3.11(Fukushima) and Hiroshima

Fukushima and Hiroshima: What must be done now, Part 5 [6]

Article 6: Protect human rights based on international standards

by Yoko Yamamoto, Staff Writer

The following are excerpts from an interview by Yoko Yamamoto, staff writer, with Kazuko Ito, a lawyer and the secretary general of Human Rights Now, an NPO.

In the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, a large amount of radioactive cesium 137 was released, equivalent to the amount of cesium 137 emitted by 168.5 atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima. The right of the residents living in the vicinity of the plant to “maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” that the Japanese Constitution guarantees has been significantly compromised. The central government must lower the annual limit for radiation exposure, a benchmark for protecting the residents, from 20 millisieverts to 1 millisievert, and undertake every available measure to safeguard their health.

Our NPO, Human Rights Now, has a track record of investigating human rights violations in Asia, such as violence and poverty, and we have proposed countermeasures to the United Nations and relevant governments to address these conditions.

Support wanting for evacuees

In the aftermath of the disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, we investigated the evacuation conditions of the sufferers in such cities as Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture. In the course of this investigation, it came to light that in some cases the support they received didn't even meet the standard for the “internally displaced” as set by the United Nations. The problems have included insufficient food and water, as well as inadequate living conditions and unsatisfactory measures in connection with providing information.

We found other deficiencies at evacuation centers. We have encountered cases where people in these facilities had no choice but to open the windows, despite being in areas with high levels of radiation, because the facilities aren't equipped with air conditioning. In some cases, the elderly and residents with disabilities, who would have difficulty living by themselves in temporary housing, have remained behind in the evacuation centers. Some have even committed suicide. We are pointing out such problems and proposing recommendations to improve the situation.

First of all, the central government was remiss in disclosing the information they held about the spread of the contamination following the accident. This can be considered a grave breach of its obligation to protect human rights. Even now public assistance is insufficient in places outside the designated evacuation area. I can only conclude that people's lives have been viewed with indifference.

In the wake of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, the former Soviet Union sought to protect the local population by setting the annual limit for radiation exposure at 1 millisievert. In areas where the annual exposure exceeded 5 millisieverts, the government undertook a policy of forced evacuations. For people who chose to voluntarily evacuate to areas where the level of radiation exceeded 1 millisievert, the government also pursued measures of support involving such things as employment, medical care, and compensation for living expenses.

Actions inferior to efforts of former Soviet Union

Meanwhile, the Japanese government set a level of 20 millisieverts as the benchmark for its evacuation order. And it has failed to announce what measures it will take to provide support to those who voluntarily evacuated from areas lying outside the designated evacuation area. It can be said that the actions undertaken to safeguard the well-being of the local population are even inferior to the efforts made by the former Soviet Union 25 years ago.

How low doses of radiation affect the human body remains a large question mark. The effects of internal exposure to residual radiation in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one example. The central government has underestimated these effects, losing a series of lawsuits involving A-bomb disease certification.

Radiation contamination poses a threat to the very foundation of the health and livelihoods of a significant number of people. The central government must do all that it can conceive of to protect the human rights of the citizens of Fukushima, basing its actions on the lessons learned in connection with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kazuko Ito
Ms. Ito was born in Tokyo in 1966. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at Waseda University and became a lawyer in 1994. Ms. Ito has been engaged in human rights issues involving the Guantanamo U.S. Navy Base in Cuba, and the problem of depleted uranium shells. In 2006, she founded Human Rights Now. Ms. Ito is a resident of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

(Originally published on September 2, 2011)