• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Japan 2011

July 5, 2011

Head of government: Naoto Kan (replaced Hatoyama Yukio in June)
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 127 million
Life expectancy: 83.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 5/4 per 1,000

The daiyo kangoku pre-trial detention system persisted, increasing the risk of abusive interrogation practices. The comfort women reparations movement gathered further momentum, with several Japanese cities urging the central government to compensate and issue apologies to survivors of the comfort women system. The Minister of Justice set up a working group on capital punishment in July; that same month, two people were executed. Refugees and asylum-seekers remained vulnerable to abuses; one man was killed while being deported and two immigration detainees committed suicide.


In May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Japan and called on the government to establish a national human rights institution, abolish the death penalty and resolve the “comfort women” issue. In June, Naoto Kan became Prime Minister following Hatoyama Yukio’s resignation nine months into the job. The Social Democratic Party withdrew from the ruling coalition over failure to renegotiate the relocation of the US marine air base in Futenma, Okinawa. After the July elections, the ruling coalition lost control of the Upper House to the Liberal Democratic Party.

Justice system

The daiyo kangoku system continued to facilitate torture and other ill-treatment aimed at extracting confessions during interrogation. Under the daiyo kangoku system, the police can detain suspects for up to 23 days.

  • Sugaya Toshikazu was exonerated of murder in March after just over 17 years in prison. He was granted a retrial after it was shown that DNA evidence used in his first trial was faulty and his confession coerced during pre-trial detention.
  • The Supreme Court rejected a Nagoya High Court ruling in the case of Okunishi Masaru, ordering it to reconsider a retrial appeal. This was the first time in 34 years that the Supreme Court had revoked a lower court ruling involving a retrial appeal for death row inmates. In his first trial, Okunishi Masaru said he had been forced to confess. He was acquitted for lack of evidence. The Nagoya High Court then reversed his acquittal and he was sentenced to death in 1969.

Violence against women and girls

In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted that survivors of sexual crimes “do not want to receive economic compensation without an official apology and official recognition of State responsibility”. She considered the “comfort women” reparation movement one of the most organized and well documented. Councils in 21 Japanese cities or towns adopted resolutions advocating apology and compensation for survivors of the “comfort women” system.

Death penalty

Two people were executed in July, exactly one year since the last executions. At least 111 prisoners, including several mentally ill prisoners, remained on death row in harsh conditions. Executions are typically carried out in secret by hanging. Prisoners are usually notified only a few hours before their execution if at all. Family members are informed only after the execution.

In March, the Japanese Diet (parliament) approved a bill to abolish the statute of limitations on murder cases subject to capital punishment. In July, the Minister of Justice established a working group within the Ministry to study capital punishment. It held hearings in August, September and October without releasing conclusions.

  • In November, the first death sentence was handed down under the saiban-in (lay judge) system at the Yokohama District Court for murder.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Claims for refugee status continued to be subject to lengthy delays, with some claims taking up to a decade to be finalized. Asylum decisions remained beyond the purview of judicial or other independent review. As of December an estimated 1,000 individuals had filed asylum claims and approximately 30 individuals were granted refugee status. Under the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, including children, were detained for indefinite periods without recourse to independent review of the necessity of their detention. Japan became the first Asian state to resettle refugees processed outside the country, accepting 27 refugees from Myanmar who had been processed in Thailand.

  • In March, Ghanaian national Abubakar Awudu Suraj died while being escorted by Japanese immigration officers onto a plane for deportation. The investigation was completed but no arrests were made by the end of the year.
  • Two detainees at the East Japan Immigration Centre committed suicide. Detainees at the West Japan and East Japan Immigration Centres went on hunger strike in February and May respectively, demanding that those detained for long periods, minors and sick people be released from detention and that detention conditions, including access to medical treatment, be improved.