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Japan: New Act Targets Hate Speech Against Persons from Outside Japan

(Aug. 31, 2016) In Japan, “hate speech” against people with a specific ethnic origin has become a social issue. (Summary of Press Conference by Minister of Justice After Cabinet Meeting (Jan. 16, 2015), Ministry of Justice (MOJ) (in Japanese).)  The MOJ released a report on hate speech in March 2016 that stated that there were 1,152 confirmed cases of hate speech in Japan during the three and half years ending in September 2015.  (Human Rights Education Promotion Center, Public Foundation, Report on Investigation of Results of the Actual Condition of Hate Speech (Mar. 2016), at 33,  MOJ website (in Japanese).)  To improve the situation, the Diet (Japan’s parliament) enacted the Act on the Promotion of Efforts to Eliminate Unfair Discriminatory Speech and Behavior Against Persons Originating from Outside Japan (Anti-Discriminatory Speech Act) in June 2016.  (Act No. 68 of 2016, MOJ website.)

The Act declares that unfair, discriminatory speech and behavior against people who are legally residing in Japan and who are from or whose ancestors were from outside of Japan is not tolerated. (Id. Preamble.)  The Act includes an example of unfair, discriminatory speech and behavior: openly speaking in a manner that harms the life, person, freedom, reputation, or property of such individuals or significantly insulting such persons with the objective of encouraging or inducing discriminatory feelings against them.  (Id. art. 2.)

The Act obligates the government to implement measures to eliminate such speech and behaviors. (Id. art. 4.)  The government also must respond to requests for consultation from alleged victims.  (Id. art. 5.)

However, the Act does not have provisions on the punishment of a person who displays unfair, discriminatory speech and behavior.  Some commentators have criticized the Act as “toothless” and as “narrow” for excluding persons who do not reside legally in Japan from its coverage.  (Tomohiro Osaki, Diet Debates Hate-Speech Bill that Activists Call Narrow and Toothless, JAPAN TIMES (Apr. 19, 2016).)