UN says activists' human rights violated

Feature Story - 8 February, 2010
The United Nations has ruled that the Japanese government breached international human rights law by detaining two Greenpeace activists who uncovered corruption in the Japanese whaling program. The news comes ahead of the trial of the activists.

The Tokyo Two - Toru Suzuki (left) and Junichi Sato (right) - the two Greenpeace activists arrested for exposing corruption in Japan's whaling program.

One week before Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki (also known as the "Tokyo Two") stand trial, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has informed the Japanese government that the country's legal system has violated the rights of the two men.

In 2008, Junichi and Toru intercepted a box of whale meat labelled "cardboard" as evidence of a large whale meat scandal in which whalers were skimming choice cuts of whale meat to sell on the black market, thus making money from a taxpayer-funded program. Investigations into the program were dropped as the Japanese government made every effort to cover up the allegations of embezzlement and corruption. Instead, the Tokyo Two activists were arrested as criminals for "stealing".

Watch the short video on the Tokyo Two trial below.


Treatment of the Tokyo Two by Japanese authorities has been a catalogue of failures: police tip-offs to the media prior to arrest, detention without charge for 23 days, questioning without a lawyer present and while being tied to a chair, censorship of basic information requested through freedom of information requests, and a blanket refusal to disclose documents that would aid their defence. These are just some of the notable failings.

The UN Human Rights Council found that the actions of Junichi and Toru "were in the greater public interest as they sought to expose criminal embezzlement within the taxpayer-funded whaling industry".

The UN Working Group concluded: "The right of these two environmental activists not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to exercise legitimate activities, as well as their right to engage in peaceful activities without intimidation or harassment has not been respected by the justice system."

The Working Group found the Japanese government contravened Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The decision by the UN Human Rights Council offers the Australian government a clear opportunity to apply more pressure on Japan's whaling program by requesting that it reopen the investigation into allegations of corruption in the whaling industry. Calls should also be made for the International Whaling Commission to launch an independent investigation into the scandal.

Take action: Tell the Japanese government to put whaling on trial and not the activists

Report: Full dossier on the Tokyo Two trial [PDF; 2.6MB]