Japan: LGBT Activists Will Monitor Government’s Sincerity

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) works to ensure that issues facing LGBTI communities are raised at appropriate international fora such as meetings of regional human rights commissions and treaty monitoring bodies at the United Nations (UN). As part of this work, IGLHRC assists local LGBTI activists with reports for review by the UN. We also partner with other international human rights organizations such as Arc International and ILGA-International to lobby and advocate for LGBT rights at the UN.

At the beginning of 2008, IGLHRC was asked by activists in Japan to assist with a stakeholders’ report to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR). Azusa Yamashita from the Citizens’ Council for Human Rights Japan and GayJapanNews worked on that report. This update is based on an article by Ms. Yamashita about the outcome of the review process and the potential implications for LGBT communities in Japan.

At the 8th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review, on June 13, 2008, the Japanese government declared that it would accept a recommendation to take measures to eliminate discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This statement by the government was received with mixed feelings by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTI) activist and rights groups in Japan. While most welcomed the government’s declaration, many also believed it was merely ‘lip service’ for the sake of appearance at an international human rights forum.

In February, before Japan was reviewed by the UNHRC, 21 national and international LGBTI organizations including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission jointly submitted a report on the situation of LGBTI human rights in Japan to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). During the review, which took place on May 9 in Geneva, governments of 42 countries at the UPR Working Session of the UNHRC made several recommendations on various human rights issues, including one to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity1.

On May 30, several different human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from throughout Japan jointly asked the Japanese government to adopt all the recommendations. The NGOs also sent a joint letter with the same request to the Minister of Foreign Affairs who responds to questions on the country’s human rights record at the international level. The Japanese government’s announcement to accept the recommendation on LGBTI rights came in response to pressure from the NGOs and international organizations.2 However, Japanese activists ask, “Can we really welcome the decision?”

Dr. Hiroyuki Taniguchi, a researcher at Waseda University in Tokyo who specializes in international human rights law as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity, says that during the past 10 years the Japanese government has claimed it has already taken various measures to protect the human rights of people whose sexual orientation and gender identity differ from the majority’s. However, there has been very little actual effort and mostly promotional rhetoric. Dr. Taniguchi points out that the government has done nothing effective to realize the human rights of LGBTI people.

Sumie Ogasawara, a program officer with the Japan Committee of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR-JC) agrees. She says: “The government has said they have been taking measures on various human rights issues, but they haven’t. For example, the government has failed to take effective measures to eliminate racial discrimination despite the recommendation made by Doudou Diene, UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to eliminate existing racism. The government has said they’re working on it, but the fact is they’ve been ignoring the UN recommendation!” IMADR-JC is an international human rights NGO with UN consultative status.

Ogasawara does say, however, that the recommendation on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination should be welcomed. “It’s a fruit of the effort by LGBTI organizations that the issue of LGBTI human rights in Japan has been on the table of discussion at [the] UN. We just need to monitor and pressure the government to make sure they’ll implement the recommendations they adopted.”

It is not widely known that there is neither an anti-discrimination law in Japan nor a national human rights commission to address discrimination. Different ‘minorities’ including LGBTI people face discrimination in their daily life, with many cases of discrimination going unreported and perpetrators going unpunished.

It is now hoped that the government’s decision to adopt the recommendation on the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity can be used as a tool to advocate for LGBTI rights when talking with the national government over the next four years—before the UNHRC conducts its next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Japan.

LGBTI activists and organizations in Japan have learnt that they can make their voices heard at an international level if they use mechanisms like the UPR to act in solidarity with international LGBTI organizations and national human rights groups within Japan. This strengthens the movement for equality for all, including LGBTI people.


1- According to the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Japan, “Canada recommended that Japan finalize the legislation needed to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles… Canada also recommended that Japan take measures to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” (UN General Assembly Human Rights Council, 8th Session, Report of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review of Japan, A/HRC/8/44, May 30, 2008, Para. 19.)

2- Japan replied that, “For the purpose of eliminating all forms of discrimination including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice were conducting awareness-raising activities for human rights, human rights counseling, and the investigation and resolution of human rights violation cases.” (UN General Assembly Human Rights Council, 8th Session, Report of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review of Japan, A/HRC/8/44/Add.1, June 17, 2008, Para. 8.) Japan further noted that, “The government believes that any human rights violations based on sexual or gender identity cannot be ignored, and it seeks to eradicate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation through educational activities. The government noted that sex re-assignment surgery or other treatments for gender identity disorder are recognized as due medical practices. Changing registration of gender is possible by judgment of the family court if the person concerned fulfils certain conditions. The government noted it has not yet acceded to the individual communications procedure under any international treaty, and that it is currently considering this matter while it has not yet reached any decision.” (UN General Assembly Human Rights Council, 8th Session, Report of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review of Japan, A/HRC/8/44, May 30, 2008, Para. 29.)