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Human Rights in Japan

Amnesty International Report 2009

Head of government: Aso Taro (replaced Fukuda Yasuo in
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 127.9 million
Life expectancy: 82.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 5/4 per 1,000

The number of executions increased. Prisoners continued to face prolonged periods of solitary confinement and inadequate access to medical care. Under the daiyo kangoku pre-trial detention system, police interrogated suspects without lawyers and often in the absence of electronic recording. Despite international pressure, the Japanese government failed to accept full responsibility or provide adequate reparations to the survivors of Japan's World War II military sexual slavery system.


In September, a deadlock in the Diet (parliament) between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition led to the resignation of Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, who had been in the post for less than a year.

Death penalty

Fifteen executions were carried out in 2008, the highest number since 1975. One hundred prisoners remained on death row.

  • In June, Japan executed three men, including Miyazaki Tsutomu. According to his lawyer, he was mentally ill and had been receiving psychiatric medical treatment in the detention centre for more than a decade.
  • Death row inmates continued to be confined to single cells, day and night, with limited opportunity to exercise or socialize. They were typically notified of their execution only on the morning of their execution, and their families were informed only after the execution had taken place.

    In December, Japan voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

    Prison conditions

    "Prisoners continued to have inadequate access to medical care."
    Under new prison rules introduced by the Ministry of Justice, the number of prisoners in solitary confinement increased. Those categorized as high security, exempt from time limits on solitary confinement and access to complaints mechanisms, could remain in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners in solitary confinement remained in single cells, day and night, had no communication with other prisoners and were permitted only 15 minutes' exercise a day.

    Prisoners continued to have inadequate access to medical care. Due to a shortage of doctors, prisoners were often examined and given medication by nurses. Reports indicated that it was difficult for prisoners to obtain permission from wardens to visit medical specialists outside the prison due to a shortage of prison guards. Prison authorities prevented prisoners from accessing their medical records.

  • In February, a group of about 20 inmates and former inmates at Tokushima Prison filed a criminal complaint against a prison doctor who allegedly abused them from May 2004 to November 2007. One of the prisoners, who came to the doctor about dizzy spells, alleged that the doctor treated him by pinching his inner thighs, stepping on his ankle and giving him a rectal examination. He subsequently developed an infection from the examination and had to undergo surgery at a private hospital.

  • Pre-trial detention

    In October, the UN Human Rights Committee examined Japan's report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee reiterated concerns raised in 2007 by the Committee against Torture that the daiyo kangoku (a system of pre-trial detention) did not comply with international standards.

    The Human Rights Committee expressed concern that a system which allowed for the detention of suspects for 23 days with limited access to a lawyer increased the risk of abusive interrogation methods to obtain confessions.

    Refugees and asylum-seekers

    The government continued to deport failed asylum applicants to countries where they faced a risk of torture or other ill-treatment. There were also cases where the government deported failed asylum-seekers immediately after the conclusion of the administrative proceedings and before they could appeal against the decision in the courts. In December, the government suspended financial assistance for asylum-seekers during the determination process.

    Violence against women and girls

    Parliaments in Taiwan and South Korea passed resolutions calling for justice for the survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system during World War II. The UN Human Rights Committee recommended that Japan apologize and accept legal responsibility for the "comfort women" system. The city councils of Takarazuka, Kiyose and Sapporo passed resolutions calling on the Japanese government to resolve this issue.

    Amnesty International visits

    Amnesty International delegates visited Japan in February and March.

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