Japan’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Deemed ‘Unconstitutional’ By District Court

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SAPPORO, Japan – On Wednesday, March 17th, a landmark ruling was made as one of the district courts for the Hokkaido prefecture found that Japan’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

Lawyers and same-sex marriage supporters outside the Sapporo courthouse. The sign reads “BIG STEP FORWARD FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY.” Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The ruling came from one of several cases that had been filed by same-sex couples on Valentine’s Day in 2019, in district courts in Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, and Nagoya. The District Court based in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s prefecture capital and largest city, made the first of such rulings.

Marriage is addressed in Article 24 of Japan’s constitution, and only defines marriage in terms of opposite-sex couples stating: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” While homosexuality has been legal in Japan since 1880, there has been no nationwide acceptance of same-sex unions, with only two wards in Tokyo allowing for ‘partnership certificates,’ since 2015. This creates issues for same-sex couples regarding rights of inheritance and paternity. Japan is also the only Group of Seven (G7) countries that does not recognize same-sex marriage or unions. Some have opined that Japan’s lag on same-sex marriage impacts it in the international economy, as foreign firms may be deterred from recruiting workers from Japan.

The ruling was made by presiding Judge Tomoko Takebe, who found that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex relationships violated the Constitution’s Article 14 guarantee of equality and freedom from discrimination. Judge Takebe also found that there was no violation of Article 24, since it explicitly deals with opposite-sex marriages and has no bearing on the allowance of same-sex marriage. Despite finding a constitutional violation, Judge Takebe rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for ¥1,000,000 (around $9,000 USD) in compensatory damages. She explained that she found no explicit violation of state reparations law.

The ruling comes as a sign of hope for same-sex couples in Japan. One plaintiff, who goes by the alias Rysuke Kunimi, said: “The chief judge said that the discrimination based on the natural difference of sexuality is a violation of Article 14. I could not stop crying.” The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Takeharu Kato, said he “never expected the court would rule this clearly,” and that the legal battle may be taken to a higher court.

Another couple who filed a complaint was Ai Nakajima and Tina Baumann. Nakajima and Baumann had met and were married in Germany, where Baumann is originally from. The couple then moved to Yokohama and applied for their marriage to be recognized, but their application was rejected. This created issues concerning Baumann’s visa status in the country. Regarding the new ruling, Nakajima said: “This is one huge step forward in Japan… we are moving closer to making our dream come true.”

The district court’s holding represents the first step in the government of Japan’s potential recognition of same-sex relationships. For that to happen, there would need to be a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Japan, or a law passed in the National Diet, Japan’s legislative body. Despite higher ratings approving of same-sex marriage amongst younger people, many argue that Japan’s ruling party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, is unlikely to feel the same way. Regarding further victories in court, Mikiko Terahara, the executive director of Marriage For All Japan, believes that “the Sapporo ruling will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the ongoing same-sex marriage litigation in other regions.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Gay couples sue Japan over right to get married – 14 Feb. 2019

BBC News – Japan court finds same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional – 17 Mar. 2021

CNN – Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is ‘unconstitutional,’ court rules – 17 Mar. 2021

Constitute Project – Constitution of Japan 1946 – 3 May 1947

Marriage For All Japan – Home Page (Japanese) – accessed 21 Mar. 2021Marriage For All Japan – Home Page (Japanese) –  21 Mar. 2021

Supreme Court of Japan – Courts in Japan – 2020Supreme Court of Japan – Courts in Japan – 2020

The Japan Times – Japan court rules failure to recognize same-sex marriage unconstitutional – 17 Mar. 2021

TIME – A Court Ruled Japan’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban ‘Unconstitutional.’ Here’s What’s Next for LGBTQ Rights – 17 Mar. 2021

Olympic Medals and Championships… at What Cost?

By: Melissa N. Berouty 

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the News

TOKYO, Japan A glimpse at the dictionary will tell you that a coach is “a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer.” Yet, any athlete knows that the role of a coach stretches far beyond this simple definition. A coach can serve as a mentor, motivator, or even a catalyst for a young athlete to fall in love with their respective sport. Thus, a coach possesses a great deal of responsibility, power, and influence. However, for decades in Japan, coaches have prioritized Olympic medals and Championships over the safety and well-being of their child athletes, subjecting them to brutal physical and verbal beatings.

Child athlete abuse in the quest for Olympic gold medals. Photo Courtesy of Humanium.

While one might commonly hear tough coaches make tougher players, Japanese coaches utilize a training tactic that far exceeds tough coaching, referred to as taibatsu, or corporal punishment. Japanese child athletes report being “punched in the face, kicked, beaten with objects like bats or bamboo kendo sticks, being deprived of water, choked, whipped with whistles or racquets, and being sexually abused and harassed.” According to Human Rights Watch, in 2020, 425 current and former child athletes reported physical abuse at the hand of their coaches or trainers.

Recently, Japan amended the Child Welfare Act of 1947 to prohibit corporal punishment. While this prohibition does extend to athletics, the protection it offers child athletes is inadequate and irregularly enforced. Similarly, the 2013 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence in Sports and the 2019 government codes put forth by various leading sports organizations fails to specifically address child athlete abuse. Without clear legal implications for a failure to abide, these reforms carry little to no weight in ensuring the safety and welfare of child athletes.

“I was hit so many times I can’t count.” Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Under international law, governments are obligated to protect children’s right to not only participate in athletics but to participate in a safe environment, free of both abuse and violence. This right is detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan is a party to. With this, it is imperative for leading Japanese sports organizations, such as the Japan Sports Agency, the Japan Sport Association, and the Japanese Olympic Committee, to create clear and comprehensive reporting, investigation, and sanction protocols for child athlete abuse. Without the correction of these institutional failures, child athletes will remain vulnerable.

The Olympics are marketed as an idealistic and extraordinary meeting of the world’s most prominent and gifted athletes. To preserve this façade, numerous nations, from Japan to the United States, prioritize the quest for medals over athletes’ basic human rights. Meanwhile, these athletes, child and adult alike, still represent their countries with pride and dignity. But, at what cost?

In a matter of months, we will all sit down in front of our televisions to watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Here, the Japanese government has a unique opportunity to set the record straight and “serve as a model for how other countries should end child abuse in sports.” Japan should take the lead in demonstrating that child athletes’ health and well-being do not just simply matter, but that they are the priority.

Participation in athletics should be a root of joy, empowerment, and growth, not fear, abuse, and manipulation. While winning may be the ultimate goal, one day, these child athletes will move on from competition and the global spotlight. As you view the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, keep in mind that behind every uniform is a human being. A human being that should be offered all fundamental human rights both in and out of athletic competition. The abuse of child athletes is not exclusive to Japan and remains a pressing issue worldwide.

For further information, please see:

End Violence – Japan Prohibits all corporal punishment of children – 28 Feb. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Pressure Builds on Japan to Protect Child Athletes – 28 Jan. 2021

Human Rights Watch – I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan – 20 July 2020

Merriam Webster Dictionary – Coach – 2 Apr. 2021


47 Hong Kong Activists Charged with “Conspiracy” Under New National Security Law Denied Bail

By: Timothy Murphy

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HONG KONG, China — The ongoing strife in Hong Kong continues as 47 activists and politicians were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” on February 28th. These pro-democracy activists, who were charged under the new “National Security Law,” had been arrested by authorities in early January of 2021. The National Security Law is another step in the string of continued attempts by mainland China to subvert the independence of the Hong Kong region.

Hundreds of Hong Kong citizens gathered in protest outside the courthouse as the 47 activists awaited charges. Photo Courtesy of BBC/Reuters.

The group that was charged consists of 39 men and 8 women and includes well-known figures who led pro-democratic movements in Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing’s strengthening grip on the region. Hong Kong, which was once a British colony, has long remained independent of its sovereign nation, China. Beginning in 2019, mainland China has been putting increased pressure on the freedom of Hong Kong, which has led to widespread protests from the citizens of the region.

The pro-democratic activists were arrested in January for running unofficial primary polls last summer in order to prepare for the upcoming election for Hong Kong’s legislative body: the Legislative Council. In a further attack on democratic principles, the election was postponed, the purported reason being safety precautions related to the pandemic. Officials have described these polls as an attempt to undermine the Hong Kong government.  

After four days of bail proceedings, fifteen of the activists were granted bail. However, they were not allowed to leave custody due to a subsequent appeal filed by prosecutors. Under the controversial National Security Law, they face up to life in prison for the charge of “conspiracy to commit subversion.”

In 2020, Beijing pushed for the creation of the “National Security Law” in an attempt to chip away at the independence and self-governance of Hong Kong. The law, which was put into effect on June 30th of 2020, reduces the self-governance powers of Hong Kong and criminalizes acts of secession, subversion against the central government, terrorism, and collusion. The law gives Beijing sweeping new powers to regulate the freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and even reserves interpretation of the broad law for Beijing: leaving room for even more power to be milked from the law with future judicial decisions. 

The passage of the National Security Law is a massive victory for mainland China in its efforts to further subjugate Hong Kong. It was met with protests from Hong Kong citizens. The charges laid against the 47 activists makes it clear that it is only becoming more dangerous for Hong Kong citizens to speak out against mainland China’s attempts to further subjugate the region.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong charges 47 activists in largest use yet of new security law – 2 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong protest held as 47 activists appear in court – 1 Mar. 2021

BBC NEWS – Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying? – 30 June 2021

Hong Kong Free Press – 47 democrats charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ over legislative primaries – 28 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Hong Kong: 47 Charged Under Abusive Security Law – 2 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – National security law: 15 out of 47 Hong Kong opposition figures granted bail, but ordered to remain in custody pending prosecutors’ appeal – 4 Mar. 2021

South China Morning Post – Hong Kong national security law: election bans, travel curbs, and more time in jail. What future awaits city’s opposition with 47 defendants charged in biggest case yet? – 5 Mar. 2021

The Economist – Hong Kong’s new security bill is being put to its biggest use yet – 6 Mar. 2021

The Political Turmoil Continues to Escalate Under the Military State in Myanmar

By: Kirsten Rasmussen

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

MANDALAY, Myanmar – The political turmoil in Myanmar has escalated in the last few days, with former leader Aung San Suu Kyi being charged with two new offenses on Monday. The unrest follows a coup on February 1st, which overthrew the democratic government that had been re-elected for a second 5-year term.

Civilians take to the streets in an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar. Photo Courtesy of Associated Press.

This coup reversed several years of progress for Myanmar’s path towards democracy. Since a 1962 coup, Myanmar had been without a democratic government until recently. For the last several decades the country was a military state. In 2011, the military relinquished some power to allow for the creation of a quasi-democratic system to be put into place. However, following the coup on February 1, 2021, the military has taken control of the country.

Leading members from the governing party, named the National League of Democracy, have been arrested. One of those arrested was Aung San Suu Kyi, she has been charged with violation of telecommunications law and inciting public disorder. The military has also claimed she failed to comply with coronavirus restrictions and that she illegally imported walkie-talkies.

Public outcry against the coup and its perpetrators has been seen across Myanmar. Protests have been growing across the country.

In response, the military state has also been escalating its attempts to end the protests. Security forces have made mass arrests and appear to be using lethal force as well as tear gas, flash-bang grenades, stun grenades, and water cannons. Violent police crackdowns have happened across the region in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago, and Pokokku. Reports have come in stating that at least 18 people have died and 30 were wounded in the crackdowns on Sunday. However, there are reports on social media that the number of fatalities is much higher.

As of February 28th, the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners has confirmed 1,132 people have been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the coup. Thein Zaw, a journalist with AP, was detained by police while covering the protests on Saturday. As of the last update, Zaw is still in custody.

Ambassador Kyan Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, spoke at the UN general assembly urging all countries to condemn the coup and to refuse to recognize the military regime. He also called for “the strongest possible action from the international community,” to restore democracy and the rightful government.

The military state then removed Ambassador Tun from his position stating Tun had, “betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador.”

The United Nations has strongly condemned the deadly crackdowns and has called on the military to “immediately stop using force against peaceful demonstrators.” However, further action from the UN may be limited due to the veto power of Russian and China in the Security Council. Many countries – including the United States – have condemned the coup and its use of force against the protesters. Several countries have already levied sanctions.

For further information, please see:

AP News – Associated Press Journalist detained by police Myanmar – 28 Feb. 2021

AP News – Defying deadly crackdown, crowds again protest Myanmar – 1 Mar. 2021

AP News – Myanmar police deploy early to crank up pressure on protests – 27 Feb. 2021

AP News – Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country – 26 Feb. 2021

Euronews – Myanmar coup: Junta blocks internet as well as social media amid growing anti-coup protests – 6 Feb. 2021

Euronews – Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi charged with new offences as tear gas is fired at protesters – 1 Mar. 2021

Euronews – Protestors in Myanmar call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – 17 Feb. 2021

Explicit Red-Tagging Escalates in the Philippines

By: Thea Bonifacio

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

MANILA, Philippines – With national elections approaching in 2022, the Philippine government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has escalated its red-tagging efforts in a bid to silence opposition. As a result, the current government’s propaganda has led to increased deaths in the past year.

Woman holds sign protesting against Red-Tagging after a famous celebrity had been red-tagged by government officials for expressing dissent. Photo Courtesy of LiCAS News Philippines.

Red-tagging is the act of accusing a group of persons as communists, or sympathizers, and publicizing these persons as “Enemies of the State,” attempting to violently overthrow the government. However, these accusations are commonly baseless and are targeted at dissenters or at civilians aiding minority or indigenous groups.

Last December 2020, a doctor and her husband were gunned down in broad daylight. Prior to her death, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan had appeared on an unverified list from the local militia group “Kagubak,” which linked Sancelan to the New People’s Army (NPA). Sancelan had spearheaded her community’s response to COVID-19. In January 2021, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) published a list of alumni and academics from the University of the Philippines, the national university, claiming they were current NPA rebels. Recently, a lieutenant general accused a journalist of “aiding terrorists by spreading lies” when the journalist had earlier reported on a Supreme Court petition that alleged that soldiers tortured members of an Indigenous community.

Under the Philippine 1987 Constitution Article II Section 2, the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land. Additionally, the Philippines is one of the first countries to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Thus, the country has accepted Article 18 of the UDHR—the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference.

Red-tagging is an indirect attempt to suppress civilians’ freedom of expression. The activity criminalizes the perpetuation of socialist practices that have helped society to various degrees. Dissent towards ineffective government responses and clamors for change becomes more challenging to continue when a label could lead to one’s death. A June 2020 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that red-tagging in the Philippines has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

According to Neri Colmenares, a former House Representative, the escalated red-tagging of government critics is directly linked to the upcoming 2022 elections. Two specific reasons are connected to this escalation. First, dissent and criticisms towards the government’s COVID-19 response and the killings of human rights activists are mounting, which require more active tagging to stifle dissent. Second, the government fears that their candidates for the upcoming elections are not fairing well in surveys, which start as early as 2 years before elections.

As the Philippine national elections start closing in, there is a need to stay vigilant of the government’s attempts to monopolize and police free expression. The upcoming months will be a test to see whether the act of red-tagging will be penalized, with the Philippine Senate spearheading the efforts to combat the repressive act.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Philippine General Should Answer for ‘Red-Tagging’ – 10 Feb. 2021

Philippine – Red-tagging, as explained by an AFP top brass and a premier activist – 25 Jan. 2021

LiCAS.News Philippines – Yes, let’s talk about red-tagging as censorship – 31 Oct. 2020

Official Gazette – 1987 Philippine ConstitutionConstitution of the Republic of the Philippines -–  2 Feb. 1987

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights -–  10 Dec. 1948

Voice of America – Deadly ‘Red-Tagging’ Campaign Ramps Up in Philippines – 18 Feb. 2021