The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Japan is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Japan is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which Japan can adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed under Article 21 of Japan's 1946 Constitution.
There is no national legislation dedicated to public assemblies. A controversial state secrets law entered into force in 2014. It was feared that the law would be used to prohibit protests on sensitive issues.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
The Japanese Police are entitled to use reasonably necessary force in effecting an arrest.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
According to the 1948 Police Duties Execution Act, a firearm may be used against a person who is
in the act of committing, or is suspected on sufficient grounds of having committed, a violent and dangerous crime which is subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment with work, or imprisonment with work or imprisonment without work for a maximum period of not less than three years, resists a police official's execution of duty regarding such person or attempts to escape, or a third person resists the police official in order to allow the subject person to escape; provided there are reasonable grounds on the part of the police official to believe that there are no other means but to do so either for the prevention of such resistance or escape or for the apprehension of such persons.Art. 7(i), 1948 Police Duties Execution Act.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Japan, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. In its national report for its 2017 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, Japan did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
In June 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, submitted a report in which he raised concerns about continued restrictions on protesters in Okinawa who were involved in peaceful protests against the expansion of military bases there.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Japan:
Freedom of assembly is protected under the constitution, and peaceful demonstrations take place frequently. In 2018, protests were held on topics including scandals in the Abe administration, the proposed relocation of the US base on Okinawa, and a new immigration bill announced late in the year. On the immigration issue, far-right opponents of an increase in foreign workers were met with counterprotesters opposed to racism.