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

Protests Continue as Students from Prestigious Istanbul University Fight Erdoğan’s Appointment of New Rector

By: Phyllis Duffy

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Protests erupt as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appoints Melih Bulu as the new rector at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Bulu is a businessman known for his links to President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). The decision to appoint Bulu was condemned by university members and construed “as a government attempt to infiltrate one of the country’s last left-leaning institutions.” Bulu is the first rector selected from outside Boğaziçi University’s community since Turkey’s 1980 military coup.

Turkish Police forcefully detaining a demonstrator during protests against President Erdoğan’s rector appointment. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch and Murat Baykara/Sipa via AP Images.

Under AKP rule, Turkish institutions and society are “on a firmly religious and socially conservative path.” President Erdoğan hopes to raise a “pious generation;” however, younger people are snubbing his vision for the future of Turkey. This is due to the overwhelming lack of employment younger people, especially new graduates, are facing.

Can Selçuki, general manager of the consultancy Istanbul Economics Research, addressed why he believes the younger generations are resisting. Selçuki argues that younger people are “independent and articulate, and they know what they want.” With this, he argues that there has been “a shift away from the identity politics that currently define so much of the political sphere.” Today, Turkish people want the government to provide them with assistance and do not care which politician provides these services.

What started as a peaceful protest back in January 2021 — faculty members and students standing silently, socially distanced, and with their backs turned on the rector’s office —quickly turned into arrests and the use of excessive force by the police. 

Since the demonstration started, around 700 protesters have been detained,  many of which have since been released. The majority of those arrested have been students “marking one of the biggest displays of civil unrest in Turkey since the 2013 Gezi Park movement.” Five of these detainees were students who were arrested for carrying LGBTQ flags. On April 1, police violently arrested thirty-five students. Images of the April 1st events depict police grabbing students’ throats and throwing them to the ground. As time progresses, the violence towards the protesters has become increasingly more violent.

Erdoğan said “his government would not allow the Boğaziçi protests to spiral out of control,” referring to demonstrators as “terrorists and LGBT youth.”  He believes that the protesters are working against the government’s “national and spiritual values.”  A fourth-year political science student, Behren Evlice, explained how the students and young people of Turkey are furious because “[t]he state has attacked [them] with the police and violence.” He continued to explain that students simply want their opinions to be taken into consideration when talking about their university.

With no end in sight, police have placed a barricade at the university’s entrance, but this has not stopped protesters from moving towards the rector’s office.  In response to these events, more protests are being called for throughout Turkey in support of the students.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Turkey’s Erdogan denounces LGBT youth as police arrest students – 2 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Turkey Resumes its Crackdown on Student Protesters – 2 Apr. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Turkey: Student Protesters at Risk of Prosecution – 18 Feb. 2021

Reuters – Turkey detains 50 more people after university protests – 26 Mar. 2021

The Guardian – Student protests grow as Turkey’s young people turn against Erdoğan – 4 Feb. 2021

The NY Times – Prestigious Istanbul University Fights Erdogan’s Reach – 1 Feb. 2021


Education Crisis: Syrian Refugee Students Denied Access to Learning

By: Chiara Carni

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A ministerial conference on Supporting Syria and the Region was held on March 30, 2021 in Brussels. Many argued that this conference should focus on the unprecedented education crisis facing Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Before the COVID-19 school closure, only 42 percent of the 660,000 school-age Syrian children in Lebanon were going to school. There has been a substantial drop since COVID-19, with the number now resting at 190,000 Syrian children while another 25,000 who should have re-enrolled or entered grade 1 have not. Fewer than one percent of Syrian children complete grade 9.

Less than half of the school-aged refugee children in Lebanon are in formal education. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

The Education Ministry announced its official shift to distance learning in March 2020. The Ministry announced that it would publish a distance learning strategy in August, but has failed to do so. Additionally, it has not established any clear plans for school re-openings. The cause for this dramatic drop in enrollment stems from many reasons, including restrictions on education. In many cases, refugee children cannot attend school because their families cannot afford transportation or because public schools have refused to enroll them.  Schools have refused to allow Syrian children to take mandatory exams if they fail to prove legal residency in Lebanon, which is required beginning at age 15. Unfortunately, approximately 70 percent of Syrians cannot qualify or afford to provide this proof.

During the summer of 2020, the Education Ministry forced the closure of nine unlicensed private schools. The schools provided education to approximately 5,000 Syrian students, and in return, the Ministry only provided spaces at public schools for 800 students. Two humanitarian groups paid for 3,000 children to enroll at private schools, leaving 1,200 students still unenrolled by the closure. Because of the financial toll COVID-19 has put on Lebanese families, 70 percent of Lebanese children previously enrolled in private schools are now enrolled in public schools. This transfer has left almost 40,000 fewer spaces for Syrian children.

Donors pay Lebanon for each Syrian refugee child enrolled in school and pay school fees for Lebanese children. As of 2020, humanitarian funding has decreased from 1.3 billion dollars to 944 million dollars. This decrease can expect to continue if the participants contributing to the funding refuse their pledges. This decrease, coupled with the Education Ministry’s refusal to run back-to-school campaigns to promote enrollment, has contributed to the education crisis at hand.

An insufficient number of Syrian refugee children have access to the technology necessary for their education. In 2018, donors provided funds to the UN to purchase laptops for public schools. These laptops were never distributed to the students. The import company falsely claimed that 2,335 of the laptops had been destroyed in the Beirut port explosion while, instead, the laptops were sold to private buyers. Unaffordable cost of data, little internet access, and the lack of technology devices have limited Syrian children’s online access.

For further information, please see:

Executive Magazine – Lebanon’s experience with distance learning – 11 June 2020

Human Rights Watch – Lebanon: Action Needed on Syrian Refugee Education Crisis – 26 Mar. 2021

The 961 – A Company Sold Donated Laptops That Were Supposed To Go To Schools In Lebanon – 8 Feb. 2021

Morning Massacre in Mozambique

By: Alexis Eka

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

PALMA, Mozambique – On March 29, 2021, hundreds of people remain missing several days after an Islamic State (ISIS) associated group referred to as Al-Shabab raided Palma in Mozambique’s northern province near Cabo Delgado. Since March 25, 2021, there has been an increase in violence when this group raided the gas-rich town of Palma. There has been a recent increase in killings and wounding, subsequently causing the flight of a numerous number of civilians. Several hundreds of militants invaded Palma targeting shops, banks, and military barracks.

Mozambican army soldiers patrol the street of Mocimboa da Praia in March 2018. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The attack in Palma began hours after Mozambique’s government and Total, the French oil and gas company, announced that they would continue work outside of the Provenience on the natural gas project near Mozambique’s northeastern border with Tanzania. Palma Provenience is a large gas project run by a France energy giant. As a result of this violence, approximately 200 workers sought shelter in the Palma hotel. News reports state that many people were running and shooting, alluding to the fact that Al-Shabab was present.  Omar Saranga, a representative for Mozambique’s defense department, expressed to journalists that “[o]n March 24, a group of terrorists penetrated the headquarters of Palma village and unleased actions that culminate with the assassination of dozens of defenseless people including both locals and foreigners working in the region.”

The violence has left more than 2,500 people dead and approximately 700,000 displaced and severely injured since the beginning of the insurgency in 2017. Reports from the media and witnesses from Palma indicate that many citizens have been beheaded and their remains lie along the streets of the Palma provenience. Phone lines to Palma have been down; therefore, making it difficult to obtain information.

Mozambican civilians continue to look to their governmental authorities to ensure their safety and security. Security forces and resources deployed to Palma have been advised to respect humanitarian law and to maintain all civilians in their custody with decency and humanely.

For further information, please see: 

AP News – Rebels besiege town in northern Mozambique for fifth day – 29 Mar. 2021

BBC – Mozambique Dozens dead after militant assault on Palma – 29 Mar. 2021

CNN – Foreigners and locals among dozens killed in Mozambique terror attack – 29 Mar. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Mozambique: Protect Residents Fleeing Northern Town – 26 Mar. 2021  

Human Rights Watch – Hundreds Missing After Mozambique Attack – 29 Mar. 2021

NPR – Insurgents Kill Dozens In Attack On Natural Gas Complex in Mozambique – 29 Mar. 2021


Ireland Signals Continued Commitment to ICC through Artwork Donation

By: Jamie McLennan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On March 18, 2021, the Ambassador of The Netherlands and the Ambassador of Ireland unveiled a new artwork that will stand at the International Criminal Court. The newly elected ICC President, Judge Piotr Hofmanski accepted the sculpture at a ceremony. President Judge Piotr Hofmanski will serve as President for a three-year term, alongside two other Vice Presidents. Responsibilities of the ICC President include attendance of all ceremonial events of the ICC, including the unveiling of such art.

President Judge Hofmanski and Ambassador Kelly at the ICC. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

The ICC holds a series of art pieces from other member countries that reflect each country’s cultural heritage and the international community’s fight against impunity. The donated artwork includes of the Government of Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, and The Netherlands.

The newly donated artwork is a set of two green benches sculpted by Irish artist Fergus Martin. The benches titled “Oak” were placed alongside the Court’s landscape and signify an oak tree’s strength, a traditional symbol of justice in Ireland. 

Ireland has a longstanding relationship with the ICC. In 1998, the country signed the Court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, and ratified their membership in 2002. Despite recent criticism of the ICC, Ireland vocalizes their support of the Court by commissioning the art piece.

As one of the founding State Parties, Irish Ambassador Kevin Kelly spoke about the importance of peace and justice to achieve stability and development. He also spoke about Ireland’s continual approval of the ICC and their commitment to ending impunity for those who commit grave crimes against humanity. Kelly commended the many victorious cases of the ICC that punished individuals involved in war crimes and genocide.

In response, President Judge Piotr Hofmanski thanked Ireland for its generosity to the ICC and other related institutions. Since 2004, Ireland has donated nearly 1.3 million euros for the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV). The TFV advocates and assists the most vulnerable victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC. The fund provides court-ordered reparation awards and other payments for victims of genocide and war crimes.

Ambassador Kelly promised that Ireland would continue to aid and support the ICC in its endeavor for peace, justice, and mediation. 

For further information, please see:

ICC – Ireland Continues its Support of Reparative Justice – 14 Dec. 2020

ICC – Irish Delegation Unveils Artwork Donation – 18 Mar. 2021

ICC – New ICC Presidents Elected for 2021-2024  – 11 Mar. 2021