Written by: Jacques Marion, Heiner Handschin, and Chantal Chételat Komagata, UPF Europe and Middle East
Geneva, Switzerland—UPF co-sponsored a side event at the United Nations Offices about the lack of religious freedom in Japan.
The human rights defense organization CAP LC (Coordination des Associations et Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience), in co-sponsorship with UPF and its affiliated organization Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), held the side event on the occasion of the Universal Periodical Review of Japan at the Human Rights Council.
The Human Rights Council has been based at the UN Offices in Geneva since its founding in 2006. As the Council is directly under the UN General Assembly, the weight of its findings has become very significant. Unlike the previous Human Rights Commission, it has been strongly upgraded to focus on the implementation of human rights in each country.
It is a matter of prestige for every country not to be seen as having serious human rights issues. One of the Human Rights Council’s mechanisms is to scrutinize every member state of the UN every five years, through the process of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). All nations in the Human Rights Council bring forth criticism of human rights records to the country under review, and issue (unbinding) recommendations to remedy those flaws.
On January 31, 2023, the Japanese delegation was receiving criticisms and recommendations from many nations on Japan’s observance of human rights. Some were referring to the absence of an independent human rights institution in Japan, others to the problem of hate speech to which the government turns a blind eye, etc. There was, of course, an overall respect for the great donor nation of Japan, and flaws were noted but didn’t cause any strong consternation. However, when a nation is criticized repeatedly for the same specific reasons, it eventually has to respond to the criticism. This was the reason for organizing a side event when Japan was under review.
While the Universal Periodic Review of Japan was taking place in the main hall of the Human Rights Council, the side event was being held in the same building in a separate hall. About 20 people were present, including a representative of the diplomatic mission of Japan to the UN Geneva, while 120 people attended online, including representatives from 15 UN missions of member states.
Ms. Christine Mirre, Director of CAP LCThe event was titled “What the Abe Assassination Reveals about Tolerance of Hate Speech and the Deficit of Religious Freedom in Japan.” CAP LC Director Christine Mirre chaired the session.
This was the third meeting on human rights held by UPF and CAP LC at the UN in Geneva since the assassination of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, 2022. Four prominent experts on human rights in Europe were invited to speak.
Hon. Ján Figel Former EU Commissioner, Minister of Transport and Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion and Belief of the EU, SlovakiaThe first speech was recorded on video by Hon. Dr. Ján Figeľ, the first EU special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion outside the EU. He mentioned that numerous members of the Unification Church have become subjects of discrimination and hate speech following the assassination of Shinzo Abe. He described the process that led to two legal initiatives by the Japanese government aimed at depriving the Unification Church/Family Federation of its status as a religious corporation, and at amending the existing consumer protection laws to protect those who donate excessively to religious organizations. He pointed out that freedom of religion or belief is under serious attack around the world, and that 79 percent of the world’s population encounter obstacles in their most essential right to religious freedom.
Dr. Aaron Rhodes, Former Executive Director, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR)The second speaker was Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of the Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF Europe). Twelve years ago, Dr Rhodes was involved in the Toru Goto legal case against the kidnapping and deprogramming of Unification Church members in Japan. He explained that the abduction crimes committed in the past against the Unification Church in Japan had not been taken seriously by the Japanese authorities, and that they were followed today by “new massive assaults” on UC members after the assassination of Shinzo Abe. He appealed to Japanese leaders to take positive steps against intolerance toward minorities. He mentioned an “ugly wave of prejudice and discriminatory actions,” as well as biased legislation aiming at dissolving the church, accompanied by death threats and physical attacks on its members. He deplored the fact that other nations and large human rights groups had been silent on such violations of human rights by Japan. He implored the Japanese leaders to have the courage to address religious intolerance.
Dr. Massimo Introvigne, Founder and Managing Director, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), Italy.The third speaker, on video, was Dr. Massimo Introvigne, founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR). Some excerpts were selected from speeches he gave at two UPF-organized Conferences of Hope in Korea, in August and November 2022. He described what happened after the assassination of Shinzo Abe, when the victims and the perpetrators were intentionally switched by greedy lawyers who already had been involved in the sequestrations of thousands of Unification Church members, and by communists who never forgave the Unification Church for being against their ideology. He pointed out their agenda to spread in Japan the secular humanist ideology that views religion as a simple tool to make money through brainwashing members.
Mr. Willy Fautré, CEO and Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers International, BelgiumThe fourth speaker was Willy Fautré, CEO and director of Human Rights without Frontiers. He recalled how, over a period of 45 years, 4,300 converts of the Unification Church had been abducted for deconversion through confinement with the help of evangelical pastors – which was totally contrary to Article 18.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – signed by Japan – that guarantees the right to retain one’s religious beliefs. All criminal complaints and civil cases filed at that time by some of the victims had been dismissed, except for Toru Goto’s lawsuit, which was accepted by the judiciary and ended successfully after a six-year battle. Although no media had covered that decision, the lawsuit had a deterring effect on the abductors and put an end to the lucrative business of deprogrammers.
Mr. Fautré also emphasized the consequences of hate speech, which is at the heart of the stigmatization of Unification Church members, particularly after Shinzo Abe’s assassination. More than 400 violent incidents against churches and individuals of the Unification Church were recorded in just two months following the tragic crime. He pointed out that the Japanese government, although not instigating the hate speech, exacerbated it by undertaking “hate-filled actions,” like seeking the removal of the church’s Religious Corporation Status, forbidding its members to associate with members of the Liberal Democratic Party in the National Diet, and not reporting any of their good works.
Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, Chair, UPF Europe & Middle EastIn conclusion, Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, the UPF co-chair for Europe and the Middle East, spoke about a City Council member in Japan who had just published a book titled Constitution and the Former Unification Church and stood up for protecting human rights and religious freedom in Japan. He quoted from the book: “The voices of believers who are judged to be anti-social have been rejected. … It is reported now that the root of all evil is the former Unification Church,” to the point that all legislators of the Liberal Democratic Party who had links with that church and its affiliates had to deny them. The author concluded that it was not the former Unification Church, but the way the Unification Church was criticized, that violated the Constitution.
The violations of human rights by Japan will continue to be exposed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN delegations will be informed of the ongoing witch hunt led by the Japanese government against the Unification Church, instigated by the very group of lawyers who have supported deprogrammings and hate speech campaigns against Unification Church members over the past four decades.
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<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/794533226″>20230131 – Information meeting on the UPR process in Japan at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/upfeume”>UPF Europe and Middle East</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>