Jurists urge better protection for mentally ill in Japan

The ICJ has urged Japan to revise its 1988 Mental Health Law in order to better protect the human rights of psychiatric patients.

An ICJ report noted that Japanese legislation and practice does not respect some UN principles for the protection of mentally ill persons and for the improvement of mental health care.

It also stated that there is a “serious lack of resources, arising from the discriminatory nature of reimbursement of mental health care and welfare payments for the mentally ill as compared to other ill and disabled people”. The study said it is imperative that municipal and prefectural governments be required to subsidize community-based services and facilities.

The ICJ also recommended that the Japanese government:

  • Prohibit discriminatory practices based on mental illness, for example with employment, housing and drivers’ licenses.
  • Abolish the “hogogimusha” system, which requires that family members assist in the treatment and protection of patients.
  • Ensure that no informally admitted patient is kept on a locked ward.
  • Coordinate services at all levels of government.
  • Improve training, oriented toward community care and rehabilitation.
  • Restructure Psychiatric Review Boards and their method of operation.
  • Establish a procedure to set and enforce national standards.
  • Review the Mental Health Act after five years.

The report follows a mission to Japan in April by Professor T.W. Harding of Geneva; Niall MacDermot, former Secretary-General of the ICJ; Pamela Cohen, an American lawyer conducting research in Tokyo; and Professor Harold Visotsky of Chicago, Illinois. The recommendations were submitted in April to the Japanese government but as yet there has been no response.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), headquartered in Geneva, is a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the OAU. Founded in 1952, it is composed of 31 distinguished jurists from around the globe and has 75 national sections and affiliated organizations.

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