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Otaru City Lawsuit Bengodan


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Posted on behalf of Debito.

Announcing the formal formation of:
(Otaru-Shi Jinshu Sabetsu Soshou Bengodan)
By Arudou Debito ([email protected])

"Bengodan", or "Legal Team", is a group of volunteer lawyers, advisors, and
supporters (very common for human rights cases in Japan) who work
collectively and pro bono to represent clients or groups which need court

Arudou Debito, the sole Plaintiff in the Court Appeal against Defendant
Otaru City (www.debito.org: THE OTARU LAWSUIT INFORMATION SITE, by the Plaintiffs) for refusing to take
effective measures against racial discrimination within its jurisdiction, is
disputing the Sapporo District Court's November 11, 2002 ruling that, inter
alia, Otaru is "under no clear and absolute obligation to prohibit or bring
to an end concrete examples of racial discrimination by establishing local
laws". As of January 7, 2003, three lawyers have joined to represent the

A brief summary of the Bengodan's structure, goals, and membership follows.
A list of related information links comes at the very bottom of this email.
The English website for the Bengodan will be
「小樽市人種差別訴訟弁護団」創立の発表・募集 in Japanese

Anyone, anywhere, is welcome to lend their name in public support of the
Bengodan (there are no membership fees, although contributions are of course
welcome from anywhere in the world via details below). The more, the
merrier. Contact me at [email protected]. (I will list as "Supporters" on
the website those people who have contributed financially to the case so
far--unless I hear a preference for anonymity from them.)

I am very pleased that some civic-minded lawyers have stepped up to the
plate, and that so many people out there have made great financial
contributions. Thank you all very, very much.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo


(Otaru-Shi Jinshu Sabetsu Soshou Bengodan)

1) Name: (in Japanese) $B!V>.C.;T?M<o:9JLAJ>YJ[8nCD!W(B
2) Foundation: January 7, 2003
3) Office: Lawyer SHIBA-IKE Toshiaki
Hokkaido Goudou Houritsu Jimusho
Odori Nishi 12 Chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
4) Plaintiff: Arudou Debito
5) Defendant: The City of Otaru, Hokkaido , Japan
6) Site of litigation: Sapporo High Court
7) Membership (thus far):
a) CORE LAWYERS (those offering in-court legal representation)
Mr HIGASHIZAWA Yasushi, Tokyo
Mr NISHIMURA Takehiko, Sapporo
Mr SHIBA-IKE Toshiaki, Sapporo
b) ADVISORS (those offering expertise, but not in-court representation)
The Japan Civil Liberties Union. (JCLU - 公益社団法人 自由人権協会)
More being invited.
c) SUPPORTERS (open to anyone, anywhere, who wishes to lend their name
to the Appeal. Financial contributions welcome but not mandatory
for membership. About 70 named supporters so far.
List to be published on the website ASAP.)

Japan effected the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination (CERD) on January 14, 1996. As the treaty explicitly states
in Article 2: "1. States Parties... undertake to pursue... without delay a
policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms", (d): "Each
State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means,
including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by
any persons, group or organization", at all levels of government.
Unfortunately, seven years later, Japan still has no law against racial

Consequently, Japan has public places and business establishments enforcing
(often with signs out front) "Japanese Only" policies, refusing entry and
service to all "foreigners" (judged by physical appearance). This behavior
has been called "discrimination" by Japanese administrative, legislative,
and judicial bodies, deemed unconstitutional under Japan's Constitution
Article 14--yet is not "illegal", which means that no governing body has the
authority to bring it to an end.

Japan remains the only OECD country without any law against racial
discrimination. In March 20, 2001, the UN CERD Committee issued a press
release on Japan's inability to follow the Treaty in its courts and in
legislatures (excerpt):
"The Committee was concerned that the only provision in the legislation of
Japan relevant to the Convention was article 14 of the Constitution. Taking
into account the fact that the Convention was not self-executory, the
Committee believed it necessary to adopt specific legislation to outlaw
racial discrimination.

"Regarding the prohibition of racial discrimination in general, the
Committee was further concerned that racial discrimination as such was not
explicitly and adequately penalised in criminal law."

On February 1, 2001, three Plaintiffs (one German, one American, one
naturalized Japanese) launched the "Otaru Onsen Lawsuit", suing a bathhouse
(onsen) in Otaru, Japan, for refusing them entry in 1999 and 2000 solely on
the basis of their race. They also sued the City of Otaru for taking
ineffective measures against discrimination in their jurisdiction since
1993. On November 11, 2002, The Sapporo District Court ruled against the
bathhouse, calling their refusals "racial discrimination", and "illegal" (as
it went "beyond permissable societal limits" into "unrational
discrimination" (fugouri na sabetsu)).

However, the Court also ruled against the Plaintiffs: "Defendant Otaru
City, as it is a regional public organization playing a part in public
administration, has the same duty as the national government to prohibit and
bring an end to racial discrimination. However, this duty is no more than a
political one, and concerning matters between individual citizens, this is
interpreted to mean that the [city government] is under no clear and
absolute (ichigiteki) obligation to prohibit or bring to an end concrete
examples of racial discrimination by establishing local laws (jourei)."

This contradiction is the main basis of the Otaru City Appeal, and why we
formed and joined this Bengodan. We believe all levels of Japan's
legislative, administrative, and judicial branches have a responsibility to
keep their public promises--both those enshrined in the Japanese
Constitution and affirmed under international treaty--in order to create a
society where everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or appearance, can
have their legal, civil, and human rights protected.

To create this society, we, the undersigned, express our support for the
case that it pursues, the Otaru City Appeal, will help underscore and
illustrate the need for anti-discrimination laws in Japan.

NOTE 1) This Bengodan has been formed to support Plaintiff Arudou Debito's
Appeal against Defendant Otaru City. The other appeal, Defendant Onsen
Yunohana's Appeal against Plaintiffs Karthaus, Sutherland, and Arudou, is
unaffiliated with this Bengodan, as it is being represented independently
and for-profit by original lawyer Itou Hideko.

NOTE 2) We ask that people assisting this Bengodan do so on a volunteer
basis (legal representation is all pro bono), due to the financial straits
of the Plaintiff. On November 11, 2002, the Sapporo District Court ordered
Defendant Onsen Yunohana to pay each Plaintiff one million yen in damages;
however, Yunohana took out a court order to avoid paying anything until the
outcome of the abovementioned Yunohana Appeal. Otaru's largest bathhouse
(and growing; yet still refusing foreigners who do not "understand
Japanese"), Onsen Yunohana has thus frozen the legal fund indefinitely.
This is why we ask for support in any way possible (just moral support is
fine) from a public concerned about human rights and, more concretely, about
Japan's future as an accepting home for people of differing backgrounds.


Background to the case, including media and legal documentation:
www.debito.org: THE OTARU LAWSUIT INFORMATION SITE, by the Plaintiffs
More on legal costs and account details for contributions:
Otaru Lawsuit and Kunibengodan Lawsuit--Contributions Welcome
The Sapporo District Court Decision (Japanese text)
小樽市と外国人排斥温泉を相手取る訴訟 判決 全文 2002年11月11日付
The UN Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD)
UN CERD Committee Recommendations for Japan, March 2001
Otaru Onsen Lawsuit: Final Arguments made by Plaintiffs, Otaru City, and Onsen Yunohana
(March 20, 2001 UN press release)
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