Immigrant Song: March In March

Immigrants protest Japanese immigration policies, human rights violations, and prison abuses. Photo credit Stack Jones.

On March 3rd, 2013 the annual Migrant Worker’s Rights March took place at Hibiya Park. The focus on the march is to draw attention to a myriad of causes that foreign workers feel are important including work related matters, and fundamental human rights. The event was not limited to only foreign participants as many Japanese nationals participated as well.

The rally began at 1:00 p.m. with songs of hope and unification. Members of a wide variety of coalitions provided speeches that were translated into Japanese as the audience was receiving them. The march was also broadcast live via http://ustream.tv.

One of the main organizers of this annual event is Yumiko Nakajima, the Chair Secretary of Tokyo’s General Union NAMBU. You may know Ms. Nakajima as one of the main forces behind the teacher’s strike with Berlitz, and the formation of an employee’s union at Goldman Sachs. There were representatives from all over Japan including, Ian Raines from the Osaka General Union, Greg Kobayashi-McBryde from Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union, as well as representatives from Kanagawa’s City Union, APFS, and Weathernews whose colleague committed suicide due to work related harassment.

Ethiopian refugees participating in the rally. Photo credit Stack Jones.

At 2:30 p.m. the group of several hundred took to the streets in an orderly fashion. As bullhorns blared, participants danced and performed music, which drew a lot of attention from onlookers. Police were on duty assuring traffic ran smoothly and conditions remained safe. City workers also manually controlled traffic signals in order to prevent gridlock, and possible injury to the bystanders and activists. As the group marched through the streets participants chanted slogans such as, Work TogetherNo firingsNo discrimination!

A major complaint of foreign workers is that they’re employed as nonregular workers, which often leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to bargaining for better working conditions. One participant, Solomon M., an Ethiopian journalist who’s seeking political asylum, discussed having to wait nearly a year for his case to even be heard. While waiting for Japan’s slow wheel to turn, Solomon is not able to work in order to support himself. Surviving in Japan without the ability to work is nearly an impossible dilemma to overcome.

A migrant worker speaks to rally participants addressing unfair treatment, and exploitation of foreign labor.  Photo credit Stack Jones.

People marched for an array of causes, with banners that shouted, Stop Wars In BurmaMarch In March 2013, and Job Security And Safety. One man from Pakistan who marched against irrational Muslim fear brought his entire family to participate in the event.

If I were to choose an issue to shine a spotlight on I’d march against Japan’s abysmal human rights records for foreigners. Hiroshi Ichikawa, a former public prosecutor said, “We’re taught that foreigners have no human rights.” Source: For the sake of Japan’s future, foreigners deserve a fair shake.

The Japanese Constitution speaks of equality and fundamental human rights as conditioned upon ones nationality rather than being human. Source: Colin Jones, Zeit Gist, November 1, 2011.

Having a law degree from a U.S., ABA accredited law school, and having studied international and constitutional law of various nations, I find it disturbing that a nation like Japan would continue this arcane mindset. The implications of such a determination are profound, and widespread In that, 54% of Japanese citizens believe that foreigners deserve the same protections as the Japanese. Sadly this number has been steadily declining from 68.3% from ten years ago. Surely, job security and economic woes play a significant role in those deteriorating numbers.

 One of the many colorful rally participants. Photo credit Stack Jones.

An article that ran in Japan Times, For the sake of Japan’s future, foreigners deserve a fair shake, a Cabinet survey asked, “Should foreigners have the same human rights protections as Japanese?” 59.3 percent conferred.

Foreigners who work in Japan have a legitimate complaint when it comes to their status in Japan as many have died while in custody under suspicious circumstances. Those cases include, a 1994 incident at Minami Senju station where an Iranian national, Arjang Mehrpooran was beaten to death while in custody for a visa related violation. In 1997, Mousavi Hossein, another Iranian national, had his neck broken and died while in the custody at the Kita Ward Immigration Detention Center.

As reported in a 2001 BBC article, Japan’s water hose jailers freed, two prison guards were acquitted of murder after forcefully using a high-power water hose at an unruly inmate’s anus, resulting in death the following day. In 2002 another inmate at the same prison died after guards used leather handcuffs and body restraints in a disciplinary manner that according to Amnesty International violated the prisoner’s basic human rights. These officers were acquitted of murder as well.

In a highly publicized case of human rights abuse Abubaka Awudu Suraj, a citizen of Ghana who was married to a Japanese woman, died in the custody of Japanese Immigration Bureau officers while being illegally deported from Japan. The death was discovered only when the pilot of the plane refused to take off until the body was removed from the plane. An article in The Economist titled, Japanese Immigration Policy, A Nation’s Bouncers, discusses that case in depth. The officers were never brought to trial in that case because prosecutors in that jurisdiction refused to prosecute. Prosecutors never seem to side with foreign victims in Japan.

Rally participants line up as they prepare to take their message to the streets.  Photo credit Stack Jones.

As of the date of this article, Japan has not signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Neither has the U.S., or Canada for that matter. Thankfully, the UK recognizes the importance of human rights and ratified the act as of 2012. Australia has signed the OPCAT, but has not ratified it as of yet.

I was curious at the lack of teacher’s support at this event, as many are employed by chain eikaiwas, and work under deplorable and continuously deteriorating conditions, including the lack of benefits, bonuses, health insurance, and work related protection. My guess is they were chained to an endless array of students seeking their much-needed services, while working for corporations that would fire them on the spot if they discovered their attendance at such an event. Sadly, foreign teachers don’t generally seek union assistance until they face an imminent firing, or some other egregious work related scenario.

Stack Jones is an award winning writer, photographer and musician. In contrast to his music, Stack’s social, religious and political commentaries are scathing. He simply tells it like it is, without allowing external influences to mar his perspective. For more information visit http://stackjones.com.

© 2013 Stack Jones All Rights Reserved.

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