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Human Rights Watch Hits Japan’s Aid Policies

SNA (Tokyo) — After a year-long study, the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch has issued a letter to Akihiko Tanaka, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which alleges “a significant gap between official rhetoric on human rights and implementation” in Japan’s foreign aid policies.

JICA cooperated with Human Right Watch’s investigation and politely answered many of the questions that were posed to them. However, the investigators say that they were “shocked” to discover that the official aid agency was apparently incapable of providing specific examples of how it went about ensuring that the interests of local communities were protected as Japanese aid policies were implemented.

“One of our main findings is that JICA staff are often not well informed about the broader human rights and political environment in the country they are working on,” the letter said.

Human Rights Watch noted that some of this ignorance appeared to be wilful as “they appear to avoid what are considered to be sensitive issues.”

The repeated answer from JICA officials was that it was the host governments that bear “ultimate responsibility” for ensuring that the rights of the people are respected.

Human Rights Watch argues that Japan’s aid approach is shortsighted even from the perspective of Japanese national interest: “JICA spends a disproportionate amount of its time concerned with the views and concerns of governments and too little time consulting with communities, local experts and the broader public. Japan often attracts more scorn than appreciation for what many describe as its ‘blank check’ aid programs, since it can appear to local communities (fairly or not) that JICA and the Japanese government are more aligned with and interested in serving the interests of often abusive governments than the people of these countries,” the letter declared.

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