Discrimination against the Buraku community is still an issue in Japan, and the government should take effective steps against it, says UN Anti-Racism Committee.

On 25-26 February the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) examined Japan’s implementation of the International Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

In the Concluding Observations the Committee urges the State party – i.e. Japan – to consider specific legislation against direct and indirect racial discrimination in accordance with the Convention. Such steps would be particularly relevant to the Buraku community, which suffers similar forms of descent-based discrimination as the Dalits of South Asia.

In 2002 CERD reaffirmed that the term ‘descent’ includes discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status, including against the Buraku community in Japan (General Recommendation XXIX, 2002). Similar observations have been made by the Special Rapporteur on racism, and the two Special Rapporteurs on ‘discrimination based on work and descent’ of the former UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

A joint report was submitted to CERD in August 2009 by the Japan Network for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, with inputs from a large number of NGOs. The report critically examines the government’s understanding of the Buraku issue under ICERD, and urges it to consider the views and recommendations expressed by the Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on racism.

Although the Japanese government maintained the position that discrimination against the Burakumin does not fall under the ICERD during the February review, the state delegation did elaborate on steps taken to eliminate discrimination against the Buraku people – also known as the ‘Dowa issue’ – in its responses to the relevant questions from the Committee.

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee regrets that no public authority is specifically mandated to deal with Burakumin discrimination cases and recommends the setting up of such a government agency or commitee. The Japanese government should also do more to improve the living conditions of the Buraku communities (para. 19).

The Committee recommends a stricter law, with punitive measures, prohibiting the use of the family registration system for discriminatory purposes, especially with regard to the situation of the Burakumin (para. 18). Furthermore, the Committee expresses serious concern about the the lack of a national anti-discrimination law in Japan (para. 9), and urges the Government to enact a law that directly prohibits racist and xenophobic statements (para. 13).