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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Panel begins process to rectify Ainu woes

Staff writer

The government panel on Ainu policies held its first meeting Monday, aiming to look into the lives and discrimination the indigenous group faces and come up with remedial action.

The group, headed by Koji Sato, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Kyoto University, will meet about once a month and submit proposals to the chief Cabinet secretary by next summer.

"There needs to be broad public understanding and cooperation," Sato said. "The most important starting point is to have the public accurately understand the history and grasp the situation of the Ainu."

The panel's creation followed the Diet passage in June of a resolution to officially recognize for the first time the Ainu as an indigenous people.

Tadashi Kato, who chairs the Ainu Association of Hokkaido and has been active in pursuing their rights, was elected one of the panel members.

After the meeting, he told reporters of the ongoing discrimination against the ethnic minority.

Kato recalled a junior high student who wrote in an essay that "the Ainu should go away from this town" and a little Ainu boy who cried at home because he was teased at school for having more body hair than others.

"I want people to know that (discrimination) is still going on," Kato said. It "makes me despondent and brings tears to my eyes."

Up until the June resolution, the government had refused to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people.

"The government seriously accepts the historical fact once again that despite being legally equal as Japanese people, there were many Ainu who were discriminated against and forced to live in poverty in the course of the nation's modernization," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said at the beginning of Monday's meeting.

Japan voted in favor of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last September.

"I would like the members of this panel to come up with proposals that lead to establishment of a comprehensive policy that is necessary for the Ainu to hold on to their honor and dignity for generations to come," he said.

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The Japan Times

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