Independent UN experts seriously concerned about Japan’s special secrets bill

Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Photo: Violaine Martin

22 November 2013 – Two independent United Nations human rights experts today expressed serious concern about a Government-sponsored draft bill in Japan that would decide what constitutes a State secret.

The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and on the right to health requested further information from the Japanese authorities on the draft law and voiced their concerns regarding its compliance with human rights standards.

“Transparency is a core requirement for democratic governance,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, said.

He stressed that secrecy in public affairs is only acceptable where there is a demonstrable risk of substantial harm and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information kept confidential.

“The draft bill not only appears to establish very broad and vague grounds for secrecy but also include serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets.”

According to reports, information related to defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism will all be classified as a state secret, while ministers could decide what information to keep from the public.

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, who visited Japan last year and studied the response to the disaster in Fukushima, underlined the need for to always ensure full transparency in emergency contexts: “Particularly in calamities, it is essential to ensure that the public is provided with consistent and timely information enabling them to make informed decisions regarding their health.”

“Most democracies, including Japan, clearly recognize the right to access information. As much as the protection of national security might require confidentiality in exceptional circumstances, human rights standards establish that the principle of maximum disclosure must always guide the conduct of public officials,” concluded the rapporteurs.

The bill in question establishes the grounds and procedures for classification of information held by the Government of Japan.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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