Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Japan defends steps to end discrimination

"OSAKA — In a new report to the United Nations, the government outlines the situation of ethnic minorities and foreign residents in Japan, claiming it has made "every conceivable" effort over the past several years to eliminate racial discrimination.

"Occasionally sounding on the defensive, the report, released Friday, sidesteps the issue of a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination between individuals.

"Human rights groups and Doudou Diene, the U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, have called for the passage of a law clearly against racism and xenophobia, as well as the establishment of an independent national human rights monitoring body.

"The government has long held that Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law, makes any antidiscrimination legislation superfluous, a point reiterated in the report.

""Japan has taken every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination," the report's introduction says, later adding that apartheid is unknown in Japan.

"The report covers the situation of the Ainu, Korean residents and other foreigners. The government noted that there were an estimated 23,782 Ainu in 2006.

"A Hokkaido Prefectural Government survey in 2006 showed 93.5 percent of Ainu youths go on to high school, and 17.4 percent go on to university, an improvement from recent years but below the national average, in which 98.3 percent of all youths enter high school. About 38 percent of all people who live in municipalities where Ainu reside go on to university, the survey noted.

"About 30 percent of Hokkaido's Ainu said they had experienced discrimination at school, in job interviews or when getting married, or that they knew of someone who had experienced such discrimination, the same survey indicated.

"The report to the U.N. notes the Diet's passage of a resolution in June recognizing the Ainu, and that the government has set up an advisory panel to discuss Ainu policies. "

By Eric Johnston (Japan Times, 8/26/2008), Link to Article (last visited 8/26/2008)

"Government liable for sailor's suicide

"FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Fukuoka High Court ordered the government Monday to pay ¥3.5 million in damages to the parents of a Maritime Self-Defense Force sailor who hanged himself in 1999, ruling his suicide resulted from a ranking officer's repeated browbeating.

"Overturning a lower court rejection of the parents' ¥20 million suit, presiding Judge Koji Maki ruled that the 21-year-old petty officer third class "killed himself as a result of depression, which was caused by stress from the superior's insulting remarks and actions."

""The superior's actions were intended to defame the (sailor) and led to the excessive accumulation of psychological burdens on him," Maki said. "It was beyond something that can be called an instruction."

"The ranking officer repeatedly told the victim: "You are not qualified to be a petty officer third class" and "Are you dumb?" from late August 1999 until the man hanged himself aboard the destroyer Sawagiri, home-ported at the MSDF's Sasebo base in Nagasaki Prefecture, during drills off Shikoku that Nov. 8, the high court said.

""I believe many other SDF members are in a situation similar to my son's," the sailor's father told reporters after the ruling. "To avoid repeating similar incidents, the government should not take the ruling to the Supreme Court."

"Other bullying cases resulting in suicide that are pending in district courts, such as in Yokohama and Shizuoka, may be affected by the Fukuoka ruling, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

""It is the first court ruling that recognizes the government's violation of its obligation of ensuring security for national public servants over their psychological burdens," said Ryuji Nishida, who headed the parents' legal team.

"In June 2005, the Nagasaki District Court's Sasebo branch ruled that "the superior's remarks and actions were within the scope of an instruction and the sailor killed himself because of mental fatigue as his frustration mounted against his own slow progress in training," while recognizing the officer's remarks were not appropriate."

By Japan Times (8/26/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/26/2008)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Surrogacy: 61-year-old Woman Gives Birth to Grandchild

"SHIMO-SUWA, Nagano Prefecture--A 61-year-old woman is likely the nation's oldest mother, after bearing a girl for her infertile daughter as a surrogate, the head of a maternity clinic here has announced.

"Suwa Maternity Clinic director and surrogacy advocate Yahiro Netsu will report the case at a meeting of the Japan Society of Fertilization and Implantation that starts next Thursday in Fukuoka.

"Mother and child are both doing well, Netsu wrote on the clinic's website, adding that he usually does not recommend childbearing at an advanced age.

"The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and the Gynecology and Science Council of Japan oppose surrogate births.

"The woman became pregnant at the age of 60 and delivered her granddaughter at 61, according to a statement on the clinic's website.

"The previous confirmed record was held by two women aged 60, who gave birth using donor eggs or fertilized ovum.

"It is believed that a woman's womb becomes less elastic and runs other risks with age.

""But with lack of social support for surrogate birth, we allow aged women to give birth to their daughter's child, because it is least likely to cause (relationship) troubles afterward," Netsu wrote.

"Earlier this year, Netsu reported helping 15 couples who tried surrogacy, including five involving the mother of the woman seeking to have a child.

"In an April report, the Science Council of Japan's exploratory council on surrogate births urged the in-principle banning of surrogacy, and said couples and doctors using the technique should be punished.

"But on his clinic's website, Netsu stressed that surrogacy often was the only option for many infertile women to have a child.

""I hope to start a positive public debate on surrogate births, and that this method will eventually be used in Japan in the least exploitative way," he wrote."

By Asahi Shimbun (8/22/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/22/2008)

Medical Malpractice and the Courts

"Medical circles breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday over the Fukushima District Court's decision to acquit the obstetrician at the center of a case involving professional negligence resulting in death.

""The ruling is reasonable because it shows the court understands the difficulties and risks involved in the treatment of patients who are in a critical condition," the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) said.

"In a statement, the society said it had made strong overtures to prosecutors not to appeal the ruling so as to avoid causing further confusion in the medical community over the trial.

"Doctors and others had been particularly critical of the decision by police to pursue criminal charges against Katsuhiko Kato, 40, whose patient died after he performed a Caesarean section in 2004.

""The ruling was what the medical community had been longing for," said an obstetrician and gynecologist at a university hospital.

"According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 54 women died in connection with child-bearing in 2006.

"During the trial, the central question facing the district court was this: How should doctors and other medical practitioners be held accountable when things go drastically wrong while they are trying to save their patients?

"Chizuko Kuwae, chief of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Tokyo Metropolitan Fuchu Hospital, said that on occasion it was inevitable that patients die--despite the best efforts by their doctors.

""We would be put in the position of not being able to do anything unless these risks are properly recognized," Kuwae said.

"The number of obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide fell by 12 percent during the decade through 2006, partly due to the higher risks in this area of medicine.

"Norio Higuchi, professor of British and American law at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy, said the ruling made it clear that a criminal court trial is not the appropriate venue for uncovering the truth behind medical accidents.

""A new system should be established to enable doctors and patients to work together in an investigation (into a medical accident) so as to prevent a recurrence," Higuchi said.

"The ruling will likely influence a bill the health ministry plans to submit to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn to formally establish a committee of third-party experts to investigate malpractice cases.

""(The obstetrician) would not have faced criminal charges if a third-party organization of experts had been tasked with the investigation (into the case)," said Takashi Okai, an executive director of the JSOG and professor of Showa University medical school.

"Hiroyuki Nagai, who heads a citizens group working to prevent medical accidents, said a third-party organization should be set as as soon as possible to secure impartial and expert investigative procedures into such matters."

By Asahi Shimbun (8/21/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/22/2008)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Govt to grant illegitimate kids citizenship

"The government plans to revise the Nationality Law to remove a provision requiring parents to be married for their children to obtain Japanese citizenship, according to government sources.

"The decision came after the Supreme Court ruled in June that denying Japanese citizenship to children born out of wedlock to Japanese fathers and foreign mothers is unconstitutional, the sources said.

"The revision bill is expected to center on the following two points:

"-- Japanese fathers' acknowledgement of paternity will be the sole requirement for children to obtain Japanese citizenship, removing the requirement for parents' marital status from the provision.

"-- Those who have falsely claimed paternity will face imprisonment or a fine of up to 200,000 yen.

"The government plans to submit a bill to revise the law in the next extraordinary Diet session after obtaining approval from the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, according to the sources.

"The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court ruling were born out of wedlock to foreign mothers and Japanese fathers.

"Though their fathers acknowledged paternity after the children were born, the children were not granted Japanese citizenship. Under the Nationality Law, children are not granted Japanese citizenship unless their parents are married or Japanese fathers acknowledge their paternity before birth.

"The Supreme Court ruling said denying a child citizenship because his or her parents were not married was unconstitutional, saying the provision irrationally discriminated against such children.

"The ruling also said the provision requiring marriage between the parents was already considered unconstitutional in 2003, when the plaintiffs submitted applications to obtain Japanese citizenship.

"In line with the decision, the government plans to include a supplementary provision to enable children born out of wedlock to obtain Japanese citizenship retroactively for those who filed applications in January 2003 and after.

"However, there is concern that the system could be abused if a child's citizenship is approved solely through a father's acknowledgement of paternity. For instance, foreign women living overseas might have Japanese men file false applications so that their children will be granted Japanese citizenship and the women would be able to obtain residence permits.

"Under the current law, even if those who are not a child's real parents submit an application for the child to obtain Japanese citizenship to the Justice Ministry's Legal Affairs Bureau, they will not be charged. The revised law is planned to establish a new clause to punish such actions, according to the sources."

By Yomiuri Shimbun(8/18/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/19/2008)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Justice Minister and the Death Penalty

"New Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka believes most Japanese approve of capital punishment because, he said, the country has a cultural background in which death is considered "gracious" for criminals.

""Capital punishment should continue to exist because we should respect people's sentiment that (the most heinous crimes) have to be compensated for only by death," Yasuoka, who was appointed to the post Aug. 1, told a group of journalists in his office Thursday.

"Yasuoka's stance suggests that the number of hangings may remain high: Yasuoka's predecessor, Kunio Hatoyama, signed 13 execution orders, the most by a single justice minister at least since 1993, during his 12 months in the post.

"As the head of the ministry that manages the Immigration Bureau, he said the foreign trainee system, which some employers have been accused of abusing by hiring cheap labor illegally, should be improved, adding he doesn't know yet whether the system should be abolished or revised.

"Yasuoka declined to comment on a proposal to increase the number of immigrants to 10 million in 50 years, submitted by a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers led by former LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, saying he has not read the plan thoroughly.

"In response to public opinion polls indicating many people are concerned about the lay judge system that will start next May, Yasuoka said he will continue to raise awareness of its social significance and try to eliminate public concern.

""What the system does is democratize the judicial system, which is really important. Many developed countries have similar systems," Yasuoka said.

"He added he is satisfied with the ministry's efforts to inform the public of the new system.

""It's unexpectedly good that 94 percent of people know about the system and 60 percent will become lay judges, equivalent to jurors in the United States, reluctantly or willingly," he said.

"On discussions of whether a new sentence — life in prison with no possibility of parole — should be added to the judicial system, Yasuoka said such a move is unnecessary. "Being in prison forever is too harsh," he said.

"Many legal experts are arguing that such a sentence is needed to fill a gap between the death penalty and life with a chance for parole. They argue that the difference between these two sentences is too wide for lay judges to decide the appropriate punishment."

By Minoru Matsutani (8/11/2008), Japan Times, Link to article (last visited 8/12/2008)

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Lawyers Want More Power to Combat Yakuza

"Sixteen years after the introduction of the much-vaunted anti-organized crime law, yakuza gangs continue to wield enormous influence in Japan.

"Yakuza involvement in almost every aspect of crime raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the 1992 legislation.

"When a mayor is shot dead, when profits are siphoned from conmen, or when major drug trafficking operations are carried out, the perpetrators almost invariably seem to have ties to underground crime syndicates.

"Gangs continue to brandish guns, threaten citizens and play a cat-and-mouse game with police, making a mockery of the supposed crackdown by providing false tips.

"They extort "protection" money from shop operators and are often involved in loan sharking, human trafficking and illegal land deals. They have even been linked to stock price manipulation and vote-buying attempts during elections.

"After a temporary drop in gang membership around 1995, their numbers increased again to 84,200 in 2007, including "associate members."

"Some lawyers are calling for stronger regulations to dismantle criminal organizations.

"Yoshihiro Mitsui, chairman of the Committee on Anti-Racketeering of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), is one who says anti-yakuza steps taken so far "have had no effect."

""Criminal organizations openly exist within civil society or business society. It's abnormal," said the lawyer, 56, who was once stabbed by a gangster during a yakuza-eviction campaign.

"Whether the crackdown has been tight enough or not, yakuza are at least increasingly strapped for money, leading to a pent-up frustration within their groups, according to police sources.

"A letter received by the National Police Agency and the Metropolitan Police Department in May was indicative of this frustration.

"Signed a "Whistle-blower in Yamaguchi-gumi," the letter pointed a finger at the group's No. 2 man, Kiyoji Takayama.

"Yamaguchi-gumi is the nation's largest crime syndicate with 39,000 members and associate members.

"The letter alleged Takayama "took hundreds of millions of yen from senior members by way of mah-jongg."

"It also said he was "lining his pockets by forcing affiliated groups to purchase daily necessities at exorbitant prices."

"If such acts are overlooked, the letter said, the organization would collapse.

"It remains unknown whether the allegations are true, but police sources believe the letter was written by someone who is genuinely connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Takayama, 60, is a right-hand man to Kenichi Shinoda, 66, who assumed the Yamaguchi-gumi's top post in July 2005.

"Known in the yakuza world as Shinobu Tsukasa, Shinoda has been serving a prison term since December 2005 for violations of the gun and sword control law.

"Takayama has since effectively taken the reins of the huge underground syndicate.

"It is said that subordinate groups are required to pay 500,000 yen to 1 million yen a month to higher ranking groups. In addition, the headquarters force them to buy mineral water, towels and other everyday items.

"Selling illegal drugs would rake in easy money, but the headquarters prohibit involvement for fear of a crackdown. Many gangs are, therefore, said to be facing a chronic lack of funds.

"One thrifty group has made all members subscribe to the same cellphone carrier so they can make free calls among themselves.

"Even if gangsters have a pent-up frustration, breaking ranks would invite "punishment." So they give vent to their discontent not within the group but outside.

""A typical example is the fatal shooting of the Nagasaki mayor in April last year," said a source close to the issue.

"Mayor Iccho Itoh was shot while campaigning for re-election by a senior member of a group directly affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Tetsuya Shiroo, who was sentenced to death in the Nagasaki District Court in May, is said to have had trouble paying dues to his gangland superiors.

"Nagasaki city's refusal to yield to his demand for money, as well as reforms to the city's tender system, added to his frustration.

"The case was one of 65 shooting incidents in 2007 that claimed 21 victims, including the mayor. Of the 65 cases, 41 involved gangsters.

"Investigators say it is difficult to prevent further incidents while efforts to rid gangs of guns remain stalled. Phone tapping

"Back in April 1997, the National Police Agency produced an in-house manual for investigating cases involving guns. It called for phone taps and the use of informants within gang groups.

"It was three years before the law on communications interception during criminal investigation took effect in 2000.

"The handbook advises investigators to sever ties with informants who show any signs of betrayal.

""If such ties come out to the fore, we will be a target of gang attacks along with our informants," a former investigator said.

"It is difficult, the investigator said, to produce results through such relations as there is no assurance police will "watch over" them and informants forever.

"At the same time, yakuza groups often use members posing as informants to send false tips to police.

""Imagine how stupid police look when they raid our offices (on a false tip) and find no gun at all," said a yakuza source.

"Last year, police nationwide confiscated 231 guns from gangs, only about 30 percent of the number seized in 1997.

"Police resorted to phone tapping in 29 cases from 2000 to 2007.

"Phone tapping is allowed under the law for four types of crime: drugs, organizational murder, guns and large-scale smuggling of illegal immigrants.

"Of the 29 cases, 28 were drug-related, and one involved murder. None involved guns.

"A senior police official said interception was difficult, both technically and legally, since the law imposes stringent conditions on allowing police to eavesdrop on communications.

"These and other difficulties have led lawyers' groups to argue in favor of revisions to give real teeth to anti-gang laws.

"A group within the Chiba Bar Association has proposed its own reform plan. It says the current anti-organized crime law, which "designated" organizations to regulate, has ironically given prestige to targeted yakuza groups.

"Rather, the group argues, it is "necessary to revise laws so that gangs will be forced to dissolve themselves."

"Under its plan, the law should clearly state gangs are illegal entities and enable the public safety commission to order their dissolution.

"Specifically, a gang will be given a certain number of points based on the criminal acts committed by its members. When the total reaches a given threshold, it will be ordered to dissolve itself.

"That would certainly drive such large syndicates as the Yamaguchi-gumi and its rivals, Inagawa-kai and Sumiyoshi-kai, swiftly into a corner.

"About 15,000 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi are arrested each year, while about 4,000 are caught from each of the other two organizations.

"But the National Police Agency is less than enthusiastic about the proposals.

""They would just pretend to dissolve themselves and go underground," a source said. Others are worried that such a provision would come under fire as infringing upon freedom of association.

"But Mitsui, the head of the JFBA anti-racketeering panel, is set to propose new steps for tougher control and investigations, taking the Chiba group's idea into consideration.

""We must think of measures to make it unprofitable to remain being a gang," he said."

By Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun (8/8/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/8/2008)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"India-Japan baby in legal wrangle

"Both the infant's natural and surrogate mothers say they do not want to take custody of her. Her father does, but he is not entitled to under Indian law.

"Ikufumi Yamada, 45, and his then-wife Yuki Yamada, 41, signed a surrogacy agreement in November.

"The baby was born on 25 July in the western state of Gujarat and is now in a hospital in Jaipur, in Rajasthan.

"According to reports, Yuki Yamada no longer wants to adopt the baby. And Indian laws prohibit single men from adopting children.

"Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002 but the child born of such an agreement has to be legally adopted by its biological parents.

"'Major hassle'

"After her mother refused to adopt the baby, the surrogate mother has also left the infant who is admitted to a hospital in Jaipur.

""Doctor Yamada got divorced around mid-June and after his divorce he came alone to claim the custody of the child," news agency Reuters quoted Dr Sanjay Arya, who is looking after the baby, as saying.

""But, according to Indian laws, a single father cannot adopt a girl child. This is the major legal hassle arising in this case.

""But the question is when the child has 50 percent of its father's DNA, where does the point arise of him having to adopt the child as he is her natural father?"

"The baby is now being looked after by Mr Yamada's mother who doesn't speak any Hindi or English.

""My son loves his daughter very much. I shower all my love and affection on this baby. Tears keep rolling down my cheeks all the time," the baby's grandmother told the BBC through an interpreter.

""The grandmother becomes very emotional when she is told that the child cannot be taken out of India. The lawmakers will have to find some solution for this," Dr Arya said.

"In the past few years, India has emerged as a major centre for surrogate pregnancies.

"The western state of Gujarat is the hub for such births and gets customers regularly from the US, UK and many other countries.

"Working as a surrogate mother, or "renting the womb" as it is generally called, can fetch a woman anywhere from $6,250 to $15,000 (250,000 to 600,000 rupees) - a handsome sum for these women who mostly come from poor backgrounds.

"Some commentators argue that the Indian government - often criticised for being conservative in relation to family law - has been remarkably free of prudery in its attitude towards surrogacy.

"At a time when the practice is still illegal in many countries around the world, India has drafted guidelines giving women the right to a fee for surrogacy.

"The proposals are expected to be turned into law soon."

By BBC (8/6/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/7/2008)

*Click here and here for information about surrogacy in Japan.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"The Big Debate on the Death Penalty

"As civilization advances, cruelty retreats — or so humanists fondly believe. If it's true, does capital punishment have a place in a civilized, humane society? A consensus taking shape in most developed nations holds that it does not. Japan, with 13 executions in less than a year under former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama and a reported 80 percent of the public supporting the extreme penalty, seems to be swimming against the current on this issue.

"The trouble is that civilization is not all sweetness and light. Its stresses and strains breed crime, and Japan lately is passing through a crime wave remarkable not so much for the number of criminals and victims — still relatively small — as for the repugnant nature of some of the crimes, the conspicuous features being sadistic sex and random mass murder.

"Is it cruel to execute the perpetrator of a grotesque crime? The question presses all the more urgently because the "lay-judge" system debuting next May will require ordinary citizens to deliver the life and death verdicts that until now have been the exclusive province of legal professionals.

"Hatoyama's apparently wholehearted endorsement of capital punishment has made him a controversial figure. The Asahi Shimbun recently dubbed him "Shinigami" — the god of death. Interviewed by Takashi Uesugi for the August issue of the monthly Shincho 45, Hatoyama said, "They can call me that if they like, but with respect to both the criminal facing execution and the victim's family, it's a tactless remark."

"A death sentence, he went on, is handed down not by a god but by a court, and furthermore, "I am in communication with the families of victims, and they, almost without exception, want the death sentence carried out."

""And how do you feel about authorizing an execution?" asked Uesugi.

""I am aware," replied Hatoyama, "that it involves taking a person's life and that it's an irreversible act. How do I feel? Troubled, pained . . . [But] I do it for the sake of justice in a country under the rule of law."

"One who wouldn't buy that argument is Hosei University historian Yuko Tanaka. Writing in Shukan Kinyobi (July 18), Tanaka links capital punishment to warrior culture. Her implication is that it is out of place in peacetime. The Heian Period (794-1185) knew neither war nor execution. Both filled the void when Heian decayed in the 12th century, and for centuries thereafter the death sentence, even for lesser crimes like theft, was a matter of course.

"The Edo Period (1603-1868) represented a barely sustainable paradox — a country at peace under a warrior administration. Oddly enough, writes Tanaka, it never developed a penal prison system. Such prisons as there were held suspects awaiting verdicts or criminals awaiting sentencing. The sentence might be death (by crucifixion, for example), or exile, or flogging. But it was almost never a specified period of incarceration. The concept was scarcely known, and facilities all but nonexistent. Severity generally won the day in the name of public order. Word of fearful punishments got around, keeping a terrified populace in line.

"We like to think we've made progress since then. "Crime," writes Tanaka, "is not only the individual's problem — it's society's problem as well. For that very reason, our approach to reducing crime should not be killing those who harm us." On the contrary, in the interest of learning what makes them tick, "we should keep violent criminals alive and conduct thorough research on them."

"A peculiar — and peculiarly cruel, it has been said — feature of Japanese capital punishment is that the condemned criminal waits on death row with no idea when the sentence will be carried out. The suspense can be unbearable, as prison guards know very well.

""I'll kill you, I'll kill you all!"

"Prison official Masahiko Fujita, 62, has served as a guard on death row, and recalls for Asahi Geino (July 31) a typical prisoner outburst.

""I'll kill you, and get another trial, and as long as the trial lasts they can't execute me!"

""You can't imagine what it does, psychologically, to send a man to his death," says Fujita, "no matter how appalling the condemned person's crime."

"A rope is attached to the prisoner's neck. At the push of a button the floor disappears beneath his or her feet. Five guards push five buttons; no one knows which is the active one.

"Emotional distress aside, Fujita favors the death penalty. Its opponents, he says, "should keep in mind the high rate of recidivism, and then consider why people are condemned to death in the first place.""

By Michael Hoffman, Japan Times (8/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/5/2008)