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For Immediate Release
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Japan: Speak out for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch Opens Tokyo Office to Focus on Asia Rights Issues


The Japanese government, parliament, and bureaucracy should become much stronger proponents for human rights in Asia and worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today at a news conference to open its Tokyo Office.

Human Rights Watch released a letter to Prime Minister Taro Aso, urging the Japanese government to press Burma's military government to free political prisoners, hold free and fair elections, end rampant torture, and stop attacks on ethnic minorities.

"One of our most important tools for defending human rights is our capability to persuade powerful governments to use their leverage on behalf of victims of human rights violations," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who is in Tokyo for the opening. "As a major power and one of world's largest aid donors, Japan can play a much stronger role in promoting human rights. We are opening our new Tokyo office to help Japan live up to its potential on human rights."

Human Rights Watch said that Japan has been vocal about human rights abuses in North Korea, but has otherwise been more inclined to use quiet diplomacy.

"For Japan to promote human rights successfully and be taken seriously internationally, it needs to use a mixture of private and public diplomacy," said Roth. "Too often, as with the current crisis in Sri Lanka, Japan's voice is missing when it could be a powerful force to protect people from harm."

Human Rights Watch works in more than 80 countries to expose human rights violations and to urge governments to develop policy to protect and promote human rights. In Asia, it is working to raise awareness worldwide of abuses in countries that include Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, where Japan is the single-largest bilateral aid donor.

"We hope, through our Tokyo office, to contribute in various ways to Japan's more active support for human rights, particularly in Asia," Roth said. "The accurate, detailed, and impartial human rights information collected by Human Rights Watch researchers around the globe can help the Japanese government to shape policy and act in a timely and effective manner to address such abuses."

Human Rights Watch is headquartered in New York and has offices in London, Brussels, Washington, DC, Paris, Johannesburg, Moscow, and many other cities around the world. To maintain its independence and impartiality, it receives no funding from any government.

"The opening of our Tokyo office demonstrates Human Rights Watch's commitment to advancing human rights across Asia, and we welcome the participation of the people of Japan in assisting us in this important effort," Roth said.

Roth said that Human Rights Watch intends to share its research with the Japanese press and people in the hope that this will encourage the government to use its influence to promote human rights. Providing more information about human rights issues in countries that benefit from Japanese largesse will help the Japanese people and government evaluate aid programs, he said.

The opening of the new office will be celebrated at a dinner on April 9 in Tokyo. The hosts for the dinner will be 19 major figures in Japan: Minora Fujita, Glen S. Fukushima, Sakie Fukushima, Nobuyuki Idei, Joichi Ito, Yuko Kawamoto, Aki Kinjo, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Kathy Matsui, Oki Matsumoto, Krishen Mehta, Makoto Miyazaki, Aiko Okawara, Thierry Porte, Ken Shibusawa, Yu Serizawa, Mamoru Taniya, Kimiya Yamamoto, and Yoshinori Yokoyama.

The guest of honor is Ko Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner in Burma and the co-founder of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB), who is the winner of the 2008 Human Rights Watch Defender Award.

To read the letter from Human Rights Watch to Prime Minister Taro Aso, please visit:

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.