As Japanese nationalism is fueled by friction with neighbors over territories and World War II legacy issues, hostile demonstrations against the country’s Korean residents are gathering steam, raising concerns among political leaders and setting off soul-searching among Japan’s largely homogeneous population. While attendance at the rallies is small and such extreme actions are far from entering the mainstream of Japanese politics, the demonstrations of nationalist activists using hate speech and intimidation have grown in size and frequency in recent months. Anti-Korea sentiment in Japan grew right after the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Korea went to the semi-finals, while Japan remained in quarter-finals. Anti-Korea sentiment also grew in March 2009, when Kim Yuna won against Asada Mao. This kind of supports the idea that anti-Korean sentiment in Japan is caused from a sense of inferiority.
The U.N. Committee against Torture issued a statement pointing out that Japan’s criminal justice system should do away with its traditionally strong reliance on confessions by suspects, and demanded it implement safeguards such as electronic recordings of the entire interrogation process to prevent wrongful convictions. That’s a welcome statement from the UN’s Committee against Torture (CAT), I wonder if Japan will take it to heart. According to reports on Twitter and in Wednesday’s Tokyo Shimbun, Japan’s representative at the CAT meeting, Hideaki Ueda, made another statement which raised eyebrows at the forum. When the other international representatives present chuckled in response to a gaffe made by Ueda, he’s said to have quickly shot back with a not so diplomatic “SHUT UP” uttered in perfectly clear English and chided the group for laughing. When state officials from anywhere behave like that with the eyes of the world on them, I shudder to think what goes in their corner of the globe when no one is looking. When state officials from anywhere behave so badly with the eyes of the world on them, I shudder to think what goes in their corner of the globe when no one is looking.
As international leaders fear what Pyongyang may do beyond its borders, perhaps the biggest issue is what happens within. North Korea operates a growing network of prison camps containing up to 200,000 prisoners in conditions likened by survivors to Nazi concentration camps. This atrocity gains little international attention, though the United Nations Human Rights Council is considering a formal inquiry for possible crimes against humanity. Information about the camps is limited to reports from the few successful escapees, notably Shin Dong-hyuk, who told 60 Minutes about spending 23 years behind the wire. North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labour where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.
The UN urged Japan to admit responsibility for forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II and prosecute any surviving officers who were involved in their trafficking. The UN Committee Against Torture said the Japanese government should refute attempts to deny the facts by the government authorities and public figures and to re-traumatize the victims through such repeated denials. Instead, it should inform the young generation in school textbooks of Japanese wartime atrocities so that they are never repeated. The recommendations appear especially aimed at Mayor Hashimoto, who denies that Japan forced women into prostitution for the Imperial Army. Japan argued at the time that the mobilization of sex slaves occurred during World War II 70 years ago and does not fall under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was only enacted in 1987. The UN rejected the argument.
In the wake of the recent repatriation of a group of young North Korean defectors from Laos, South Korean diplomats in overseas missions plan to hold a meeting to discuss follow-up measures and ways to better deal with the sensitive issue. The nine North Koreans, aged between 15 and 23, fled their country in 2011. They hid in China before moving to Laos in hopes of settling in South Korea, but they were rounded up there by authorities on May 10. South Korea had appealed to both Laos and China to send them to Seoul, but the plea was rejected. They were deported to China on May 27, and the following day flown home. The U.N. human-rights chief criticized Laos and China on Friday for returning nine young defectors – all reportedly orphans – to North Korea, where they could face harsh treatment. Under North Korean law, defectors face a minimum of five years of hard labor and as much as life in prison or the death penalty in cases deemed particularly serious. Activists say they could face torture.
Hatoyama Yukio, foremer Prime Minister of Japan, denounced the Abe administration. I have complained here before about the apathy and inaction of the Japanese people in the face of their leaders’ refusal to apologize to the surviving victims of sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Since that time, Japan has changed its leaders, and they remain determined to take action. Unfortunately, such action will lead them even further into the realm of public ignominy. The Murayama Statement, issued by Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on 15 August 1995, was a clear apology to the victims of Japanese aggression in the war. However, earlier this year Abe began discussing a possible revision of the statement, and in late April he argued that what is labelled ‘aggression’ may be viewed differently depending on what side you are on. Mr. Abe must realize that he needs to make enormous efforts to put to rest the suspicions that his words have stirred not only among the victims of Japan’s 20th-century aggression in Asia, but also in the capital of its most important ally.