Head of government: Yoshihiko Noda (replaced Naoto Kan in September)
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 126.5 million
Life expectancy: 83.4 years
Under-5 mortality: 3.3 per 1,000

A magnitude 9 earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan on 11 March caused a massive tsunami with catastrophic results, including the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years. Abusive interrogations by police continued to take place under the daiyo kangoku system. The government failed to apologize and provide reparations in line with international standards for survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system. The Minister of Justice came under heavy pressure to carry out executions. Despite increases in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Japan, very few were granted refugee status.


On 11 March, an earthquake followed by a tsunami devastated the Tohoku area of eastern Japan. An estimated 20,000 people died or were reported missing. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered severe damage. Radiation emissions exceeding safe levels raised serious concerns about the lasting impact on health and food safety. A 20km compulsory evacuation zone – considered by many to be too narrow – was established. Tens of thousands, including those from the evacuation zone, were displaced in temporary shelters and houses in Fukushima prefecture. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company were heavily criticized for their handling of the crisis, including their failure to provide timely information about risks, resulting in serious concerns about negative impacts on the affected population's right to health.

Justice system

In April, the Minister of Justice instructed the Public Prosecutor's Office to monitor on a trial basis all recorded interrogations conducted by the Special Investigation Department and the Special Criminal Affairs Department, as well as interrogations of suspects with learning disabilities or mental illness. A review of the Criminal Detention Centers and Treatment of Detainees Act was discussed by the Ministry of Justice and the Police Agency. However, this did not result in any amendments to the law or to the daiyo kangoku system, which allows police to detain suspects for up to 23 days.

  • Shoji Sakurai and Takao Sugiyama were acquitted of murder and robbery in May after spending 29 years in prison. During their retrial, the court found that tape recordings of the interrogations, including the confession, were doctored, and lacked credibility due to doubts over whether the confession had been obtained voluntarily.

Violence against women and girls

On 30 August, the Constitutional Court of South Korea ruled it unconstitutional for the South Korean government to make no tangible effort to settle disputes with Japan over reparations for survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system. Japan continued to refuse to compensate Korean women mobilized as sex slaves before and during World War II. The Constitutional Court noted that South Korea violated the basic rights of the former "comfort women" with its inaction. In October, the South Korean government raised the issue of Japan's military sexual slavery system at the UN, saying that "this systematic rape and sexual slavery constitute war crimes and also, under defined circumstances, crimes against humanity". The Japanese government responded that all issues had been settled under treaties. On 14 December, activists and survivors in Seoul, South Korea, demonstrated for the 1,000th time in front of the Japanese embassy, in a weekly protest that began in 1992.

Death penalty

There were no executions; 130 prisoners, including several prisoners with mental illness, remained on death row. In October, Minister of Justice Hideo Hiraoka stated that he would not end capital punishment, but would consider cases on an individual basis. He was under pressure from within government to resume executions. On 31 October, the Osaka District Court ruled hanging constitutional.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

An estimated 1,800 individuals applied for asylum in Japan. On 17 November, the Japanese parliament passed a resolution pledging its commitment to the UN Refugee Convention on the 30th anniversary of Japan's ratification. Under a resettlement programme established in 2010, Japan accepted 18 refugees in 2011 from Myanmar who had been processed in Thailand. Some refugees from Myanmar, accepted under the programme in 2010, complained publicly that they were forced to work 10 hours a day, that they were given insufficient support by the government, and were deliberately misinformed by authorities prior to arriving in Japan.

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