 2000 with fines and imprisonment, has been powerful in deterrence and enforcement.
If legislated as is, this proposal will be more a statement of principles, not an effective law. Still, the JCLU's Subcommittee on Foreigner Rights should be cheered for taking this important step.
The JCLU needs feedback, so read the whole thing at www. jclu. org , and e-mail them (Japanese and English) at firstname.lastname@example.org