Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 12:56 GMT

Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - Japan

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1993
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - Japan, 1 January 1993, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca6a17.html [accessed 18 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 1992

Human Rights Developments

Asia Watch continued to monitor the Japanese government's treatment of asylum-seekers and closely followed its implementation of human rights guidelines for its foreign aid program.

While Japan continued to deny political asylum and any other form of blanket protection to Chinese dissidents fearing persecution if returned to China, it remained flexible in dealingwith visa requests from Chinese students. Immigration officials granted a number of these students special "designated activities" visas, first provided for in 1991, which allow legal residency in Japan. By the end of October, 34 Chinese students had received the visas and the cases of at least ten others were pending with the Immigration Bureau.

The case of Lin Guizhen, a pro-democracy activist from Fujian province, who was denied political asylum and forcibly repatriated to China on August 14, 1991, received international attention again in 1992. In January, a New York Times journalist visited her family in China and revealed that she had been imprisoned for six months after her return. At the time of Lin's deportation, Japan insisted that it had received assurances from Beijing that no legal action would be taken against her. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs later appeared to justify China's action by saying that Lin was serving a term of "re-education" and that this was "not a penal measure." China's ambassador in Tokyo admitted that Lin had been arrested and detained, but denied that this was due to her pro-democracy activities as opposed to her supposed violation of China's emigration laws when she fled the country in September 1989. He said that she had received a one-year prison sentence, was rel eased from detention on January 16, and was serving the remainder of her sentence at home.

On April 14, the Tokyo District Court rejected a suit seeking refugee status for Lin, which had been pending at the time she was deported. The court ruled that her repatriation to China made any judgment on her claim "worthless," but stopped short of deciding whether Lin had a well-founded fear of persecution. However, a separate ruling by the Fukuoka District Court, on March 26, found that she had participated in pro-democracy protests in June 1989 and fled China fearing repression. (One lawsuit sought cancellation of her deportation order, the other pressed her claim for refugee status.) In April, Lin's lawyers made public a letter from Lin describing her continuous supervision by Chinese security officials, and her fear of being reimprisoned. Appeals to the High Court were pending as of November 1992.

A lawsuit filed by another Chinese dissident, Zhao Nan, in June 1991 was still before the courts in November 1992. Zhao had received a "designated activities" visa, but was seeking political asylum. The prominent pro-democracy activist had formerly been imprisoned in China.

Political refugees from Burma also sought protection in Japan. It is estimated that at least 5,000 Burmese live in Japan illegally. In a rare move, three Burmese dissidents were given asylum in April. In a separate development, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations agreed to represent 14 other Burmese asylum-seekers, the first such attempt by a group of Burmese to gain legal recognition. According to their lawyers, all of the applicants' visas had expired but they feared persecution in Burma because of pro-democracy activities related to the 1988 uprising.

During 1992, the Japanese government reaffirmed itscommitment to promote human rights and democratization through its extensive foreign aid program. This commitment has potentially profound consequences for Japan's relations in Asia and elsewhere. According to figures published in mid-1992, Japan was the largest aid donor in the world in 1991, increasing assistance to $11 billion, nearly 20 percent over the 1990 figure.

The Official Development Assistance (ODA) guidelines were first adopted in April 1991. They were spelled out in further detail in the Foreign Ministry's Annual Report on ODA published in March 1992. The report stated, "Full attention will be paid to [efforts by recipient countries] ... to introduce democracy and market-oriented economy, and to secure human rights and freedoms." This guideline would be implemented in two ways: by providing increased aid to assist countries seeking to democratize, and by suspending aid to countries that have committed serious human rights violations. The report stressed that dialogue with the government would precede a cutoff in assistance, and that if improvements were not made, aid would be reviewed, giving "full consideration ... to the cultural, historical and social circumstances of the country concerned." (Three other principles also included in the April 1991 guidelines dealt with military expenditures, arms sales and imports.)

On June 30, in response to complaints that the program had no clear direction, the cabinet reiterated Japan's ODA philosophy and criteria. The cabinet embraced the principle of considering whether potential aid recipients guaranteed basic human rights and freedoms, and said that Japan would continue to give most of its aid to Asian neighbors.

A "white paper" on ODA, published by the Foreign Ministry on October 5, described how these principles and criteria were actually being applied, and acknowledged that this was a "trial and error" process. Japan had provided assistance to elected governments in Mongolia, Zambia and Central America. At the same time, it had suspended aid to Haiti after the military coup in September 1991; suspended new aid to Burma following the 1988 crackdown, although aid previously committed continued; pledged no assistance to Kenya and Malawi at World Bank-convened donor meetings "because of their disappointing political performances"; and suspended aid to Zaire due to the country's "deteriorating situation."

Japan also took credit in some cases for exerting positive influence on "undesirable" government behavior and preventing a worsening of human rights conditions, citing its response to the massacre of civilians in East Timor in November 1991, the killing of pro-democracy activists in Thailand in May 1992, and Peru's suspension of its constitution in April 1992. In none of these cases, however, was Japanese aid cut off or suspended.

In an unprecedented move, Japan sent two diplomats from its embassy in Jakarta to East Timor to look into the Dili massacre. A government spokesman in Tokyo later hinted that Japan, as Indonesia's largest donor ($867 million in ODA funds in 1990), might review its aid program depending on the results of theNational Commission of Inquiry ordered by Indonesian President Suharto. However, Japan ultimately praised the commission's report, despite its serious flaws, and no review took place, although a Japanese embassy official did attend the courts-martial of Indonesian soldiers accused of shooting East Timorese demonstrators.

Japan responded to the bloody crackdown in Bangkok in May with low-key expressions of regret and diplomatic appeals, but without cutting the large ODA program for Thailand. (Japan supplies over 70 percent of Thailand's foreign aid, totaling $406 million in fiscal year 1991.) "Cutting off aid may de-stabilize the country and hurt the people it was meant to help," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Japan made no new ODA commitments to Burma in 1992 but continued its policy of disbursing funds committed prior to the 1988 crackdown for "humanitarian aid" projects. However, reliable information obtained by Asia Watch raised questions about the nature of some of these projects: they may benefit Burmese civilians, but they also provide crucial infrastructure support to Burma's military government. For example, one such project involves improvements in the national railway system.

Policymakers in Tokyo told Asia Watch that a basic reason for maintaining some aid to Burma was to keep channels open for dialogue with its rulers. Following a meeting in Manila of foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan did not join the U.S. and other nations in publicly urging ASEAN members to increase pressure on Burma but made only general references to the new ODA criteria.

Japan was active on Burma in other diplomatic arenas. It supported a strong resolution condemning Burma at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March. Tokyo also welcomed the partial lifting of martial law in Burma in September, emphasizing that it expected further progress toward transferring power to a civilian government as soon as possible. Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe reported that he appealed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in meetings with the Burmese foreign minister in Tokyo.

Japanese policy toward China continued to contradict official ODA policy, as $1.1 billion in aid was disbursed in 1992, unaffected by Chinese human rights violations. A visit to Tokyo by Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin to mark the twentieth anniversary of normalization of relations was aimed at encouraging closer economic ties between the two countries. Following his visit, Japan and China signed an agreement for approximately $5 billion in new energy loans.

The increase in aid was not accompanied by attempts to link ODA to human rights improvements. Foreign Ministry and trade officials in Tokyo told Asia Watch that such a linkage was highly unlikely, and that Japan would continue to push economic reform and liberalization in China in the hope that political reform and an end to human rights abuses would eventually result. They also stressed that given Japan's military history in China, human rights appeals would be inappropriate.

Increasingly in 1992, as the new ODA policy became more widely known, government officials were anxious to explainJapan's approach to promoting human rights, which relied primarily on quiet diplomacy. They felt this approach was widely misunderstood in the West and interpreted as indifference to human rights. Officials in Tokyo told Asia Watch they believed Japan's method could produce results when dealing with other Asian countries, especially when Japan's "soft approach" is complemented by "hard approaches" taken by the U.S. and others.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights groups in Japan are free to function without government restriction or harassment.

U.S. Policy

In 1992, the U.S. refrained from any public criticism of Japan's treatment of Chinese dissidents. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991, issued in January 1992, noted Japan's refusal to grant asylum or refugee status to Chinese dissidents, and its decision to grant the "designated activities" visa in some cases and to extend student visas in others. It also referred to evidence that Chinese students seeking to extend visas faced many obstacles and impedimenta erected by immigration officials.

While the State Department report referred to Lin Guizhen's repatriation, it did not criticize Japan for deporting her but simply said the government had "considered her case through regular procedures, including consultation with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees." No mention was made of Lin's pending court suits or the reasons why she feared persecution in China.

The Work of Asia Watch

In March, Asia Watch sent a delegation to Tokyo to carry on its dialogue with Japanese government officials, members of the Diet, trade organizations, nongovernmental groups and others. Throughout the year, Asia Watch kept in regular touch with Japanese government officials about human rights concerns in Asia and worked with Japanese nongovernmental organizations to raise specific issues on Indonesia and Burma with the Japanese government.

Copyright notice: © Copyright, Human Rights Watch

Search Refworld

Countries