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Japan’s Take on Peace, Human Rights and the UN


Tsuneo Nishida, Japanese ambassador to the UN
Tsuneo Nishida, the Japanese ambassador to the UN. His country plans to run for an elected seat on the UN Security Council for the 2016-2017 term.

Tsuneo Nishida, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations, spoke recently on his country’s positions on peace and security, disarmament, human rights and UN reform. Japan, which is the world’s third-largest economy and second-biggest contributor (after the United States) to the UN’s general budget, is planning to run for an elected seat on the Security Council in the 2015 election for the 2016-2017 term. Nishida offered insights on how geopolitics are changing at the UN and how the country contributes to the UN’s work.

The evening program, “Japan and the United Nations in a Turbulent World,” held on May 29 at the Japan Society and presented with the Foreign Policy Association, took an informal approach, with Nishida speaking for about an hour and then answering questions. Nishida, 66, has been a member of the foreign ministry since 1970, when he graduated from the University of Tokyo; his government stints include working in the Japanese embassy in the former Soviet Republic and in the United States. After his ambassadorship to Canada in 2007, he was appointed to the UN role in 2010. Here is an excerpt of his speech on peace and security and human rights, with references to Japan’s stance on North Korea.

The United Nations lives and works in a turbulent world with huge challenges. Not a day goes by in which we do not hear news of the growing death tolls in Syria, nor do the provocative actions by North Korea seem to end. Suicide bombs and acts of terrorism have become almost routine in many countries and regions.

The realities that we face today are obviously far different from what surrounded the UN when it was founded in 1945. If we look at the nature of conflicts around the world, conflicts within states, including ones involving nonstate actors, have increased dramatically since that time. The recent uproars witnessed in Northern Africa and in the Middle East are all good examples of conflicts of this nature.

It is not just the nature of conflicts that has changed. The advancement of globalization has presented the world with new and pressing challenges, requiring a holistic approach. Terrorism, piracy, violation of human rights, issues related to women and youth and migration are just some of the new tasks the UN and its member states need to address.

Shifts in the balance of political and economic power among member states are another important aspect. The economic and financial crisis, which started in the United States and spread to Europe, has become a heavy drag on the influence of developed countries in the UN. At the same time, emerging developing countries are gaining an even more significant voice. These countries include not just the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) or the Next 11 (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam), but even smaller countries racking their brains to increase their leverage. The world has become more fragmented and multipolar or even nonpolar.

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As the most universal and representative international institution in the world, hopes remain that the UN can continue to meet and solve the challenges international society has to confront.

Unfortunately, it is also true that disappointment and frustration about the ineffectiveness and opacity of the UN are growing. The passion that everyone embraced when the UN was founded or when the cold war collapsed is rapidly fading as impasses over difficult situations, as in Syria or Darfur, or the lack of coordination within UN organs hamper timely, coordinated solutions to the complex tasks.

The UN today finds itself caught between these mixed feelings of hope and disappointment as crises and disarrays unfold. Japan believes the UN can deliver more, but to do so, the UN needs to readjust itself to the new environment and demonstrate that it is able to take the lead in creating, to repeat the slogan of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Future We Want.

Japan has maintained a passion for multilateralism and respect for international order since its accession to the UN in 1956. Let me touch on some of the major contributions of Japan to the UN.

Maintenance of Peace and Security

Preventing armed conflict, keeping peace and rebuilding war-torn states remain among the most intractable challenges facing the UN. Every year, at least 250,000 people die in intrastate armed conflicts and, according to the World Bank, up to $100 billion is spent in conflicts. The UN has evolved to effectively respond to the new crises as peacekeeping operations have become more robust.

The latest example is the adoption of the first-ever “offensive” combat force to “neutralize and disarm” rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The cooperation between the UN and regional organizations such as the African Union has also evolved notably, as we witness in the dispatch of the African Union/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, or Unamid. Furthermore, to foster integrated strategies for sustainable peace and recovery in the aftermath of armed conflict, the UN established the Peacebuilding Commission in 2005. The Department for Field Support was created in 2007 to manage the logistical aspects of peacekeeping operations more effectively.

How does Japan fit into these efforts? Throughout its 20-year involvement in peacekeeping operations, Japan has dispatched contingents and personnel to 13 missions around the world, including Haiti, South Sudan and Timor-Leste. In South Sudan, Japanese engineering units are supporting nation-building efforts for the world’s youngest country.

Japan is the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s working group on lessons learned. Japan is also one of the main partners to the Peacebuilding Fund, contributing approximately $32.5 million. Peace-building is a long process, and not even an easy one. We have witnessed in not a few countries that holding elections has reversed course back to another conflict.

Needless to mention the tragic memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan is strongly committed to disarmament and nonproliferation. To urge the international community to continue its untiring effort to realize a world without nuclear weapons, Japan has been leading negotiations for adopting resolutions on this topic at the General Assembly on an annual basis since 1994.

People are mostly killed not by weapons of mass destruction but by conventional weapons. A landmark adoption was achieved on the Arms Trade Treaty this April at the UN. As one of the seven co-authors who initiated the process seven years ago, Japan worked strenuously to bridge gaps among member states to agree on a text that would enhance transparency and accountability of the international transfer of arms. The treaty was adopted by an overwhelming majority and the signing ceremony took place recently in New York.

It would be inappropriate not to touch on North Korea when talking about disarmament and nonproliferation. Tensions rose extremely high when North Korea launched a long-range missile in December and conducted a nuclear test in February. North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs pose serious threats to the entire international community and must not be treated as a regional problem. Japan strongly urges North Korea to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions and not to conduct any further provocative acts.

Terrorism continues to be one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. Let me condemn once again the terrorist attack in January in Algeria, where 10 Japanese citizens were killed, and the latest tragedy at the Boston Marathon, in April. In reaction to those incidents, Japan has announced plans to further strengthen international counterterrorism measures, support stabilizing the regions of the Sahel, North Africa and the Middle East and promote dialogue and exchanges with Islamic and Arab states.

Human Rights

Japan is actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights as a member of the Human Rights Council for the 2013-2015 term.

Still today, we are unfortunately witnessing many grave human rights violations in the world. Japan is engaged in UN efforts to address and overcome those situations. One example is the situation in Syria. From the outset, Japan has been consistently supporting and co-sponsoring the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council resolutions on Syria’s human-rights situation. Japan is deeply concerned by the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria. Japanese humanitarian assistance has totaled $80.5 million. While addressing the appalling human rights and humanitarian crisis, the international community needs to take coordinated action to end all violence and bring about a Syrian-led political transition.

Another example of widespread and systematic violations of human rights is the situation with North Korea. Allow me to underline the graveness of the situation. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said that “the deplorable human rights situation in DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” . . . “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

For many years, Japan, together with the European Union, has introduced resolutions on the human-rights situation in North Korea to the General Assembly annually. Furthermore, in March, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus the establishment of a commission of inquiry on North Korea’s human-rights situation.

In addition to country-specific questions, cross-cutting issues are also at the heart of the UN. Advancement of women, who account for half of the world population, is a key topic. A number of forums at the UN have been addressing economic, social and political disparities that women contend with today. Furthermore, the Security Council highlights gender issues through its thematic debates, calling for concrete actions to end violence and discrimination against women.

To respond to these calls, Japan has not just incorporated the gender perspective of women in its official development assistance policy, but has also recently announced a new contribution of $4.5 million for programs to prevent sexual violence and support victims in countries such as Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and Somalia.


Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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