Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Japan

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1992
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Japan, 1 January 1992, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca5122.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1991

Human Rights Developments

Asia Watch in 1991 directed its attention in Japan to the treatment of Chinese dissidents and the use of Japanese economic and diplomatic leverage to promote human rights in Asia. Our primary concern continued to be Chinese dissidents who were in Japan at the time of the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing or who later fled to Japan.87 Although the Japanese government promised at a 1989 summit of industrial nations in Paris that it would offer refuge to dissidents who feared persecution if returned to China, it has not granted political asylum to a single Chinese dissident. Instead of offering blanket coverage to those wishing to review their visas, the government adopted a case-by-case approach and left it to immigration officials to make the decisions. With one prominent exception, the government did display more flexibility in dealing with Chinese visa applicants whose cases became the subject of international publicity and domestic pressure.

The exception was the case of Lin Guizhen, a democracy activist from Fujian Province who entered Japan in September 1989 and was forcibly repatriated to Shanghai on August 14, 1991. The deportation came on the last day of a high-profile visit to Beijing by then-Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. Lin was sent back despite two lawsuits pending in the Japanese courts related to her claim for refugee status. Sixty-one other Chinese deemed to be "economic refugees" were deported simultaneously.

Lin claimed that she had participated in pro-democracy demonstrations in Fukishu city in June 1989 and then fled from China in a boat with 230 other Chinese. Upon arrival in Japan, she applied for political asylum. Her application was rejected in June 1990 as was a subsequent appeal, despite her lawyers' argument that she was in danger of persecution in China. She was deported after the Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision, although further appeals were still pending.88 Lin's sudden deportation provoked an international outcry.89 Japanese civil liberties groups complained to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Japan's action had violated the 1951 Refugee Convention, which Japan ratified in 1982.90

Asia Watch protested the deportation and urged Japan to monitor Lin's welfare after her return to China. Japanese authorities have cited assurances from Chinese officials given to their Embassy in Beijing. A letter to Asia Watch from the Japanese Embassy in Washington stated that the Chinese government had reported that "soon after Lin arrived in Shanghai, she was taken by her family and she is now living peacefully with them." The same letter also declared, "No legal action against her has been taken by the Chinese government." Similar statements have appeared in the Japanese press. However, it has been impossible to verify China's assurances independently. The Japanese government has indicated that it intends to monitor Lin's status periodically, but there is no indication that it has access to her.

In June 1991, Japan shifted its method of dealing with a number of cases of Chinese living in the country prior to June 1989. For the first time, a provision in the immigration law under which a person may be granted legal residency status "by reason of special circumstances" was applied to Chinese dissidents.91 The visa is given for six months at a time and is renewable; although it does not specifically permit the person to work, those who obtain it generally have been allowed to seek employment. The government granted this status to Chen Shisen, a student living in Tokyo since September 1987 who feared persecution in China because of his pro-democracy activities as a member of the Japanese branch of the Federation for Democracy in China (FDC).

On October 9, 1991, a visa was granted under the same provision to Zhao Nan, a prominent Chinese dissident who had been denied political asylum on March 7. Zhao asserted that he was at risk of "brutal punishment" if returned to China against his will, both because he was president of the FDC chapter in Japan and because he had been politically active in China beginning in 1978. Following the arrest of Democracy Wall activist Wei Jingsheng in 1979, Zhao had edited Wei's pro-democracy journal. For his peaceful political activities, Zhao was imprisoned without trial in a Chinese labor camp from 1982 to 1984. He came to Japan in September 1988 and had his visa renewed three times before a renewal request was denied and immigration authorities ordered him to leave the country late in 1990. Despite his well-founded fear of persecution, the Justice Ministry refused to grant him political asylum on narrow technical grounds, asserting that he had missed a filing deadline. A lawsuit filed in June 1991 challenging the decision is still pending.

A lawyers group working on behalf of Chinese students issued a public appeal following the decision in Chen's case, urging the government to grant the same status to at least twenty-two other dissidents they represented. The lawyers had lobbied the Justice Ministry and petitioned publicly on the students' behalf, and the government's action on Chen was viewed in part as a response to the pressure they had generated.92 By the end of November, fourteen people had been given such status.

It is unclear whether this special status will be extended indefinitely and how broadly it will be applied. This uncertainty is a product of the Japanese government's conflicting desires to avoid both offending the Chinese government by granting formal asylum – with the implicit statement that a well-founded fear of persecution has been demonstrated – and incurring the international criticism that has attended its return to China of dissidents who are likely to face such persecution.

Japanese Foreign Aid and Human Rights

In 1991, Japan began to address the question of how it might effectively use its economic power as one of the world's largest aid donors to exert a positive influence on behalf of human rights, especially in Asia. For the first time, government officials at the highest level spelled out criteria for Japan's Official Development Assistance (ODA) program that included an emphasis on human rights.93

On April 10, Prime Minister Kaifu gave a speech in the Diet – the Japanese parliament – in which he said that Japan's ODA policy would take into consideration the recipient countries' "efforts for promoting democratization and ... securing basic human rights and freedom," as well as other criteria such as the volume of arms sales and imports.94 A similar point had been made in February by Japan's delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, who declared that "as a nation that regards freedom and democracy as goals toward which all countries should strive, Japan ... cannot remain insensitive to the human rights situation of a recipient country."

Depending on how it is applied, the new ODA policy could move Japan toward making an enormously significant contribution to enhancing human rights protection in Asia. But in implementing the policy thus far, Japan's actions regarding two important countries, Burma and China, have been inconsistent.

In its 1990 Annual Report, published in March 1991, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed to Burma as an example of a country in which Japan's aid had been "appreciably affected" by the 1988 democratization movement and by the subsequent military crackdown. In fact, Japan had used its aid program to send decidedly mixed signals to the military government in Rangoon, apparently trying to maintain good relations while exerting some pressure on behalf of human rights and political reform.

In July 1991, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that it would continue to restrict economic ties with Burma by not approving any new ODA assistance beyond what was committed prior to 1987. The ministry said this policy would remain in effect until principal opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyui was released from house arrest, basic human rights were respected, and a transfer to civilian rule was completed. However, in 1989 Japan resumed disbursement of aid-related projects which had been approved prior to 1987.95 In its July statement, the Foreign Ministry rejected any suggestion that Japan impose further economic sanctions, including trade sanctions on Burma, as the United States had done.96 But toward the end of 1991, there were indications that Japan might consider adopting a sanctions policy. Michio Watanabe, who was appointed foreign minister by the new prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, urged Rangoon to make human rights improvements and respect the May 1990 election results or "they will duly have no alternative but to suffer sanctions from the international community."97

In regard to China, Japan's aid policy in 1991 seemed to be directly at odds with its pronouncements on ODA and human rights. Tokyo decided in September to provide 130 billion yen ($965 million) of ODA for the year ending March 31, 1992. This money was part of an 810 billion yen infrastructure loan package agreed to in 1988 for the fiscal years 1990 to 1995. Until November 1990, the loans had been frozen in conjunction with a package of economic sanctions imposed by the Group of 7 industrial countries.

The decision on funding followed an August 10-13 trip to Beijing by Prime Minister Kaifu, the first by the leader of a major industrial power since the June 1989 massacre. During the visit, Kaifu announced the Japanese government's plans to give the desperately needed loans, repeating his assertion (made in various international fora over the past two years) that Japan was anxious not to "isolate" China. In a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng, Kaifu mentioned that the international community had a strong interest in seeing respect for human rights in China. He reportedly added: "I hope you will introduce reforms in the political field as well as the economic field."98 Whatever impact this mild rebuke on behalf of human rights might have had on China's leaders was outweighed by the international legitimacy bestowed on them by Kaifu's visit and the promise of further aid without specific human rights conditions attached.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights groups in Japan function freely and without government restriction or harassment.

U.S. Policy

Asia Watch urged the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to express concern to Japanese authorities about the specific cases of Zhao Nan and Lin Guizhen, as well as the broader issue of Japan's international commitments regarding Chinese dissidents. Although no public U.S. statement was made, U.S. officials in Japan told Asia Watch that the Japanese government was well aware of the strong views of the U.S. government on this subject and that the United States would continue to emphasize that no one with a well-founded fear of persecution should be forcibly returned to China.

The Work of Asia Watch

Asia Watch sent a delegation to Tokyo in February 1991 to continue a dialogue begun the previous year with government officials, nongovernmental organizations, representatives of the business community and others regarding Japan's domestic and foreign human rights policies. Following the mission, Asia Watch representatives met with Japanese Embassy officials in Washington to discuss the issues raised in Tokyo.

In May, two prominent members of the Japanese Diet visited Washington, and Asia Watch helped to arrange meetings with members of Congress on a range of issues including human rights. The same month, a U.S.-based official of the Japanese Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, the agency which handles the ODA program, met with Asia Watch as part of an investigation ordered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The inquiry was sparked by a Japanese media account of an Asia Watch report citing Chinese government documents that referred to a fiscal year 1988 ODA loan to China used for technological improvements at a prison factory involved in exports. The factory had been identified by Asia Watch as one using forced labor to make products for export. The Japanese Embassy informed Asia Watch of the results of its inquiry in December.99

Later in the year, summaries of several Asia Watch reports were translated into Japanese and distributed to policymakers, nongovernmental organizations and media contacts in Japan.


According to Japan's Justice Ministry, 2,844 Chinese have arrived illegally in Japan since the Beijing massacre. Of these, 2,381 have been deported. In addition, it is estimated that there were approximately 15,000 Chinese students studying in Japan at the time of the massacre. Another 48,000 were in language schools – the largest number in any country outside of China.

Lin was deported after a Supreme Court ruling on October 9, 1990 upholding a lower-court interlocutory decision rejecting her appeal for suspension of deportation. However, at the time of her expulsion, two lawsuits were still pending at the district-court level, one seeking cancellation of the deportation order and the other pressing her application for refugee status. Her attorneys have indicated that they intend to pursue the matter in her absence.

For example, The New York Times gave her deportation prominent coverage. Steven Weisman, "Japan Deports Chinese but Others Are Hopeful," August 18, 1991.

Under Article 35 of the convention, Japan is obligated to cooperate with the UNHCR. In 1987, the Executive Committee of the UNHCR recommended that an applicant "should be permitted to remain in the country while an appeal to a higher administrative authority or to the courts is pending."

The UNHCR's role in the case is unclear. Justice Ministry officials say that the UNHCR interviewed Lin and found her unqualified for refugee status. But in a Tokyo news conference on August 20, Sadako Ogata, the UNHCR commissioner, expressed concern about the precipitous action taken by the immigration authorities.

Under the so-called "designated activities" clause of the Immigration Control and Refugee Act of 1990, residency status may be granted "due to special circumstances that have developed in the country of his nationality." The grounds on which this status is given are extremely vague. The provision effectively allows immigration officials to grant extended visas to certain individuals without categorizing them as political refugees or extending blanket visas to entire categories of people.

The Lawyers' Group for Protecting Human Rights of Chinese Students is headed by Hideo Fuji, a former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

In 1989, Japan became the world's largest donor of official foreign aid, disbursing over $8 billion. In 1990, ODA loans and grants totaled over $9 billion but, due to exchange rate fluctuations, Japan ranked second in the world, after the United States; approximately two-thirds of the Japanese funds went to Asian countries. Figures for 1991 are not yet available.

Although it was announced in 1991, the new ODA policy had been under consideration at least since 1990. A Foreign Ministry "white paper" on ODA was circulated internally in October 1990 and published in the ministry's 1990 Annual Report. It referred to sweeping reforms in Eastern Europe and their "major influence on freedom and democracy movements in other parts of the world." The white paper quoted a policy statement of the Development Assistance Committee of donor nations on the "vital connection between open, democratic and accountable political systems and individual rights and the effective and equitable operation of economic systems." The white paper provided no hint of how the policy would be implemented other than to say: "The extent to which Japan emphasizes such political values as democracy and respect for human rights in its aid activities from now on is a question that will need to be debated in depth, taking into account the fact that the processes of democratization may vary from country to country."

This included five continuing-grant projects totaling 9.2 billion yen, of which sixty-five percent had already been disbursed, and nineteen loan projects totaling 125 billion yen, of which only twenty percent had been paid out.

Kyodo, July 22, 1991.

Kyodo, November 5, 1991.

Kyodo, August 10, 1991.

The Embassy stated that according to Chinese officials, the Japanese loan was re-extended to the Xin-Sheng (New Life) Sewing Factory for the purchase of new machines. The factory, it said, is part of a group of four "final user" factories, in which "no convicts of any offense, political or otherwise, are working." The April Asia Watch report quotes Chinese government documents describing this group of factories as a joint venture combining manufacturing and trading, in which a prison enterprise, the New Life Cotton Mill, is the leading component and export arm.

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