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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Iraq, Cameroon and Japan with NGOs

18 August 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning heard from representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Iraq, Cameroon and Japan, ahead of its review of their country reports this week.

On Iraq, representatives of NGOs spoke about the current crisis and violent discrimination towards Yezidi, or Iraq’s indigenous Assyrian Christian population, by the Islamic State since June 2014, and the resulting humanitarian situation. The dire fate of Assyrians who were unable to flee the Islamic State militants was also raised. Systematic discrimination of the Faili Kurds, the Shabak or the Turkmen, persons of African descent and the Roma was also raised, and the organization spoke about ongoing failures of the Government of Iraq to implement any measures to address the historical and systematic nature of the discrimination.

An NGO representative speaking about Cameroon said there were 444 ethnic minority groups in Cameroon, and spoke about his organization’s work on the National Anti-Discrimination Programme. Concerns raised included discrimination in political representation and decision making, as well as in the criminal justice system. Discrimination faced by indigenous peoples was also discussed.

Concerning Japan, NGO representatives raised concerns about the growth of racist hate speech by right-wing groups, who used nationalist symbols, particularly directed towards Korean residents in Japan, and the lack of anti-racial discrimination legislation. Discrimination faced by migrant workers was also raised, as was the growth of private organizations displaying ‘Japanese Only’ signs. Systematic blanket surveillance targeting Muslims and people from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries was also raised. Organizations also expressed concern about the lack of recognition of indigenous peoples, such as the Ainu people.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke in today’s meeting: On Iraq: Minority Rights Group International and Assyrian Universal Alliance. On Cameroon: Cercle de Recherche sur les Droits et les Devoirs de la Personne Humaine. On Japan: International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Korean Residents Union in Japan, Japan Network for Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities, Buraku Liberation League, Ainu Association of Hokkaido, Shimin Gaikou Centre, Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan, Lawyers Association of Zainichi Koreans, Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Centre, Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, Attorney Team for Victims of Illegal Investigation Against Muslims, and the International Movement Against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism.

The Committee will also consider the report of Estonia this week, but there were no NGOs present from that country during the meeting.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon at the Palais Wilson to start its review of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Cameroon (CERD/C/CMR/19-21).

Statements on Iraq

A representative of Minority Rights Group International, an international organization that had been working for and with ethnic and religious minority groups in Iraq for over 10 years with a number of partner organizations on the ground, said since the submission of its shadow report a number of important developments had taken place in Iraq. What was now known as the Islamic State had taken over a growing number of cities in the north of the country since June. Those tragic developments made this review even more timely and needed. In Iraq, ethnic and religious belonging were closely linked. While a lot of attention had been devoted to the crimes perpetrated by the Islamic State, little had been said about the Iraqi Government’s responsibility under the Convention when it came to protecting its ethno-religious minorities, and the Group had made recommendations in its report on that regard. The organization spoke about discriminatory laws and practices in Iraq, highlighting blatant inequalities in terms of the poverty rate and access to education, healthcare and employment, particularly to the detriment of the Yezidi, the Shabak or the Turkmen.

The Group also spoke about the Roma and Black Iraqi communities. While Black Iraqis represented a large number of people they did not have a reserved seat in the Parliament and suffered from social stigma and economic exclusion. Neighbourhoods inhabited by Black Iraqis were characterized by extreme poverty and neglect, with a lack of clean water and sewage facilities. Living conditions in Roma villages were among the most deplorable in all of the country, and many Roma settlements had been attacked over the past decade. The Government of Iraq had failed to implement any measures to address the historical and systematic nature of that discrimination. The organization said this review was also an opportunity to address the long-lasting plight of Faili Kurds, who were massively deprived of their nationality in 1980. Despite a 2006 law establishing their right to regain Iraqi nationality, the process to obtain documentation was slow and cumbersome and hundreds of Faili Kurd families were still stateless.

A representative of Assyrian Universal Alliance spoke about Iraq’s indigenous Assyrian Christian population, also referred to as Chaldeans or Syriacs, who represented a distinct, ethno-religious and linguistic community in Iraq. Their heritage as one of the oldest Christian communities in the world served as a justification for violent attacks by members of the Islamic State. Following the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul in early June 2014, an edict was issued to all non-Muslims in the city to convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed. As nearly all of the city’s 35,000 Assyrian residents escaped Mosul, members of the Islamic State marked their homes with an Arabic letter to indicate they were Christian. Each of the 30 churches and monasteries in the city were believed to have been looted or destroyed. Initially, most sought refuge in the Nineveh Plain region, but earlier this month nearly all of the 200,000 residents there fled the region as Islamic State militants advanced. Now that culturally unique and historically significant territory was almost empty of its indigenous inhabitants. The resulting humanitarian crisis had been given the highest level emergency designation by the United Nations as tens of thousands of perpetually uprooted ethno-religious minorities struggled to access food, water and shelter from the scorching summer heat.

As disastrous as the situation of the refugees may be, their fate was better than those unable to escape the Islamic State militants, including as many as 1,500 Christians forced into sexual slavery. The persecution of Assyrians at the hands of the Islamic State was compounded by a longstanding legacy of discrimination targeting non-Arab communities within Iraq, which began under the regime of Saddam Hussein and had persisted – and even been reinforced at times – by various levels of Iraq’s new democratic Government. The Alliance asked the Committee to raise with the Government of Iraq issues concerning the establishment of a competent local security force to protect the Nineveh Plain and other indigenous territories, and the establishment of special measures in the realm of political participation, religious freedom and the security of person to ensure the adequate advancement of the rights of indigenous Assyrians in their ancestral homeland of the Nineveh Plain.

Questions on Iraq by Committee Members

Committee Experts asked for more information on the situation of minority women, quotas for political participation for minorities, about reports that members of minorities were barred from employment by the security services, and the situation of Black Iraqis and Roma, who the Committee was concerned were not really being mentioned in reports on the current situation.

Did non-governmental organizations believe that the religious persecution problem came from Syria, an Expert asked, as the Islamic State rebels had come into Iraq from Syria.
An Expert expressed concern about the name ‘Islamic State’; it was not a State and should not be referred to as if it was. What did civil society think about that?

Response on Iraq

A representative of Minority Rights Group International briefly answered the questions on people of African descent in Iraq, saying there had been migrations from East Africa over centuries, since the seventh and eighth centuries, and Black Iraqis were also descendants from slaves in Iraq, and were mostly concentrated around Basra. He said the Iraq Director of his organization had already arranged to brief Committee Members and any other interested parties this afternoon, and would answer the remaining questions then.

A representative of Assyrian Universal Alliance answered the remaining questions, confirming that Church figures showed nearly 200,000 Assyrians had been displaced. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq had said that female-headed households in Iraq had multiplied since many men were staying back to guard their property.

The quotas for political participation held for one representative per 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The current population was not known; in 2003 the population numbered 1.4 million, but today it was estimated to be half of that, and six Assyrian families were estimated to leave the country every day. The statistic was alarming given the community represented only three per cent of Iraq’s population before 2003. The quota seats should be given to reflect the population as it was when the law was established, he said.

The representative agreed with the Expert that the name ‘Islamic State’ was self-designating, and although he used it for clarity, it did seem to reinforce the aims of that group.

Statements on Cameroon

A representative of Cercle de Recherche sur les Droits et les Devoirs de la Personne Humaine said his organization’s report with initial recommendations had been transmitted to the Committee, one of the first times a Cameroonian non-governmental organization had worked with the United Nations in this way, and although he did not have a statement prepared he would say a few words about the situation. Racial discrimination was one of the main scourges of discrimination in Cameroon, he said. There were 444 ethnic minority groups in Cameroon, he said, speaking about the National Anti-Discrimination Programme and how it worked on the floor. Concerns raised included discrimination in political representation and decision making, as well as in the criminal justice system. Discrimination faced by indigenous peoples was also discussed, as was prison overcrowding, which was a major concern.

Questions on Cameroon by Committee Experts

What sort of everyday discrimination could be seen in Cameroon, asked an Expert. The Expert asked about reports about indigenous peoples in Cameroon, such as Pygmies. The organization was asked about pay discrimination faced by persons from ethnic and racial minorities. An Expert asked about quotas to improve political representation of ethnic minorities. What was the status of the organization, was it established by the Government to run the National Anti-Discrimination Programme?

Response on Cameroon

The representative said 444 ethnic minority groups were found to be in Cameroon, and the organization was independent and worked on the National Anti-Discrimination Programme. There was no law in Cameroon regarding an ethnic or regional component, and while the Supreme Court asked that electoral lists had 30 per cent women candidates, there was no determined quota. The Supreme Court excluded a large number of candidates from expressing their legal right to run public affairs.

Statements on Japan

A representative of the International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism said the Government of Japan had paid little attention to the Committee’s previous recommendations, neither those of 2010 nor of 2001. Japan had no legal or administrative measures to address racial discrimination, despite acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 20 years ago. Furthermore, the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, during its review of Japan in July 2014, expressed its deep concern about making the same recommendations for the last 35 years since Japan’s ratification. The result was serious damage and negative effects to the discriminated against communities as well as society as a whole. Japan could no longer continue to ignore the recommendations of the Committee and other United Nations human rights bodies.

A representation of Japan Federation of Bar Associations expressed concern o n a number of areas. First that Japan did not recognize the Committee’s competence to receive and consider individual complaints. Second, that Japan still did not have a national human rights institution. Third, the refusal to appoint non-nationals to be conciliation commissioners, who were not public officials but were more dispute mediators. Fourth, the Association expressed concern about discrimination against foreign workers, particularly from Brazil and Peru, who suffered various types of exploitation including under the Technical Intern Training Programme.

A representative of the Korean Residents Union in Japan spoke about the growth of extreme racist hate speech and xenophobia towards Koreans in Japan, and the lack of any law to forbid it. Extreme cases of racist hate speech, such as calls for a massacre or genocide, could be heard in public, and there were concerns of how the increase in incidents could influence future generations. Some racist organizations flew a Hakenkreuz during their demonstrations, which was the flag with the rising sun, the symbol of Japanese militarism. Finally, memories of the Nazi genocide or the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 were dealt with very imprudently in Japan.

A representative of the Japan Network for Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities expressed concerns about hate speech, criticizing Prime Minster Abe for perpetrating far-right views and not admitting that the so-called ‘comfort women’ were sexual slaves. She also said the police used the penal code to oppress those who fought against hate speech, including resident Koreans, not those who conducted hate speech. The Committee was asked to recommend that Japan enact an anti-racial discrimination law, and to educate local Government officials on the existence of the Convention.

A representative of the Buraku Liberation League expressed concerns about widespread racist demonstrations against minority groups such as Koreans, Chinese and Burakumin, staged by racist groups such as the Zaitokukai, about the permission and protection given by the authorities to those racist demonstrators under the name of “freedom of expression”, and about the oppression by the authorities of civil society protests against racist organizations. Concerns were also expressed about the spread of hate speech in printed media and the internet, and increasingly open displays of “Japanese Only” signs at restaurants and other private establishments. Persistent and repeated hate speech and crude remarks by public officials which distorted historical events was also raised as a concern.

A representative of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido spoke about the recognition of the Ainu people as an indigenous people, as recommended by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and as promised by the Government of Japan in June 2008. The Committee was asked to make the following recommendations: that Japan establish an national human rights institution to implement the Declaration and recommendations of United Nations human rights treaty bodies, conduct an exhaustive survey of Ainu people, establish a national tripartite committee, and promote Ainu policy with legal measures.

A representative of the Shimin Gaikou Centre called on the Government of Japan to recognize the Ryukyuans as indigenous peoples and protect their economic, cultural and land rights. The Government was also called upon to stop the construction of military bases and all relevant facilities in Henoko and Takae that would cause significant environmental destruction, despite 73.5 per cent of the populations expressing their opposition to the construction. The Government of Japan was also called upon to affirm the rights to language and education of the history and culture of the Ryukyus, whose languages had been recognized by UNESCO as severely or definitely endangered. Finally, the Government should nullify laws which were discriminatorily applied only to the Ryukyus or Okinawa concerning land usage by the United States military.

A representative of the Human Rights Association of Korean Residents in Japan spoke about discrimination against Korean residents of Japan in accessing Korean education, a problem that had gone on for generations. Many parents had given up on sending their children to Korean schools and instead sent them to Japanese schools, despite wanting their children to receive an ethnic education. The Committee was asked to recommend that the Government of Japan reverse its decision to exclude Korean schools from the tuition waiver programme and to urge local governments that had suspended subsidies to Korean schools to withdraw their suspension.

A representative of the Lawyers Association of Zainichi Koreans said around 400,000 Koreans lived in Japan with permanent resident status, most of whom were descendants of individuals who had been forced to live in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Some Koreans were also first-generation immigrants. He raised concerns including the exclusion of more than 10,000 elderly Koreans with permanent resident status from the national pension scheme in Japan, and around 3,000 disabled Koreans who lived without a pension.

A representative of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Centre, Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan expressed a number of concerns which it would like the Committee to raise with the Government of Japan, including that many migrant women who suffered domestic violence could not leave their husbands and escape their abusive situation out of fear they may lose their resident status, under a 2012 amendment to the Immigration Control Act, and the lack of legal safeguards. He also spoke about the vulnerable position of foreign nationals following the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and the lack of any Government policy to meet their needs.

A representative of the Attorney Team for Victims of Illegal Investigation Against Muslims said around 110,000 Muslims lived in Japan today and many suffered from extensive and systematic surveillance by the police. In 2010 police documents leaked onto the Internet showed that the Japanese police conducted systematic blanket surveillance targeting Muslims and people from Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries. Police audited all people attending mosques in Japan and surveyed communities at halal shops, said the representative. The Japanese police held a massive database of Muslim individuals and people from OIC Member States. The leaked documents also suggested that the police conducted the surveillance in cooperation with foreign agencies such as the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency and shared the information with them. Those actions not only violated the right to privacy of the individuals concerned but also inhibited their religious freedoms.

A representative of the International Movement Against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism spoke about the problem of trafficking in persons in Japan, which had no specialized law to criminalize it. The representative asked the Committee to raise with the Government the lack of legislation and of a specialized governmental body to implement anti-trafficking policies, the need to reform the process of identification of victims, and finally, the need to improve protection for victims in shelters, including psychological care and legal consultation services.

Questions by Committee Experts on Japan

An Expert asked for clarification on which groups were the main recipients of hate speech, and for the assertions about systematic surveillance of Muslims. Another said the Committee believed that Japan had partially implemented some of its previous recommendations, and said credit must be given where it was due. Could the non-governmental organizations clarify please? Were there any Black people in Japan, or people of African origin, an Expert asked. Was the approach to racial difference more of an assimilation approach, another asked. More information on the comfort women was asked for, as well as the focus on trafficking for forced labour, as well as sexual exploitation.

Response by Non-Governmental Organizations on Japan

Hate speech was largely targeted towards ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other foreigners, a representative responded, also clarifying that there was no law criminalizing racial hate speech. The source of the racial hatred was colonialism, it was added. The Government had not yet recognized or issued any compensation to the Japanese victims of sexual slavery during World War II – so called ‘comfort women’ – and today those women were also victims of hate speech, and terms such as ‘prostitute’.


For use of the information media; not an official record