A group that represents ethnic Koreans living in Japan called on the government Aug. 25 to enact legislation to outlaw hate speech and other forms of discrimination targeting Koreans and other foreign residents.
Lee Keun-chool, who heads a human rights panel at the Korean Residents Union in Japan, commonly known as Mindan, said at a news conference in Tokyo, “If we fail to speak up now, it would amount to accepting offenders’ xenophobic opinions.”
He was referring to growing instances of anti-Korean demonstrations and hate speech marches in Tokyo and other cities since around 2012.
Lee said representatives of the Mindan human rights panel traveled to Geneva last week to urge the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to put pressure on the Japanese government to take legal action.
The delegation reported that public rallies staged by xenophobic groups blaring “Kill Koreans” and other racial insults had been held in areas with sizable Korean communities, such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo and Tsuruhashi in Osaka.
The U.N. committee held sessions Aug. 20-21 to gain a better grasp of the situation concerning racial discrimination in Japan.
It compiled a draft proposal calling on the Japanese government to enact a comprehensive law banning discrimination to address the problem of hate speech.
The committee is expected to release its final view soon.
Lee, 60, said at the news conference that street protests spewing hate speech against Koreans mirrored the situation after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, when a large number of Koreans were massacred.
“After the quake, a flurry of rumors became rampant (that Koreans had been poisoning water wells), leading to the slaughter of Korean residents by Japanese citizens and military personnel,” he said.
“The tyranny of hate speech in recent years reminds us of that incident and we are terrified. We should not let history repeat itself.”
Japan in 1995 signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which had been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly 30 years earlier.
The convention requires signatories to establish legislation to criminalize racial discrimination, including hate speech.
But the government has held off enforcing the hate speech provision on grounds that the spread and instigation of racial discrimination is not so prevalent as to require legislation to control it.