UN Urges End to Discrimination Against LGBT Individuals in Japan

Human Rights Committee Calls for Laws to Curb Social Exclusion

Contacts: Suzanne Trimel, Director of Communications, 212-430-6018, strimel@iglhrc.org;
Grace Poore, Regional Program Coordinator for Asia, gpoore@iglhrc.org

(New York – July 25, 2014) -- In a review of Japan’s record on civil and political rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee raised concern this week about social harassment and stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and asked the government to pass comprehensive legislation to prohibit discrimination on all grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity. The Committee also urged Japan to provide effective complaint mechanisms and remedies for violations. 

The committee earlier in July met with Japanese government officials to discuss its concerns, based in part on reports from civil society. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Gay Japan News, Kyosei Net, and Rainbow Action, had issued a report, about discrimination against the LGBT community in employment, housing, social security, health care and education. (Read the report Human Rights Violations on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)

In its conclusions, the committee emphasized the harmful link between prevailing social stereotypes and discrimination against LGBT individuals, noting that government has a responsibility to change cultural norms in order to guarantee equal rights for all. (Download the Committee’s Concluding Observations)

 “Japanese lesbians and transgender individuals have reported sexual harassment by male co-workers, which is directly linked to social norms about how women and men ‘should’ behave,” said Grace Poore, Asia regional coordinator for IGLHRC.  “Japan has made some strides towards inclusion, legislatively, but transgender persons in particular are often abused and assaulted because of their visible gender non-conformity.”

Earlier this year, IGLHRC published a report on the prevalence of violence and discrimination against lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender (LBT) persons in 5 countries in Asia, including Japan. This research concluded that those who suffer intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships in Japan have no legal recourse because existing laws prohibiting domestic violence and sexual assault only apply to different-sex couples.

“The discriminatory language of rape and sexual harassment laws, and the discriminatory implementation of the domestic violence law denies LBT people safety, access to redress, and remedies for the violence they experience,” said Azusa Yamashita, coordinator of the Japan research on violence against LBT persons. “LGBT groups and women’s groups are working to amend the domestic violence law so that it is LGBT inclusive,” she added.

Since 2002, the Japanese parliament has repeatedly failed to pass a Bill of Human Rights Protection. During a 2013 United Nations review of Japan’s full human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council, the Japanese government pledged to establish a national human rights commission. The government has failed to make good on this promise or take any steps towards implementation. 

“The Japanese government says yes to everything at the UN but it does not keep its word back home,” said Yamashita.  

The government has agreed to take the July 2014 recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee under consideration.

The shadow report submitted to the Human Rights Committee by IGLHRC, Gay Japan News, Kyosei Net, and Rainbow Action included the following key concerns regarding equal rights for LGBT persons in Japan:

  • Same sex couples in Japan are excluded from public housing.
  • Japan’s Prevention of Spousal Violence law is applicable to unmarried heterosexual couples but courts are unwilling to apply it to same sex couples.
  • Japanese gender recognition law mandates that transgender people who undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and wish to marry must find new partners of the opposite sex and not remain with their partners prior to surgery. 
  • Male to female transgender individuals are required to be sterilized in order to apply for SRS, thus taking away their right to human dignity and bodily autonomy.

Background

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) outlines fundamental rights guaranteed to all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, opinion, nation, property, birth or other status. The ICCPR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. So far, 166 states, including Japan, are parties to the Covenant. The Human Rights Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the treaty by States Parties. The 18-member committee also has the authority to interpret the treaty through issuing general comments.

The ICCPR requires all state parties to submit Periodic Reports about the implementation of the treaty’s principles to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Based on the state reports and information gathered by Committee experts, the Committee develops a list of questions (List of Issues) regarding the status of civil and political rights in that country. State Parties often provide a written response to those questions ahead of the official review session of the state’s compliance with the ICCPR. The Committee also accepts reports from non-governmental organizations regarding the human rights situation in that country. These reports are known as Shadow Reports.

Based on the State report, the State written answers to the List of Issues, shadow reports, the State presentation to the Committee, and the interactive dialogue between the State and the Committee, the Committee releases Concluding Observations with a list of concerns and recommendations based on the State’s compliance with it’s treaty obligations. The State will then formally acknowledge which of the Committee recommendations and concerns it will abide by. The Concluding Observations and the State response are powerful tools for domestic advocates seeking to advance human rights and governmental accountability.

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