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The Internalization of International Human Rights Law


139 MacDougal Street, Wilf Hall
5th Floor, Room 512
New York, NY, 10012


As part of a worrying global phenomenon, racism and ultra-nationalistic campaigns against ethnic minorities have seen serious growth in Japan. Responding to the recommendations of the UN human rights bodies for the Japanese government to take legal measures to curb hate speech in 2014, Japanese government enacted its first law against hate speech in June 2016, despite its persistent negative attitude toward regulating hate speech due to the strong protection of freedom of speech under the Constitution.

This study examines the background of the enactment of “Act on the Promotion of Efforts to Eliminate Unfair Discriminatory Speech and Behavior against Persons Originating from Outside Japan (Hate Speech Dissolution Act)” in Japan based on the theory of the vernacularization, a process to convert universalistic human rights into local understandings of social justice [Merry and Levitt,1999] and socialization of international legal norms and transnational legal processes to promote national obedience of international human rights law [Koh 1999; Risse and Sikkink 1999; Goodman & Jinks 2004, 2008, 2013] with compared to the hate speech regulation and social movement in the U.S. against racial discrimination.

Previous literatures including Risse and Sikkink(1999) explored the stages and mechanisms through which international norms can lead to changes in domestic practice and political behavior. Goodman & Jinks (2013) also points out “acculturalization”, the general process by which actors adopt the beliefs and behavioral patterns of the surrounding culture, as the important mechanisms for influencing state practice. A question raised here is if we could see acculturalization of the international human rights laws in the development process of the Hate Speech Dissolution Act, which seems to be respondent to the recommendation of the UN human rights treaty bodies. Through analyzing the legal and political process and its implicit interaction with civil society which is mobilized on anti-racism social movement, this study reveals the complicated mechanism of the acculturalization in different levels.

In this process of internalization of international human rights laws and norms, this study focuses on legal process in judiciary as well as the social movement in civil society against hate speech which can be categorized in three groups. First group centered attorneys and international human rights NGOs, which are engaged in advocacy in international level. The second group includes the activities of traditional citizens' movement such as labor union and local community seen in the movement in Kawasaki. Final, and most important group in the context of vernacularization is the ordinary citizens networked through the Internet. Focusing on the interaction between domestic and international advocacy by these groups involved in anti-hate speech movement, the study tries to examine the relationship between the formation of global justice and the local movement and development of legislation on the ground.


It concludes judicial rulings on hate speech in Japan combined with nation-wide anti-hate movement and local government initiatives internalizing international human rights norms in the society pushed forward the development of the anti-hate legislation in Japan, which is nevertheless not necessarily leading to the compliance of the international human rights norms or the drastic change of state behavior in substance. This may be a case study of “insufficient acculturalization” which Goodman and Jinks (2008) also suggests in their work as that acculturation often generates shallow, formal reforms that exert little influence on actual state practice and states publicly conform to global norms without privately accepting them.

The study is based on socio-legal analysis with participatory observation of the anti-racism movement and interviews of various actors including related international institutions, law firms, not-for-profit organizations, and government officers. This provides a solid example to explain how international human rights work in practice and can inspire the discussion on the effective implementation of the international human rights law to protect minorities from exclusion in a global context.

About the Speaker:

Ayako Hatano

Ms. Hatano is currently a Ph.D. candidate of the University of Tokyo in the field of international human rights law and development. Her interest is in exploring how international norms become internalized or vernacular particular societies. She holds a B.A. in International Relations, a J.D. and a M.A. in Human Security Studies at the University of Tokyo and an LL.M. from New York University School of Law. She has worked in a global investment banking, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and non-governmental organizations with a focus on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women at the United Nations in Geneva. She has also worked in international organizations such as The Hague Conference on Private International Law in the Netherlands, and UNICEF in Sierra Leone focusing on women’s rights and children’s rights. She has engaged in advocacy to protect the human rights of minorities, women and children, with a focus on sustainable development. Her recent research focuses on hate speech and racial discrimination in Asia.

Earlier Event: April 18
Asia Law Weekly: Susan Finder
Later Event: April 23
Asia Law Weekly: Alex Yong Kang Chow