UN special rapporteur on free speech to censure Tokyo

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UN special rapporteur on free speech to censure Tokyo

A United Nations special rapporteur’s report on freedom of expression, urging the Japanese government not to restrict information regarding its wartime sexual slavery, is expected to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council next month.

David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion, drafted a report criticizing the Japanese government for interfering with the dissemination of historical facts, including with regard to the issue of so-called comfort women, both in school textbooks and in the press, according to Japanese media.

Kaye’s full report is expected to be released during the 35th session of the Human Right Council, which kicks off on June 6 in Geneva.

The draft report points to the Japanese government’s involvement in revising and deleting from middle school textbooks content relating to the forceful recruitment by the Imperial Japanese Army of girls and young women into sexual slavery during World War II, reported Sankei Shimbun on Friday. Kaye’s report further criticizes instances where the “comfort women” issue is mentioned, but the forceful nature of their recruitment is ignored. The rapporteur called upon the Japanese government to review the method by which it revises school textbooks.

Sankei also reported that the Japanese government plans to “submit its counterarguments” to the report, so that Korea and China do not use it to their advantage, but that it is likely that this version of the draft report will be submitted to the Human Rights Council.

Kaye visited Japan last month to investigate the situation on freedom of expression in Japan, along with the independence of its media, his second consecutive year to do so.

The report is expected to mention the infringement of rights of Takashi Uemura, a former reporter for Asahi Shimbun who wrote a series of articles on the comfort women issue, including on the late Kim Hak-sun, a Korean victim of military sexual slavery who first stepped forward with her story in 1991 and paved the way for many others to share their testimonies and enabled the issue to become recognized internationally. Uemura was targeted by ultra-nationalists who claimed he was fabricating information and has since filed a defamation suit against his accusers.

Kaye, a professor at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Law, started his legal career with the U.S. State Department and has served as a deputy legal counselor to the U.S. Embassy in The Hague.

The international human rights expert initially asked the Japanese government to take urgent steps to protect the independence of the media and promote the public’s right of access to information, following his first visit to Tokyo as special rapporteur in April of last year.

“References to ‘comfort women’ are being edited out of textbooks in junior high schools, where Japanese history is compulsory,” Kaye said in his preliminary observations issued on April 19, 2016 after this visit. “Government interference with how textbooks treat the reality of the crimes committed during the Second World War undermines the public’s right to know and its ability to grapple with and understand its past.” He advised in this statement that the Japanese government should not only refrain from interfering in the interpretation of historical events but also support efforts to “inform the public on these serious crimes.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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