〈Column〉State Responsibility and the Establishment of a “National Human Rights Institution” in the context of Johnny Kitagawa’s sexual abuses


In July of this year, a team from the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG) came to Japan to conduct hearings with sexual abuse victims of Johnny & Associates (Johnny’s). This visit drew significant media attention and helped accelerate reforms at Johnny’s. 

The primary purpose of the UNWG’s visit to Japan was to examine the state of business and human rights initiatives in Japan. The Johnny’s case was just one of many issues they examined. However, due to the high level of public interest in Japan, the press conference was dominated by questions related to the Johnny’s case. The UNWG even gave an unusual instruction to the journalists, asking them to inquire about other important issues.

Some may wonder why the United Nations became involved in a domestic Japanese issue, but this was because the Japanese government had endorsed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and formulated a National Action Plan (NAP) based on these principles. The purpose of the UNWG’s visit was to gather information on the state of business and human rights in Japan to offer recommendations for improvement.

It is in this context that I would like to discuss the role of the Japanese government. As of early October, when this column was written, there hasn’t been a significant call for government accountability for the serious human rights abuses committed by Johnny’s Agency. The government itself has taken no significant actions. This issue was raised in the early 2000s in the Japanese Diet, and there was even a Supreme Court ruling acknowledging sexual abuse by Johnny Kitagawa at that time. Had the government taken appropriate action, it may have been possible to prevent subsequent abuses.

Governments have an inherent duty to protect human rights. Japan has joined the United Nations and has pledged to uphold the United Nations Charter’s goal of “international peace and security, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Japan has also ratified several international human rights standards. The first pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles, under which the government’s obligation to protect human rights falls, is shown in the chart below.

<Reference: “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” (THINK Lobby)

In other words, as a member of the United Nations and a supporter of the UNGPs, Japan has a duty to protect human rights. In this sense, the Japanese government’s inadequate response to the Johnny’s issue is a failure to fulfill its responsibility. 

A national human rights institution (NHRI) is an essential mechanism for the protection and promotion of human rights. Japan does not have an independent NHR and therefore lacks a functioning system to investigate human rights violations. This is in stark contrast to over 110 other countries that have established independent NHRI institutions. These institutions play a central role in addressing a wide range of human rights issues, including discrimination, hate crimes, disability, children, gender, LGBTQ rights, refugees, immigrants, and business and human rights. Specifically, they conduct research, policy advocacy, human rights promotion, human rights education, and public awareness.

The Johnny’s issue is not just a concern for the government, business, the entertainment industry, the media, or civil society. In particular, the government has a responsibility to fulfill its obligation to protect human rights. When there are concerns about human rights violations, the government has a duty to “investigate, examine and take necessary measures” to address the situation. Ensuring that human rights are protected is fundamental to achieving a just society, a prerequisite for sustainable development, and one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In light of the Johnny’s issue, why not call for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), an infrastructure to address human rights issues?