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JAPAN: “SPECIAL SECRETS BILL THREATENS TRANSPARENCY” – UN INDEPENDENT EXPERTS
22 November 2013

GENEVA (22 November 2013) – Two United Nations independent human rights experts today expressed serious concern about the draft Special Secrets Bill, which establishes grounds and procedures for the classification of information held by the Japanese State.

The United Nations 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. “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.”

Mr. La Rue stressed that secrecy with regard to 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.

“Even in the exceptional cases where authorities might establish the need for confidentiality the review of their decision by an independent body is essential,” the human rights expert noted.

The Special Rapporteur drew special attention to the penalties established by the law for the release of information, stressing that “government officials who, in good faith, release confidential information on violations of the law, or wrongdoing by public bodies, should be protected against legal sanctions.”
 
“Other individuals, including journalists and civil society representatives, who receive or disseminate classified information because they believe it is in the public interest, should also not be liable to any sanction unless they put individuals in an imminent situation of serious harm,” he said.

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 recognise 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.

Mr. Frank La Rue (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

Mr. Anand Grover (India) is co-founder and Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit and the Senior Counsel in India. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx

UN Human Rights – Japan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/JPIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 / mdaher@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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For use of the information media; not an official record

HR13/343E