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Amnesty International Tokyo English Network helps foreigners fight injustice

By Karryn Miller

Perhaps no international organization is more concerned with our basic human rights than Amnesty International. Founded in Britain in 1961, the group now claims 2.2 million members in over 150 countries. Japan has two local branches — AI Japan and the foreigner-friendly Amnesty International Tokyo English Network, better known as AITEN.

Among the causes championed by the two closely connected organizations is Japan’s death penalty. “There are over 100 people on death row, many convicted on dubious evidence, and none of them knows which day will be their last. Executions are not carried out on dates announced in advance, but on the whim of the justice minister,” explains Chris Pitts, AITEN coordinator. “The condemned are not told until an hour or so before, and the family is usually not informed until after the event.”

Sakae Menda was one of the condemned, and spent 34 years wondering when he would be hanged. He was convicted of murder in 1949 after police extracted a “confession” from him. After requesting a retrial six times, he was finally granted one in 1983 — and was acquitted.

Menda equates the sentence to the ultimate act of cruelty. “Living each day knowing that you may be sent to your death at any given month, day or moment is torture,” he said in a statement to AI. “Being on death row dehumanizes and has a massive psychological effect on a person. It’s an awful penalty to inflict on anyone — and is even more devastating for someone who is innocent.”

Although organizations like Amnesty International and the Japan Death Penalty Information Center are fighting for the country to join other developed nations in eliminating the death penalty, the outlook is bleak. “AI is involved with a coalition of lawyers, doctors, and Diet members who want to abolish it, but there is no realistic prospect of this happening in Japan anytime soon,” says Pitts. The justice ministry claims that 80% of the Japanese public supports the death penalty.

But AITEN’s scope is hardly limited in domestic issues. The organization is currently embarking on a campaign to fight unfair education practices the world over. Within the Slovakian town of Pavlovce nad Uhom, for example, there are two schools: one for children deemed “normal,” and one for those with special needs. At the latter, 199 of the 200 kids are of Romani ethnicity —aka Gypsies. “In grade seven of the special school, I learned the same things that I learned in grade three of the mainstream school,” a 14-year-old Romani boy told AI. Because of such de facto segregation, numerous Romani children have been denied an education and face diminished chances of finding a decent job.

To raise awareness of these issues within the Tokyo community, AITEN this week hosted a benefit concert at What the Dickens in Ebisu. Musical performances varied from acoustic alt-rock from The Clockwork Flowers to R&B from Forrest Nelson to hip-hop from Splitworks — but the message is clear: all boys and girls have the right to an education.

“In some countries, girls are denied even a basic education because discrimination is not resisted by their government,” Pitts says. “At our gig, we ask people to sign a general petition to send to some of the governments in question, and to write specifically on the case of the region of Slovakia that discriminates against and denies a mainstream education to Romani children.”

The AITEN team is keeping busy with a number of programs to support AI Japan. “Our specific activities in Tokyo include organizing informal fund-raising rock concerts every few months, a monthly movie night at Heaven’s Door in Shimokitazawa, setting up a table at international school festivals, and supporting the activities of AI Japan,” says Pitts. “At all these events, we try to educate, raise funds and recruit new supporters and members. The need to defend human rights never goes away.”

See www.aig78.org or email aiten.japan@gmail.com to learn more about AITEN and find out when the next meeting will be held.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Great for them, Amnesty International

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AI is one bright light in Japan.

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Do they really know what they are getting themselves into?!

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The death penalty is abhorrent and ineffective and should be banned immediately. It is a national disgrace that Japan maintains this horrific practice, and a great shame that it is almost never a matter of debate amongst Japanese people ("shoganai" prevails, alas). Presented with the facts and rational, reasoned arguments I think most people would realise that abolition is the only decent way forward.

All power to AI in its fight against capital punishment

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The death penalty is abhorrent and ineffective and should be banned immediately. It is a national disgrace that Japan maintains this horrific practice, and a great shame that it is almost never a matter of debate amongst Japanese people ("shoganai" prevails, alas). Presented with the facts and rational, reasoned arguments I think most people would realise that abolition is the only decent way forward. All power to AI in its fight against capital punishment

If 80% of the Japanese public support the death penalty then who the hell are they to jam their values down the throats of a supportive population. I dont want to start an argument about why or why not we should have the death penalty, I just dont much care for Amnesty International.

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Campaigning for something and "values down the throats of a supportive population" are two different things. There are allot of stupid notions that are popular.

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Amnesty International Tokyo

This is almost an oxymo?

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No mention of the Viennese boys at the Ebisu gig!

Great work that Amnesty do, though.

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A little education is not a bad thing and I believe Amnesty International is trying to educate, not jam values down throats.

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It is not so much that AI jams values down throats. AI's problem is that it falls into the trap of moral equivalency too often. When people see human rights violations in democratic societies (which are recognized and dealt with by law) treated with no differentiation from violations in non-democratic societies (which occur with impunity) they see AI as useless and acting without any moral clarity.

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Part 1

OK, I personally don't have a problem with Japan and the Japanese supporting the Death Penalty. Why should Japan be any different then any other country that supports it. If the people support it then it you should respect that. Although in the case of the US it is a bit different. You take a state like Texas which has the highest Death Penalty in the country. This must mean that the people support it. That is not really true. It really is the decision of the state legislature and not really what the people think. I'd say it is split down the middle but of coarse the difference is that Citizens have the right to a fair trial but it can be bios in a state which typically moves in that direction. Where I do have an issue with the Japanese system is that you are guilty until proven guilty? Yep that about sums it up. No one ever questions for a second the decision and agrees with what the courts decide.

I just wonder how many innocent people are put on Death Row without a spec of evidence or shady at best. I know this kinda falls into the harmonious mind frame mind you so that doesn't help matters any. People may actually feel differently but agree with what the group decides and don't want to create waves.I again want to stress that they have perfect right to have the Death Penalty. Although changes do need to be made in the system where people have equal representation and rights as citizens. Now I don't want to touch a nerve here but if the Dolly Lama is accused of a crime would people automatically assume he was guilty? Would he stand a trial or would the courts make that decision without representation and would the people do nothing?

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The main problem is that I don't think anyone actually encourages people to think about issues like capital punishment in Japan. The population has been conditioned to trust the state to handle things on their behalf and not to abuse its power, such as by properly administering the death penalty. As long as people feel that they cannot change things, then they tend not to try, and when they don't try they are usually prepared to accept the status quo or ignore those things that they might actually oppose if they thought about them in a reasoned way.

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The problem isn't the death penalty. The problem is Japan's corrupt criminal justice system with its lack of juries, non-existent appeals process, extracted confessions, police who do not follow protocol or legal procedure, prosecutors worried of losing their careers if they lose a single case (and therefore choosing not to prosecute in most cases without a confession)... I could go on and on.

How is it proactive to attack the symptom (Japan's high death penalty conviction rate) rather than the source? Japan needs serious legal reform and launching a morality debate on capital punishment itself isn't a very proactive way of bringing attention to the problem (especially when 80% of the public already supports it). Amnesty International's feelings are in the right place, but they're focusing on the wrong issue.

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..dont kill or we will kill you,which idiot worked that one out.

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Who helps the Japanese fight injustice?

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I would support the death penalty in Japan if it was more humane. For one thing, there needs to be solid and substantial evidence that a heinus crime was committed by that person (not simply a forced "confession"). Next, there needs to be a date set for the execution within the next 5 years at least. If new evidence is brought forward, a retrial needs to be conducted immediately. None of this dragging things out and doing things all of the sudden. That is where I have a problem with it.

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Amnesty Japan is crap. I tried to get their help for a Japanese minor in care of authorities who was under prefecture care. He was illegaly given adult only meds, put in solitary andplace under 24 hour surveilance, all illegal.

Amnesty Japan would n't even give me a reply, absolute disgrace. I clled Amnesty UK and they were shocke. The Japan office was reprimanded, and apologised and assisted me in a limited way. Amnesy Japan only seem to care about Aino and the death penalty. They seem to concentrate on oversea abusess and blindly ignore Japans problems. A comparison with their Japan site and the British onwe will show Amnesty Japans apathy and uselessness.

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Ichya Paradise,

Imagine you were Sakae Menda

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I didn't vote for anyone in AI, and thus they should have nothing to do with how my government works. Anti-democratic special interest groups must be resisted at all times.

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I didn't vote for anyone in the military, thus they should have nothing to do with howmy government works. Anti-democratic military and police forces etc must be resisted at all times.

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SwiftBoatVet, the military follows the order of elected officials. False analogy.

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