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Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Japan

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1994
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Japan, 1 January 1994, available at: [accessed 22 February 2018]
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 1993

Human Rights Developments

Japanese politics were thrown into a state of flux and uncertainty in 1993 as the Liberal Democratic Party, which had ruled for almost four decades, ceded power to a coalition government after elections on July 18. The new cabinet contained two men who had been active in human rights committees in the Diet, including Foreign Minister Tsutomu Hata, and the initial statements on human rights of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa were promising. By the end of the year, it was too early to tell whether Japanese policy on human rights would substantially change, particularly with regard to foreign aid (Official Development Assistance, or ODA).

At the U.N. human rights conferences in Bangkok and Vienna, Japan underscored the role of development assistance in promoting human rights. In October, the Foreign Ministry published a "white paper" on ODA, reiterating the guidelines first adopted in April 1991, that allocation of aid would take into consideration respect for human rights and democratization shown by recipient countries. "Democratization" appeared to be understood as synonomous with free market reforms. The report, however, specified for the first time that a long-term objective of the ODA program was to encourage "good governance" (a term borrowed from the World Bank) as essential to sustainable development.

ODA for fiscal year 1992 totalled $11.3 billion, again making Japan the largest foreign aid donor worldwide, with Asian countries receiving 65 percent of that total. Japan announced in June 1993 that it would increase its ODA spending over the next five years by 50 percent, to a total of $70 to $75 billion.

The ODA guidelines were loosely applied in 1993, as the government relied on "policy dialogues" with recipient governments as the primary method for addressing human rights concerns, rarely engaging in public criticism of abuses or linking ODA decisions directly to human rights.

For example, when Vo Van Kiet, Vietnam's prime minister, met with then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa in Tokyo on March 25, seeking further ODA assistance, Miyazawa raised human rights concerns only in a general way and set no specific conditions for Vietnam to meet. Human rights issues did not appear to affect the resumption of ODA to Vietnam in November 1992 ($370 million) or the willingness of Japan to provide grants and loans to help repay Vietnam's debt to the International Monetary Fund. To assist with Vietnam's market reforms, Tokyo announced in October 1993 that it would send a team of legal experts to help in drafting commercial and investment laws; no similar interest wasevinced in criminal or national security laws.

On China, Japan, anxious to prevent a deterioration in U.S.-Sino relations, was willing to play an intermediary role between Washington and Beijing but refrained from exerting any direct economic pressure on Beijing. Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe was the first high-ranking official to meet with the Clinton administration. In talks with Secretary of State Christopher and President Clinton from February 11 to 14, he urged the administration to take a "moderate approach" and to renew Most Favored Nation status (MFN) for China unconditionally. Both governments agreed to do what they could to "help political reforms catch up with economic reforms" in China. The same message was delivered directly to the White House when then-Prime Minister Miyazawa met with President Clinton in Washington on April 15.

Various Japanese government officials visited Beijing in 1993, and while it was not clear that they had made specific appeals for human rights improvements, Japan quietly lobbied for the release of individual political prisoners as well as access to prisoners by international humanitarian organizations. In early April, an official Japanese delegation visiting Tibet to discuss cultural exchanges also raised prisoner cases and asked to visit a jail.

The Hosokawa government was likely to continue Japan's policy of building strong political and economic relations with China, despite its human rights record, and Hosokawa was expected to make an official visit to Beijing as early as March 1994.

On Burma, there was a split in the Japanese government early in 1993 over the posssible resumption of new ODA to the military government in Rangoon if the SLORC-sponsored constitutional convention showed any positive result [see entry on Burma]. By November 1, there was no change in the existing ODA policy, although Foreign Minister Hata, during a visit to Bangkok in September, said that Japan wanted to help bring Burma's government out of isolation. The government was considering inviting some SLORC officials to Tokyo "for technical training." Behind the scenes, Tokyo played an important role paving the way for Sadako Ogata's visit to Burma in July 1993 to discuss the role of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in monitoring repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh.

In the Diet, more than 400 members from all parties signed an appeal for restoration of human rights and civilian rule in Burma, delivered to the U.N. Secretary-General in New York in March by Satsuki Eda (then a member of the House of Representatives, later a cabinet minister.)

At the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Japan played an ambiguous role: co-sponsoring a resolution on human rights in China which failed, but abstaining on a crucial resolution on human rights in East Timor, which passed. The Japanese embassy in Indonesia, however, did send representatives to attend the trial of a major East Timorese political prisoner, Xanana Gusmao, between February and May.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights groups in Japan faced no legal restrictions.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration was slow to recognize the enormous potential of Japan in promoting human rights as part of its "global partnership" with the U.S. and its commitment to Clinton's "New Pacific Community." The State Department, for example, was reluctant to act on the suggestion that Japan might assist with specific human rights issues in Vietnam.

Members of Congress expressed concern about the "comfort women" issue. A group of twenty Representatives sent a letter to Prime Minister Hosokawa in October, urging Japan to cooperate fully with the U.N. investigation into sexual slavery and to take other steps to clarify accountability for abuses during World War II, such as paying compensation to the victims.

The Work of Asia Watch

Asia Watch sent a mission to Tokyo in April 1993 to continue its dialogue with government officials, NGOs, academics and others. Asia Watch representatives gave several seminars and made a presentation at the Institute for International Cooperation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency; the Institute had been assigned by the Foreign Ministry to examine methods for assessing human rights progress in countries receiving ODA.

Other Human Rights Watch visits to Japan took place in connection with international conferences. The chair of Africa Watch attended, as an unofficial observer, a conference in Tokyo on African development issues co-sponsored by Japan and the U.N. on October 5 and 6.

In December, an Asia Watch board member was scheduled to speak on the role of business and human rights at a meeting hosted by the Council for Better Corporate Citizenship of Keidanren, the powerful Japanese business association.

The Asia Watch office in Washington maintained regular contact with the Japanese embassy, and Asia Watch representatives met the new U.S. ambassador, Walter Mondale, prior to his posting to Tokyo.

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