Head of government
Shinzo Abe (replaced Yoshihiko Noda in December)

Police abuse and irregularities in police interrogations took place in Japan’s criminal justice system. The authorities continued to reject calls for justice for the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system. Japan resumed executions after a 20-month hiatus. The number of people being granted refugee status remained extremely low.


The Liberal Democratic Party headed by Shinzo Abe won parliamentary elections on 16 December. Although a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court since 2007, Japan had still not implemented its obligations under this treaty. About 160,000 people continued to live in temporary housing or outside Fukushima prefecture, as a result of the 2011 earthquake in the Tohoku area of eastern Japan. In October, Greenpeace stated that several government radiation-monitoring posts in the area were under-reporting radiation levels, including by monitoring decontaminated spots. Protests against restarting nuclear power plants attracted tens of thousands of people and ran for several months throughout the country.

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Justice system

The daiyo kangoku system, which allows police to detain suspects for up to 23 days, continued to facilitate torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions during interrogation. The Special Committee of the Legislative Council under the Ministry of Justice continued to discuss potential reforms to the criminal justice system.

  • Govinda Prasad Mainali, a Nepalese national, was acquitted of murder on 7 November after spending 15 years in prison. He was ill-treated and denied access to a lawyer while being held under the daiyo kangoku system. In July 2011, the prosecution handed over evidence that subsequently proved him innocent.
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Violence against women and girls

When Japan’s human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review in October, government officials claimed compensation for former “comfort women” had already been resolved under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, bilateral agreements and treaties. On 4 November, then opposition leader Shinzo Abe was among signatories to a US newspaper advertisement which denied that the Japanese Imperial Army forced women into military sexual slavery during World War II.

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Death penalty

Seven people were executed in Japan, including the first woman to be executed in over 15 years. There were 133 people on death row. The working group established within the Ministry of Justice by former Minister Keiko Chiba in July 2010 to study capital punishment was disbanded in March by Minister of Justice Toshio Ogawa without providing any clear recommendations.

  • Junya Hattori was executed on 3 August. The Shizuoka District Court sentenced him to life imprisonment but the Tokyo High Court sentenced him to death after the prosecution appealed. The Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in February 2008.
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Asylum-seekers and refugees

Asylum applications increased to over 2000, up from 1,867 last year, but the numbers granted refugee status remained low. The majority of applicants were from Myanmar. Japan’s 2010 pilot project to resettle 30 refugees from Myanmar who were processed in Thailand was extended in March for a further two years. No one was accepted under the system this year after three families withdrew their application.

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