Today marks the conclusion of my official visit to Japan, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government, from 16 July. The main purpose of my visit was to obtain first-hand information that would enable me assess the impact of Japan’s official development assistance on the realization of human rights and the Millennium Development Goals in recipient countries.
I have had very constructive and insightful discussions with a broad range of stakeholders including representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs; Finance; Economy, Trade and Industry; as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). I have also had meetings with United Nations agencies based in the country, academics and representatives of civil society organizations.
I would like to thank the Government for its invitation and cooperation during my visit. I also wish to express my gratitude to all of those who shared their perspectives with me and to the United Nations Development Programme for assisting with the preparations for my visit.
I will present my findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. However, I would like to share some preliminary observations and recommendations with you.
Japan’s international development cooperation policy
Japan´s international development cooperation policy is informed by its Official Development Assistance (ODA) Charter of August 2003 which is underpinned by five basic principles – supporting “self-help” efforts of developing countries, focussing on “human security”, assurance of fairness, utilization of Japan’s experience and expertise, and partnership and collaboration with the international community.
The principle of “self-help” stresses local ownership by developing countries and takes cognisance of the priorities and development strategies of its development partners. I consider that if properly implemented and focused on increasing local productive capacities and global competitiveness ODA-supported efforts in this regard can potentially reduce the external aid dependency of partner countries. This would of course also depend on a conducive global economic environment characterized by policy coherence in the areas of finance, trade, investment and sustainable development.
While the concept of “human security” resonates well with the three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, development and respect for human rights, I believe that it requires further elucidation if it is to contribute to the effectiveness of Japan’s ODA policy. In addition, the notion has an accountability deficit in that it is not underpinned by any legally binding or enforceable standards. In this regard, I consider that human rights could receive more prominence in the country’s ODA policy.
The Charter underscores that “Japan will give priority to assisting developing countries that make active efforts to pursue peace, democratization, and the protection of human rights, as well as structural reform in the economic and social spheres”. It also places emphasis on the protection of individuals, their empowerment, attention to the condition of the socially vulnerable and closing the gap between the rich and the poor. Further, it explicitly stresses gender equality and improving the status of women and their active participation in development. Nevertheless, the Government should make a more explicit commitment to incorporating human rights principles into the design, implementation and monitoring of its ODA policies by adopting a policy statement on human rights and development cooperation, as other leading providers of ODA such as Australia (AusAID), Canada (CIDA), Finland (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Germany (GIZ), Sweden (Sida), the United Kingdom (DFID) and the USA (USAID) have done. Such policy statement should be complemented by operational and implementation guidelines, related manuals and practical tools, as well as training for Japanese officials working in the area of development cooperation. This would also be in line with, inter alia, the principle of international cooperation as set out in the Charter of the United Nations, various international human rights treaties and the Accra Agenda for Action.
It should be noted that an overarching human rights-based approach guiding development cooperation policies and programmes promotes equality and non-discrimination, participation and empowerment, as well as transparency and accountability. By focusing on these principles and on the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment, a rights-based approach would improve the sustainability and effectiveness of Japanese development cooperation.
Transparency and accountability in the implementation of ODA commitments
I note that JICA, NEXI and JBICs all have guidelines for environmental and social considerations. These guidelines, which largely correspond to the safeguard policies of the World Bank, are designed to avoid or mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts of development projects supported by Japan. Nevertheless, they do not offer effective accountability mechanisms. For example, while the JICA guidelines provide for a procedure allowing affected persons to raise their concerns with an independent Panel of Examiners, the examiners can only make recommendations to the executive of JICA who is not bound by such recommendations.
I encourage the Government to strengthen these guidelines by, inter alia, requiring comprehensive human rights impact assessments (in addition to the environmental and social impact assessments) and ensuring the free, active and meaningful participation – rather than mere consultation – of the affected communities.
Another issue requiring attention is the lack of transparency concerning the contracts between these agencies and their clients. Non-disclosure of these agreements has been justified by reference to commercial confidentiality. However, I consider that since these agencies are public entities, there is a duty to account to the Japanese public and to the citizens of the countries where the projects they fund are located. With regard to export credits, there are instances where these ultimately become sovereign debt obligations borne by the tax payers of countries where the projects are located. In these circumstances, transparency would enhance accountability of these agencies to both the Japanese tax payers and the citizens of the recipient countries.
It should be noted that while primarily binding on States and their agencies, human rights norms and standards also establish a legal framework for State-owned or funded development agencies , such as NEXI and JBIC, which provide financial support for foreign investment, as well as private business entities receiving such support. This is evident from the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which were endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011.
Debt relief efforts
I commend Japan for its bilateral debt relief efforts and contributions to multilateral debt relief initiatives. I urge the Government to use its influence in multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank, to ensure that the provision of loans or debt relief is not conditional on the implementation of onerous policies that may undermine the sustainability and ownership of recipient countries’ development efforts. In this regard, I encourage the Government to give due consideration to the United Nations Guiding Principles on foreign debt and human rights which were endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2012.
Private sector involvement
A key priority of Japan’s international cooperation policies is the promotion of private sector-led growth. In this regard, I note that the Tokyo International Conference on African development held in June 2013 also emphasized the role of foreign direct investment contributing to development. This is commendable. However, it is equally important that attention is paid to enhancing the capacities of local businesses in the partner countries to be internationally competitive.
Efforts to boost Japanese investments abroad should be consistent with relevant international human rights standards, including the Guiding Principles on foreign debt and human rights, the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business and relevant international labour standards. Consideration should be also given to ensuring more comprehensive regulation of Japanese foreign business activities to address issues such as tax evasion and other forms of capital flight which undermine the capacity of countries to mobilize sufficient domestic resources for their development. Such an approach would be consistent with the principle of “self-help” which is a cornerstone of Japan’s ODA policy.
Reaching the official United Nations target of 0.7 per cent ODA/GNI
Japan’s ODA budget has been declining in recent years. Compared to 1997, the ODA budget for 2013 has been cut by 52.3 per cent. In 2012, only 0.17 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) was devoted to development cooperation. This was significantly below the United Nations ODA target of 0.7 per cent of GNI and the OECD-DAC average of 0.29 per cent of GNI in 2012.
I acknowledge the economic and fiscal challenges facing Japan as a consequence of the global economic crisis and the recent natural disasters which the country has suffered (such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011) and I commend the Government for continuing with its ODA programme despite these setbacks.
In this context, I urge the Government to set out a clear road map for progress towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent ODA/GNI as the economic and fiscal situation improves.
Support for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals
Japan has been a leading actor in promoting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the international level. In September 2010, during the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the MDGs Japan pledged $5 billion in assistance to the health sector and $3.5 billion to the education sector to contribute to efforts for the realization of the MDGs. In June 2011, it hosted an MDG Follow-Up meeting jointly with the United Nations. The event was the beginning of the international debate for establishing a post-2015 development framework.
Japan is also active in the discussions concerning the post-2015 development agenda. In this regard, it has proposed a new development framework guided by the principle of human security. Although this principle recognizes the interlinkages between peace, development and human rights, its meaning remains unclear. This poses a problem in terms of operationalizing the principle and ensuring accountability for delivery on commitments.
The lack of an accountability mechanism for ensuring delivery on the declaratory, non-binding political commitments made by the international community in relation to the MDGs has been cited as a key reason for the inadequate progress on the goals. Thus, it has been suggested that a post-2015 development agenda should be underpinned by human rights as a universal normative and legally binding framework embodying the minimum requirements of a life in dignity. I could not agree more.
Without discounting the value of the human security principle, I encourage the Government of Japan to give due consideration to accountability mechanisms anchored to the human rights framework which promotes the active and meaningful participation of those most affected by poverty and deprivation and increases the responsiveness of the State or those in authority.
I acknowledge the support provided by Japan to the UN Trust Fund for Human Security which finances activities of UN organizations and/or designated non-UN organizations which aim to translate the human security approach into practice. Activities have focused, inter alia, on addressing climate-related threats, poverty reduction and social inclusion.
The need for an independent National Human Rights Institution
Japan is one of the few OECD countries which has not yet established an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). Within the Asia-Pacific region, there are 15 NHRIs fully complying with the Paris Principles. In its report to the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in August 2012, Japan reiterated that its Government was “making necessary preparations to submit a bill to the Diet to establish a human rights commission as a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.”
I urge the Government to follow up this commitment. In my estimation, an independent NHRI would not only assist Japan in complying with its international human rights obligations, but could also contribute to efforts to integrate a human rights-based approach into development cooperation. This is the case, for example, in Germany where the German Institute for Human Rights has assisted the Ministry of Development Cooperation and the country’s main development cooperation agency, GIZ, integrate human rights into the country’s development cooperation policies and operational procedures. The Institute also provides advice and training for officials implementing the country’s development cooperation policies.
Cooperation with NGOs
I commend the Government for establishing a framework for regular dialogue between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japanese NGOs. I am grateful to the Ministry for the opportunity to observe such a dialogue today.
I also commend the Government for increasing its financial support to Japanese NGOs. In 2012, this support reached 6 billion yen. Nevertheless, it appears that the overall amount of ODA channelled through NGOs is still relatively low. According to OECD data for 2011, around 3 per cent of Japan’s overall ODA goes to NGOs and other private bodies. There appears to be no support for NGOs in recipient countries. It also appears that there is no dialogue with local civil society organizations in countries receiving Japanese ODA.
It is critical that support is also provided to local civil society actors in recipient countries, particularly those representing vulnerable and disadvantaged groups to enable them to engage in dialogue with policy makers and enhance their capacity to assert their rights through existing judicial and other procedures at national or international level.
In closing, I wish to reiterate my commitment to continue the constructive dialogue initiated with the Government of Japan during my visit.