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Politics

Plans to alter constitution cause consternation

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is pushing ahead with sweeping changes to the constitution, despite concerns that they signal a return to Japan's inward-looking, militaristic regime of the early years of the 1900s.

Ever since the LDP was created in 1955, it has called for the Japanese constitution, which it claims was effectively forced upon the nation by the Allies in the aftermath of World War II, to be thoroughly re-examined and rewritten. Now, nearly 70 years after the supreme law was promulgated, Mr. Abe has an overwhelming majority in the Lower House of the Japanese parliament and is expected to secure a similar edge in elections for the Upper House in the summer.

His first move, he has already stated, will be to revise procedures required to amend the constitution, lowering the bar from a vote of two-thirds of all members of each house being in favor of the changes to a mere simple majority.

Lawrence Repeta, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Meiji University, warns that this initial step will eventually pave the way to "more government power over the people and reduced protection for individual's rights."

First outlined on April 28, 2012, a significant date because it also marked the 60th anniversary of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and Allies, the LDP's proposals will impact many aspects of life in Japan and the nation's relationships with the rest of the world.

Human rights under threat

"If this plan were adopted, Japan would be turning its back on the global movement toward expanded human rights protection and government accountability," Repeta said.

Symbolic picture showing a pen and ink (Photo: Jesús Arias - Fotolia.com)

Abe's party claims the constitution was forced upon Japan after WWII

Along with the Japan Civil Liberties Union and a number of other legal experts, Repeta has examined the proposal put forward by the LDP and identified a number of areas of major concern.

Article 97, the guarantee of fundamental human rights of all citizens, would be removed entirely:

"That is a very broad statement on human rights and the LDP simply wants to delete it," he said. "And we can find no statement to support that decision in the explanatory leaflet."

Instead, the people would be duty-bound to demonstrate "respect for the national flag and national anthem" in the new constitution.

There would also be a requirement to "never violate public order or the public interest," although legal experts say there is no definition of just what the public interest might be, providing police and the judicial authorities with wide-ranging but undefined new powers.

Equally, the newly proposed Article 19-2 states, "No person shall improperly acquire, possess or use information concerning individuals," another sweeping requirement that could be used against a free media. There are also new restrictions on free speech.

Return to the 1930s

"My guess is that is that their view of Japan is that it should be more like pre-war Japan of the early 1930s," said Masako Kamiya, a professor of law at Gakushuin University.

"I believe there are a number of LDP members who share the view that it was not such a bad time, that there were some good things in that era," she added. "That society was harmonized, young people behaved themselves and respected their elders, that order was kept as defined by the government and authorities."

"The contents of this proposal, unfortunately, include changes that seem to ignore the choices that our forebears made," she pointed out.

Of major concern to members of the Japan Civil Liberties Union is the apparently deliberate decision to move in a direction that is contrary to the more accepted global attitude towards human rights.

Explaining its rationale on the party web site, the LDP said that "in preparing the present draft, first we thoroughly reviewed phrasing that sounds like a translation and provisions that seem to be based on the natural rights theory.

The destroyer USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. (ddp images/AP Photo)

The San Francisco Treaty officially ended WWII

"Rights are gradually formulated through the history, tradition and culture of each community," it states. "Therefore, we believe that the provisions concerning human rights should reflect the history, culture and tradition of Japan.

Western concepts

"The current constitution includes some provisions based on the Western theory of natural rights. We believe these provisions should be revised."

Professor Repeta said there was good reason to be worried.

"It is very clear from this document that their world vision is detached from the more common understanding of fundamental human rights."

"We are coming into a period in time in which the world is more awake to the concept of human rights, but the LDP seems to be saying that is wrong and that they do not want to be a part of that," he said.

"Overall, this is more about government power over the people and reduced protection for individual rights."

DW.DE