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Human Rights in Japan

Amnesty International Report 2008

Head of government: Yasuo Fukuda (replaced Abe Shinzo in September)
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 128.3 million
Life expectancy: 82.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 5/4 per 1,000

Executions continued. Fingerprinting and photographing of all foreigners entering Japan was introduced as an anti-terrorism measure. The Japanese government took no steps to resolve the issue of reparations to victims of Japan's system of sexual slavery during World War II despite increased international pressure.


In July elections to the House of Councillors, the opposition Democratic Party gained a majority. The ruling coalition still has a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.

Death penalty

Nine men were executed in 2007. At least 107 prisoners remained on death row.

Under former Minister of Justice, Nagase Jinen, six executions took place in April and August. Under his successor, Minister Kunio Hatoyama, a further three executions took place in December. In September, Minister Hatoyama had publicly announced that he was considering scrapping the provision in the Criminal Procedure Code requiring the signature of the Minister of Justice for executions. The courts finally confirmed sentences in 23 capital cases, the highest annual number since 1962. Executions were typically held in secret, and prisoners were not warned of their execution in advance.

  • One of the three men executed in August, Takezawa Hifumi, had been suffering from mental illness at the time of his arrest following a stroke, which reportedly made him paranoid and aggressive. According to reports of his trial, doctors from both the prosecution and defence diagnosed Takezawa as mentally ill. He was sentenced to death in March 1998.
  • Lawyers defending death penalty cases were harassed. Some received bullets in envelopes or were denounced by domestic media.
  • In November, Minister Hatoyama met death penalty abolitionist groups, including Amnesty International, and heard their opinions.
  • Torture and other ill-treatment

    In May, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) examined the Japanese government's initial report, due since July 2000, and raised serious concerns that the daiyo-kangoku (a system of pre-trial detention) does not comply with international standards. It highlighted the lack of an independent system for monitoring police custody and an effective complaints system.

  • In November, the Osaka district court rejected a confession taken during a pre-trial investigation because of the suspicion, based on a digital recording of the interrogation, that it had been forced. This was the first ever acquittal of a suspect at trial due to a digital recording.
  • Refugees and immigration

    A total of 816 applications for refugee status were applied for in 2007 500 applicants were from Myanmar. Forty-one people were granted refugee status, among them were 25 Myanmar nationals and three Iranians.

    The CAT concluded that the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act did not expressly prohibit deportation to countries where there is a risk of torture. There was no independent body to review refugee recognition applications or detention facilities. No independent complaints system existed to review allegations of violence committed by staff members against detained asylum-seekers, and detainees continued to suffer from lack of access to proper healthcare. Asylum-seekers spent an undue length of time in custody between the rejection of the asylum application and deportation. Minors were held in detention for prolonged periods and were at risk of being deported without their parents and without notice.

    The fingerprinting and photographing of all foreigners over 16 years old entering Japan, including permanent residents, and fast-track procedures to deport anyone deemed a "possible terrorist" by the Minister of Justice were enforced from October. These measures were combined with a "watch list" with no mechanism to challenge inclusion on the list.

    Violence against women

    Parliaments around the world adopted resolutions calling for justice for the survivors of Japan's World War II military sexual slavery system. In July, the US House of Representatives passed resolution 121. In November, the Dutch and Canadian parliaments unanimously passed such motions and the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 13 December.

    Amnesty International visits

    Amnesty International delegates visited Japan in September.

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