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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Mauritius, Cuba and Japan with civil society

GENEVA (14 August 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations with respect to Mauritius, Cuba and Japan, whose reports on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations.  

During the discussion, a representative of a non-governmental organization from Mauritius drew attention to the racial discrimination based on the unwritten rules of the caste system.  The ethnicity policy which prevailed in Mauritius had been specifically designed to maintain and perpetuate the reign of the Vaish ethnic community over all other minority groups.  The destructive forces of racism were in motion in the context of the upcoming general election in December 2019.  The racial profiling of potential candidates had already started, which meant that the ethnic origin of candidates had to match the ethnic origins of the majority of voters.  

On Japan, civil society organizations underlined the problem of rising hate crimes since the passage of the 2016 Hate Speech Elimination Act, as well as racist statements by Government officers and law enforcement officers.  Minorities with roots in Japan, such as the Ainu, as well as those who did not have a valid visa status (asylum seekers), were excluded from the scope of its protection.  Civil society representatives also drew attention to the failure of the Government to request local governments to resume or maintain the provision of subsidies to Korean schools, to Korean residents in Japan who did not have Japanese nationality and the right to vote, and to racial discrimination against Burakumin, indigenous Ainu, and the people of Ryukyu/Okinawa.  Another important issue was the denial by the Government of Japan and right-wing groups of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army before and during the Second World War, namely of the massacre of Koreans following the Great Kanto earthquake, and of the “comfort women” issue.  Some organizations pointed out that it was not appropriate to treat the Ainu people as indigenous peoples, and they reminded that Japan was an international pioneer in abolishing racial discrimination.      

Non-governmental organizations from Cuba underlined that the principle of non-discrimination had been consolidated and strengthened in Cuba.  Any behaviour harming human dignity was punished by law.  The Criminal Code contained the crime of apartheid and the right to equality, whereas the Labour Code stipulated equality in the workplace.  In terms of challenges, there was a need to conduct multidisciplinary research on racism and racial discrimination.  Racist stereotypes were still deeply rooted in culture, and much remained to be done to remove obstacles and challenges.  

Speaking on Mauritius was Affirmative Action.
 
Speaking on Japan were Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Japan Network Towards Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities, ERD Net, Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan, Korean Residents Union in Japan, Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, Solidarity Network with Migrants in Japan, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Japan Committee for Citizens’ Rights, and Academics’ Alliance for Correcting Groundless Criticism of Japan.

The National Union of Cuban Jurists and the Cuban Association of the United Nations spoke about Cuba.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined twentieth to twenty-third periodic report of Mauritius (CERD/C/MUS/20-23).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, on behalf of the Committee welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations.

Statement on Mauritius

Affirmative Action noted that it was not true that only the Creoles were victims of racial discrimination in Mauritius as the unwritten rules of the caste system, which pervaded in society, imposed ethnic penalties on members of the Hindu community.  There was a huge gap between correcting ethnic imbalances and equality in dignity and rights.  The ethnicity policy which prevailed in Mauritius had been specifically designed to maintain and perpetuate the reign of the Vaish ethnic community over all other minority groups.  The organization reminded that the Human Rights Committee in 2012 had found that the provisions of the “Best Loser System” had been in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Mauritius had had to take proactive measures to provide an effective remedy to implement the Covenant.  However, the measures it had taken had been a legal strategy to maintain the status quo.  The urgency of the moment dictated that the electoral reform, which was scheduled for the end of the year, could be nothing less than a comprehensive and fully-fledged reform.  The destructive forces of racism were in motion in the context of the upcoming general election in December 2019.  Racial profiling of potential candidates had already started, based on the so-called “scientific communalism,” which meant that the ethnic origin of candidates had to match the ethnic origins of the majority of voters.  

Statements on Japan

Japan Federation of Bar Associations stated that Japan had not recognized the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual complaints, and thus urged the Committee to recommend to the Japanese Government that it do so.  Japan had refused to appoint non-nationals as conciliation commissioners.  The Hate Speech Elimination Act, which had come into force in June 2016, lacked provisions on the prohibition of racial discrimination.  Minorities with roots in Japan, such as the Ainu, as well as those who did not have a valid visa status (asylum seekers), were excluded from the scope of protection.  The law only covered hate speech linked with racial discrimination, but it did not cover discriminatory treatment which minorities in Japan faced on a daily basis, such as discrimination in employment and housing.  

Japan Network Towards Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities reminded that the occurrence of hate crimes had been on the rise since the passage of the 2016 Hate Speech Elimination Act.  For example, the wall of the South Korean Cultural Centre had been set on fire in 2015, and there had been an arson attack against a credit union related to “North Korea” in 2017.  In February 2018, two right-wing activists had fired five bullets at the Headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.  However, the Government had never condemned such hate crimes.  The organization requested the Committee to urge the Government of Japan to condemn hate crimes immediately, and to create a task force to implement concrete and comprehensive policies against hate crimes, including a fact-finding survey on a regular basis.  It also requested the Committee to urge the Government to denounce online hate speech.  

ERD Net called attention to the problem of racist statements by Government officers and law enforcement officers.  One such case related to the statement by the current Deputy Prime Minister and former Prime Minister Taro Aso about a large number of refugees flooding Japan from the Korean Peninsula and suggesting that they might be armed refugees who should be shot to death.  Despite the seriousness of the statement, the Government had simply stated that he had spoken as a politician and not as a cabinet member.  The Government should design a comprehensive training scheme about hate speech and conduct it throughout the administrative structure both at the national and local level.  The organization also called attention to the continued absence of data on the ethnic composition of Japan.  

Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan said that despite previous recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Japanese Government had failed to apply the High Schools Tuition Support Fund Programme to 10 Korean high schools, and it had failed to request local governments to resume or maintain the provision of subsidies to Korean schools.  Education in minority languages was not adequately guaranteed, and one in three foreign parents worried that their children could no longer use their native language at Japanese schools, and they wanted facilities where they could learn their native language.  In addition, the Government had been imposing re-entry permits prior to departure for permanent residents, such as Koreans born in Japan.  

Korean Residents Union in Japan recalled that as of 30 June 2017, around 330,000 Koreans lived in Japan as foreign nationals with special permanent resident status.  They had been forced to live in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century when Korea was a Japanese colony.  Those Koreans used to be Japanese citizens, but they had lost their nationality in 1952.  The Japanese Government denied that the Korean residents in Japan were a national or ethnic minority, and they had no opportunity to learn about their language, culture or history.  They did not have the right to vote in either national or local elections, despite the fact that the majority of Korean residents had been born and raised in Japan, and that they paid taxes.  Another important issue was the denial by the Government of Japan and right-wing groups of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army before and during the Second World War, namely of the massacre of Koreans following the Great Kanto earthquake.  

Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, reminding of the International “Comfort Women” Memorial Day on 14 August, underlined that the Japanese Government actively denied that “comfort women” had been sex slaves.  Denials and defamation caused further psychological pain to survivors.  The organization demanded that the Committee reiterate the importance of investigation and acknowledging of facts.  Both were fundamental components of satisfaction and guarantee of non-repetition.  

Solidarity Network with Migrants in Japan asked the Committee to urge the Government of Japan to make an effective amendment to the Technical Intern Training Act, which had not alleviated the problem of indebtedness of trainees.  The Government should adopt a new clause on the forcible deportation of trainees.  The Government should also abolish the system of residence status revocation for migrant women, and provide public assistance to foreign residents under the same conditions as for Japanese nationals.  

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism stressed the problem of racial discrimination against Burakumin, indigenous Ainu, and the people of Ryukyu/Okinawa.  The people of Ryukyu/Okinawa had been persistently opposing the construction of a new United States military base in Henoko.  Their environmental rights, including the right to information and health, and the principle of free, prior and informed consent, had been violated due to the Government’s failure to provide effective measures to ensure transparency and decontamination of environmental damages cause by the United States military.  Finally, the organization noted that minority and indigenous women reportedly experienced more difficulties in their enjoyment of human rights, including access to education, employment and social welfare.  

Japan Committee for Citizens’ Rights expressed astonishment about the contradiction between the real history of the Ainu people and the versions presented by some civil society organizations at the United Nations.  The definition of indigenous peoples in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was ambiguous.  The Ainu had been protected by the Hokkaido Former Aboriginals Protection Act, and after the Second World War they had made it clear that they were Japanese.  Therefore, it was not appropriate to treat the Ainu as indigenous peoples.  

Academics’ Alliance for Correcting Groundless Criticism of Japan reminded that on 13 February 1919 Japan had been the first country to propose a declaration for racial equality within the League of Nations.  However, United States President Woodrow Wilson had argued that such an important issue should be decided on unanimously.  The United States had later passed an act that clearly discriminated against the Japanese in the United States, which had been followed by the “yellow peril” fever in Western countries.  It was natural for Japan to be a pioneer of racial equality in international relations because it was the biggest victim of racial discrimination.  

Statements on Cuba

National Union of Cuban Jurists recalled that the principle of non-discrimination had been consolidated and strengthened in Cuba.  Any behaviour harming human dignity was punished by law.  The Cuban Constitution reflected that principle, whereas the Criminal Code contained the crime of apartheid and the right to equality.  The Labour Code stipulated equality in the workplace.  In terms of challenges, there was a need to conduct multidisciplinary research on racism and racial discrimination.  Racist stereotypes were still deeply rooted in culture, and much remained to be done to remove obstacles and challenges.  

Cuban Association of the United Nations explained that it had been part of an inter-institutional group that had worked to draft Cuba’s periodic report to the Committee.  Cuban civil society had discussed anti-discrimination activities and the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  The Association encouraged university students to study international law and the United Nations system, as well as challenges in building a fairer society in Cuba.  The United States’ blockade against the Cuban people was the greatest obstacle to achieving social development.  

Questions by Committee Experts

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE SILVA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cuba, observed a lack of Cuban non-governmental organizations in Geneva, and asked that he speak with the representatives of the two non-governmental organizations that were present in Geneva in private about issues that would be raised with the Cuban delegation.

One Expert asked who maintained the caste system and about Indian indentured labour in Mauritius.  Was there any solidarity between people of African descent and of Indian origin in the country?  Was there a movement among the lower caste for rights?  What was the racial profiling of candidates for the general elections of December 2019?  

What was the population of the Chagos Islands living in Mauritius?  What was the attitude of the Government towards that population?    

Was the impact of the United States blockade disproportionate for black Cubans?  Did the two non-governmental organizations from Cuba interact with other civil society associations from Cuba, and from the United States?  Was there disaggregated data on the education system, and on gender and gender identity.

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Japan, inquired why minorities could not use the Hate Speech Act, and about subsidies for Korean schools.  Were “North and South Korean” schools treated differently?  

What was the collaboration between the Government of Japan and civil society?  What kind of hate speech was prosecuted in the country?  What kind of assistance did victims of hate speech receive?  Could non-governmental organizations comment on a survey that had revealed a great degree of discrimination in housing and employment?  

Was there a regulating body to punish online hate speech?  What was the representation of minorities in public media and in school textbooks?  

YEMHELHE MINT MOHAMED, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Mauritius, pointed out that the major problem in Mauritius faced the Creoles, who were poorly represented in the Government.  Were the Creoles represented in Parliament?  

Replies by Non-Governmental Organization from Mauritius  

Affirmative Action explained that the colonial legacy in Mauritius was reflected in the country’s political representation system.  All political parties had candidates from all ethnic communities.  Electoral boundaries had been designed in a way that favoured the Hindu community.  Every other minority was lumped together and given a minimal number of political representatives.  All prime ministers had come from the Vaish community and from two families.  As for the racial profiling of candidates in elections, it was a system that favoured only candidates’ ethnic profile.  Within the Hindu caste system, the Vaish community was on top.  One ethnic community wanted to have power over everyone else.  The Creoles were among the poorest in the country generation after generation, and they made up the majority of the prison population.  The Equal Opportunities Commission did not have a mandate to hear complaints from public servants.

Replies by Non-Governmental Organizations from Cuba

Cuban Association of the United Nations noted that it was very difficult to say that the United States blockade affected people based on their skin colour.  It was a blockade targeting the entire Cuban people.  It was the main violation of human rights of 11 million Cubans, and it directly affected the work of civil society in the country.  There were about 2,000 Cuban non-governmental organizations that worked on a daily basis, and they had ongoing dialogue with the Cuban Government.  It was not clear why other Cuban citizens were not present in Geneva.  The organization said that it did not have relations with Cubans abroad.  Refining statistics was one of the issues that the organization worked on with the Cuban authorities.  There was no distinction between Cubans of African descent and of European origin.  Many Cubans were so mixed that it was very difficult to design policies directed at a specific ethnic origin.  

National Union of Cuban Jurists clarified that in Cuba there was no “black community” as the country was rather heterogeneous.  There were no restrictions for black women in Cuba to acquire education and career.  There was also a public awareness campaign on fighting gender-based violence.  Nevertheless, Cuba still had to overcome challenges in order to achieve equal treatment of its citizens.

Replies by Non-Governmental Organizations from Japan

ERD Net said that the Government of Japan had organized a dialogue with civil society in 2016, before the start of the drafting of its current periodic report.  Civil society had also initiated meetings with the Government.  

Korean Residents Union in Japan explained that the views of non-governmental organizations and of the Government differed which was why the authorities would not always take them into account.  As for hate crimes, cases were prosecuted when targeting specific persons and institutions.  There were no aggravating circumstances in the prosecution of hate crimes.  In the absence of a national human rights institution, the Human Rights Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice received complaints, but they had no legally binding effect.  Before 2016, hate crimes had taken place close to Korean schools.  

Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan clarified that “Korean schools” referred to schools affiliated with the “North Korean” Government, and they had been founded in the 1930s.  The Government of Japan subsidized 52 foreign high schools, which excluded “North Korean” schools, due to the unresolved issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the “North Korean” Government.  Turning to the re-entry permission system, the organization explained that foreigners who had left Japan for more than two years had to re-apply for entry permits.  “North Korean” passport holders had to abide by stricter rules with respect to the re-entry permission system.

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For use of the information media; not an official record