Japan: Remaining use of the death penalty and treatment of prisoners considered as ill treatment by the Human Rights Committee

Published on 27 Oct 2022, 11:30 AM

Human Rights Committee considers the seventh periodic report of Japan

The Human Rights Committee reviews Japan’s seventh report

On 13 and 14 of October 2022, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the seventh periodic report of Japan during its 136th session. The State came with a large delegation and a great number of written submissions were received by the Committee from Japanese civil society organizations. It had been 8 years since Japan’s last review, with a 2 year postponement due to COVID-19. The opening statement was given by Mr. Imafuku, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He mentioned the Japanese developments on gender equality, the rights of minorities, criminal procedures and penal codes, the technical intertwining program, and refugee recognition procedures.

During the dialogue, the most salient issues included the remaining use of the death penalty in Japan, the treatment of prisoners in detention facilities, the lack of redress for 'comfort women', and for the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Cases of children abducted from their families by State institutions without court orders or sufficient evidence were also mentioned.

Death penalty

The remaining use of the death penalty and the executions of inmates with pending requests for retrials was brought up by the Committee. There are 19 charges sentenced with the capital punishment in Japan, and the Committee asked the delegation about the death row regime and the measure to ensure that treatment of prisoners did not amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The delegation replied that the death penalty was imposed only for a small number of particularly heinous crimes. They also mentioned that requesting a retrial was not a legal ground for suspending executions under their legislation, but that the Ministry of Justice preemptively reviews all convictions to determine if there are grounds for retrial or pardon to avoid wrongful executions. Lastly, Japan mentioned that death row inmates placed in solitary confinement were entitled to counseling and visits.

Treatment of detainees

The treatment of detainees was also an issue discussed at length during the dialogue. The Committee asked about detainees’ rights, such as the presence of defense counsel during interrogations or the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism for allegations of ill-treatment and torture. They also asked about actions taken to ensure that transgender prisoners were not mistreated in detention facilities and whether they received required special treatment, such as hormone therapy.

The delegation replied that the presence of defense counsel at interrogations was decided on a case-by-case basis, but there was a supervision system for interrogations to ensure appropriate treatment of detainees. Detainees could also lodge complaints about their treatment through a complaint system in place, and receive visits. Also, transgender inmates in detention centers had access to haircuts in keeping with their self-identified gender and were assisted by officers of their same gender when undergoing physical health checks. Moreover, all prisoners had access to adequate health-care services provided by professional medical officers.

Comfort women and Second World War human rights violations

Lastly, the Committee brought up the issue of 'comfort women' and human rights violations of the Japanese empire during the Second World War. The 2015 Japan–South Korea Agreement was questioned due to the lack of an official apology by the Japanese government, no consultation with victims and civil society organizations, and no perpetrators having been brought to justice.

The Japanese delegation replied that the agreement resolved the issue finally and irreversibly and provided financial support for the women and their families. They also mentioned that the issue took place prior to the entry into force of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights in Japan in 1979, and thus the Committee should not consider the issue retroactively.

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Japan’s seventh periodic report were released on 3 November 2022. The State party is requested to provide, by 2025, information on the implementation of the following  recommendations:

National human rights institution

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendations and calls upon the State party to establish an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles), as a matter of priority, and allocate adequate financial and human resources to the institution.

Treatment of aliens, including refugees and asylum seekers

Taking into consideration the previous recommendations, the State party should:

  • (a) Promptly adopt comprehensive asylum legislation, in line with international standards;
  • (b) Take all appropriate measures to guarantee that immigrants are not subject to ill-treatment, including through the development of an improvement plan, in line with international standards, on treatment in detention facilities, including access to adequate medical assistance;
  • (c) Provide the necessary support to immigrants under “provisional release” and consider establishing opportunities for them to engage in income-generating activities;
  • (d) Ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected in practice and that all persons applying for international protection are given access to an independent judicial appeal mechanism with suspensive effect against negative decisions;
  • (e) Provide alternatives to administrative detention and take steps to introduce a maximum period of immigration detention, and take measures to ensure that detention is resorted to for the shortest appropriate period and only if the existing alternatives to administrative detention have been duly considered, and that immigrants are able to effectively bring proceedings before a court that will decide on the lawfulness of their detention;
  • (f) Guarantee adequate training of migration of border guard officials and immigration personnel to ensure full respect of the rights of asylum seekers under the Covenant and other applicable international standards.

Rights of the child

The State party should:

  • (a) Ensure that its legislation and practices are in full compliance with article 24 of the Covenant and adopt protective measures aimed at removing all discrimination and stigma against all children;
  • (b) Amend the legislation to establish clear criteria for removal of a child from the family and introduce a mandatory judicial review for all cases to determine whether that is warranted, ensuring that children are separated from their parents as a measure of last resort only, when it is necessary for their protection and in their best interests, after hearing the child and the parents;
  • (c) Introduce the necessary measures to adequately respond to cases of “Parental Child Abductions” and ensure that decisions on custody of the child, whether domestic or international cases, take into account the best interests of the child and are fully implemented in practice.

Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Japan on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2025. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2028, and the next periodic report is due in 2029.

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