Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Japan's Justice Ministry

According to a new paper, Transfer of Power at Japan’s Justice Ministry, by Japan legal scholar Larry Repeta, "one of the more startling appointments to the new Cabinet is that of Yokohama lawyer Chiba Keiko to be Minister of Justice."

He writes that:
the authority of the Ministry is great, with responsibility to enforce criminal laws, protect individual rights, manage the immigration system, and generally oversee the legal system itself, including preparation and review of draft legislation. Ms. Chiba’s appointment should result in a sharp change in policy. She brings with her a history of more than two decades in the Diet in which she opposed nearly all LDP initiatives related to Ministry operations."
If there was any doubt on this score, she wiped it away in formal comments released on September 16, the day the new Cabinet took office. In her first message to the nation as Minister, Chiba declared that her mission is to help build a society that respects human rights and a judicial system that is “close to the people” (kokumin ni mijika na shiho). To achieve this, she listed three specific steps. First is the establishment of a new human rights agency. Second is ratification of so-called “Optional Protocols” to human rights treaties. Third is creating transparency in criminal interrogations.
Implementing these measures will not be easy. Establishing an independent commission and ratifying treaty protocols requires Diet action. Although the DPJ and its allies hold strong majorities, there will surely be voices seeking to protect the status quo. Progress on these issues will indicate the degree to which Japan’s new governors are willing to expend political capital on poorly understood measures related to human rights protection. Whatever the result, there is no doubt that this government takes a fundamentally different view of its obligations under Japanese law and human rights treaties from what we have seen in the past.
Transfer of Power at Japan’s Justice Ministry by Lawrence Repeta, Omiya Law School in Japan, presently a visiting scholar at the University of Washington, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 44-2-09, November 2, 2009.

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