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HOME  > Past issues  > 2024 March 6 - 12  > Decade after Japan’s ratification of UN treaty for persons with disabilities
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2024 March 6 - 12 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Decade after Japan’s ratification of UN treaty for persons with disabilities

March 6, 2024

Akahata editorial

This year marks ten years since Japan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) ensuring “the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights”, including persons with and without disabilities. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2022 examined for the first time the state of progress of Japanese measures in line with the CRPD and released its concluding observations for Japan. What the Committee found was that Japan is far from a society, which the Convention aims to establish, where persons with disabilities can participate in in the same way as persons without disabilities. Disabled persons’ groups have since been strongly urging the Japanese government to improve its policies in compliance with the Committee’s recommendations given in the concluding observations.

Shift away from ‘medical model’ of disability

The concluding observations pointed out that Japan’s policy for persons with disabilities does not view them as subjects of human rights, and that it is based on the idea that they are beneficiaries of societal protection. For example, the Japanese government imposes restrictions on the use of transportation assistance, such as helper escorts, when persons with disabilities engage in political activities, even though it is their fundamental right to do so. The concluding observations recommended that Japan harmonize its policy and all its disability-related domestic laws with the CRPD.

Japanese measures for persons with disabilities focus on what kind of emotional, intellectual, or physical dysfunctions they have. The degree of dysfunctions assesses how disabled they are and determines their disability rating. It also determines the quantity of assistance they can receive from the government. As a result, it is not always possible for disabled people to receive support as desired. This way of looking at disability is called the “medical model”.

On the other hand, the CRPD states that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and environmental barriers.” The extent to which persons with disabilities perceive their disability changes depending on the attitudes of people around them and environmental and legal arrangements. This is called the “social model”. Based on this model, the way of recognizing disabled people as subjects of human rights is known as the “human rights model”.

The CRPD Committee in its concluding observations recommended that all elements of the “medical model” be eliminated and that all persons with disabilities be able to receive the required support for their social participation as their rights in accordance with their individual situation.

The need is for Japan to reform the current system to one guaranteeing the amount of support provisions based on disabled people’s needs and allocate the budget required to achieve this.

The CRPD Committee’s concluding observations advised Japan to closely examine the stabbing incident which occurred in 2016 at a facility for persons with disabilities, “Tsukui Yamayuri-en”, in Sagamihara City (Kanagawa Pref.) with the aim of dealing with “eugenic and ableist mindset in society”, which is important. In order to prevent a recurrence of a similar case, the government should fulfil its responsibility to spread the recognition that people both with and without disabilities are citizens with equal rights.

Toward an inclusive society

The concluding observations called for revising long-term hospitalization and psychiatrically disabled people’s treatments which sometime violate their human rights as well as for changing the existing measures to one enabling these people to live in their communities. In Japan, approximately 160,000 psychiatric patients are in hospitals for more than one year. Of them, over 44,000 have been hospitalized for more than ten years. Japan, among OECD members, is known for its unusually long-term hospitalizations, which is considered problematic. Some patients are forced to undergo long-term hospitalization (social hospitalization) for lack of community support. In February last year, it came to light that patients at a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo were abused.

A Cabinet Office survey published in February 2023 showed that more than 70% of people did not know about the CRPD. The need is for the Kishida government to work to increase public awareness of the CRPD and realize an inclusive society where all people are respected as individuals regardless of their abilities.
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