Susan Elizabeth Thomas
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have reaffirmed their desire to rewrite the Japanese constitution. The Japanese constitution has remained unchanged since written in 1947. Under the influence of American General Douglas MacArthur, the “Peace Constitution” was drafted after the end of World War II, during the American led occupation. Many powerful politicians consider the document a form foreign interference. This long held issue led the LDP to present a redraft of the constitution. Conservative politicians considered the rewrite more in line with Japanese culture and values. Critics claim it undermines the definition of human rights.
The LDP rewrite presents a multitude of changes. The role of emperor would move from figurehead to head of the state, and public officials would be prohibited from entering labor unions. The line separating church and state would be weakened. The article most targeted for change is Article 9, which restricts the Japanese military. Revisions would allow Japan to create an active military, as opposed to their current defense force. After two Japanese journalists were beheaded by the Islamic State in 2015, the pacifistic article was given a broader interpreted without an official rewrite to the constitution. This recent change indicates the constitution’s delicate position.
Although much of the media has reported on these potential amendments, fewer have noted the implications to human rights defined by the constitution. The LDP party regards the concept of inherent human rights as a foreign notion in conflict with Japanese traditions. The idea of natural born human rights originated in the Western world and emphasizes protection for individuals. The Japanese culture, like other Eastern cultures, places more importance on the group.
It is not surprising that, in the LDP redraft, human rights would change from inherent to authorized by the state. Furthermore, freedom of speech, assembly and association will be maintained as long as it does not interfere with “interest and order.” This is a looser interpretation. The current constitution states these rights should only be restricted when interfering with public welfare, which many interpret as the rights of others. In Article 97, the authority of the constitution is defined by the rights and protection it gives to Japanese citizens. This definition of the constitution has been deleted with no explanation.
Human rights are the authority behind the current constitution. Obligations are the new force behind the LDP’s version. The recent draft lists law bound obligations to the Japanese people. The flag and anthem must be respected. Family members have a duty to each other, and citizens must follow the state’s commands during an emergency. Most importantly, freedom and rights are only given if obligations and responsibilities are met.
Four new rights were drafted in the LDP constitution. Citizens would have a right to privacy, state accountability, environmental protection, and safety after being victimized in a crime. However, the Japanese government is only vaguely held accountable for these new rights. The new draft only requires the government to guard these rights in good faith.
Despite strong political pressure, the Japanese constitution remains unchanged because of Article 96. According to Article 96, all amendments to the constitution require a two thirds majority vote in both houses of the Diet. The LDP redraft aims to change that number from two thirds to a majority. To achieve his goal of constitutional change, Prime Minister Abe must alter Article 96, the lock that closes off the constitution. Article 96 has been a hard lock to crack, and Abe has not yet been successful in pushing changes through the Diet. Time will only tell if the document will continue to be shielded from current political trends.