Human Rights and the Japan Disasters
in PANEL DISCUSSION: Human Rights Based Approaches to Climate Change, Disaster Preparation, Post Disaster Management and Reconstruction.
2012/03/24 PacificRim International Forum
last update: 20120403
How should The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) be interpreted in the context of the people with disabilities who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE)?
The mega earthquake, the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) occurred on March 11, 2011. The entire Fukushima prefecture suffered from tremendous damages as the result of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear accident. As the representative of Japan Disability Forum (JDF) Support Center Fukushima for Persons with Disabilities in Devastated Area, I have continued to provide those who were affected with various supports from an early phase to date.
Bearing in mind that The Japanese government is yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), I will try to describe realities that affected people with disabilities have faced since the disaster; stories that I saw and heard through my survey. I will then discuss how we should interpret those stories in the context of the rights of people with disabilities.
1. Japan has not yet ratified The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD).
In the wake of amendment of The Basic Act for People with Disabilities, the enactment of new legislation is now under scrutiny. The new legislation will substitute for the ongoing law which intends to help people with disabilities become physically and financially independent. This may eventually be a step towards implementation of the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) by the Japanese government. It is my point of view that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) had been enacted much easier if we had better social environments toward the rights of people with disabilities in our country.
2. Anxiety over the rise of the concept of eugenics as the result of the nuclear accident
People of Fukushima have been left out and confused after the nuclear accident. There is no doubt that radiation is harmful to our body. The government’s guideline on radiation has been so obscure to the extent that we only increase our anxiety and sense of risk. According to experts in radiation research and environmental activists, various pathological effects from radiation will come out in 5 to 6 years after actual radiation. Some experts indicate that the Fukushima would be affected equal to or even greater than Chernobyl. A situation where children or even grandchildren could die earlier than their parents may occur in Fukushima in near future.
3. Radiation and long fights towards Eugenics
The more accumulation of radioactive materials in our body, the greater probability of sickness we have due to the radiation. Nobody can assure the safety of children of Fukushima free from a variety of risks over time caused by radiation such as Thyroid cancer; while many experts point out that the influence of radiation extends first and foremost to people with disabilities and the elderly with less immunological resistance. In addition, we have to expect more babies with physical weaknesses, disabilities, and some deformities, or even to witness increased number of fetal deaths. Such circumstances may trigger recurrence of tragic murder of children with disabilities by parents after 40 years of relatively quiet moments. Also more unborn babies may be buried in the darkness from one to another as selective abortion prevails. I personally joined, in my younger days, a movement to protest the Eugenic Protection Law based on the concept of eugenic idea which proclaimed "there must not be people with disabilities in this world”. I belonged to an organization of people with cerebral palsy called "The Green Grass Association" and acted boldly. The Green Grass Association was established in Tokyo in 1957 and played a major role in forcing the government to scrap the draft amendment of Eugenic Protection Law in 1974.
Any person with disabilities has the right to life in any society no matter how severe his/her disabilities are, no matter how parts of his/her body differ from those of other persons. Children with possible influence from radiation exposure may suffer from some kind of disabilities but they are as same as I am, as a person with disabilities. If our society doesn’t allow those children the right to life as a human, then my right to life will be endangered as well because we are the same. Now, Japan seems to be almost going to down to slippery slope of “new eugenic” thought.
4. The number of persons with disabilities who were victimized by the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) and tsunami was twice the number of persons with no disabilities, according to an article of a national newspaper. In the event of a disaster such as the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) and tsunami, people with disabilities tend to get behind and fail to escape from dangerous spots.
5. Many people with disabilities and the elderly had to be sacrificed upon evacuation from the the nuclear accident
I learned that people with disabilities and the elderly lost their lives during evacuation from the nuclear accident. Also many precious lives were said to be lost at evacuation shelters as well after completing evacuation. As much as 20% of the elderly evacuated from the nuclear accident is said to have died of possible fatigue and adjustment disorder to the new environment.
6. There are many under-populated regions in the disaster area. People with disabilities living in such regions are hardly connected to appropriate welfare services.
Many regions of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, prefectures in the Northeast that were hit by the disaster, are under-populated and welfare services are not still properly facilitated. In many cases, people with disabilities and the elderly are seen after by their family members. As such many people with disabilities would often be sent to public care facilities if their families found some difficulty in taking care of them.
7. Support activities for people with disabilities affected by the disaster in the city of Minami-soma
The JDF Support Center Fukushima (for Persons with Disabilities in Devastated Area) dispatched a team of volunteers to the city of Minami-soma to carry out a door to door survey confirm the level of damages that affected people with disabilities. The city was extraordinarily damaged by the disaster compared to other cities in Fukushima Prefecture. The round survey was successful thanks to the cooperation of the city office of Minami-soma that agreed to disclose the list of registered people with disabilities living in the city. Without the help of the city office, the survey had been stymied by the ongoing law on protection of personal information. It turned out that the city of Minami-soma in Fukushima was the only local government in Japan that agreed to disclose the list in light of an emergency.
8. Actual situation of people with disabilities in the city of Minami-soma
The population of the city of Minami-soma reduced from 70,000 to 10,000 after the disaster. Though the figures have come back to more than 40,000 now, there is a critical problem of population outflow of the younger generation and children which proportionally pushed upward the ratio of people with disabilities and the elderly in the total population. This may lead to a prediction that the city may no longer afford leaders of welfare services for people with disabilities and the elderly. Meanwhile, hospitals in the area were closed due to the disaster and were not able to deliver medicines to ones who suffer from mental disorders, causing a matter of life or death to them. At present more than 60,000 people have evacuated from Fukushima prefecture and are scattered all over the country.
9. People with disabilities have been refused to live at many evacuation shelters
We, JDF Support Center Fukushima (for Persons with Disabilities in Devastated Area) conducted a door to door survey to grasp real situation of the affected people, visiting nearly 200 evacuation shelters in Fukushima prefecture. We only found as few as 100 persons with disabilities at those evacuation shelters. It is my guess that the families of people with disabilities rather stayed away from harsh living at evacuation shelters of “non universal design”.
10. Temporary housing for evacuees that are not suitable for wheelchairs
The Japanese government has built 16,200 pieces of temporary housing in Fukushima Prefecture to date but almost all of the housing doesn’t support wheelchairs. Japanese have experienced many earthquakes in the past but the government doesn’t seem to learn from the past in terms of delivering appropriate supports to people with disabilities in emergency.
11. Whereabouts of people with disabilities affected by the disaster is unknown in many cases as a matter of reality
Having been blocked by the Personal Information Protection Law of Japan, most local governments can not disclose the list of registered persons with disabilities, continuously keeping us in a difficult position to confirm whereabouts of people with disabilities affected by the disaster. It is thus almost impossible for the any JDF Support Center for Persons with Disabilities in Devastated Area to deliver appropriate supports that people with disabilities need except the city of Minami-Soma.
12. CRPD marks a "paradigm shift" in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should be no longer regarded as "objects" of charity, medical treatment, and social protection, but as "subjects" with human rights who are capable of claiming their rights as well as being active members of society. CRPD can support long term efforts of disability advocates, like me and my fellows.