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Distant glitter of Polaris keeps guiding Japan's anti-slavery activists

In early May, a person who identified herself as Ms. Fujiwara contacted me over my November 25, 2004 article titled "Compliance with someone else's moral standards is far from enough". Actually the U.S.-educated young lady is running the Japan office of Polaris Project, an NGO based in Washington, D.C.

Since her first e-mail already indicated that we have a lot in common with respect to our areas of concern, which is rarely the case with my interactions with fellow countrymen, I asked her for a sit-together or two to exchange views in person. Although the intelligent and self-driven person seemed fully tied up with her own job almost around the clock, Ms. Fujiwara could somehow manage to comply with my request.

At the top of the questionnaire I sent her beforehand was a query about the scope of her activities. I wasn't just curious about it. I thought it would give me an important clue to her undertaking and mindset to find out how she defines the scope of her anti-slavery activities, and how far she has broaden her perspective along the way. The width of perspective is always the key to deepening one's thought.

More specifically I asked her what types of modern-day slavery listed below fall on her scope of activities and range of perspective.

Type of Human Rights Violation Victim Perpetrator Site of Crime Examples
1 Sex Slavery Japanese Japanese Japan Ubiquitous
2 Sex Slavery Non-Japanese Japanese Japan Ubiquitous
3 Sex Slavery Non-Japanese Non-Japanese Japan Korean brothel operators who "deliver" Korean call girls to Japanese customers
4 Sex Slavery Non-Japanese Japanese Overseas 1) Japanese pedophiles buying local kids in Southeast Asian countries, 2) Company-paid hotel orgy of 2003 in Zhuhai, China
5 Sex Slavery Japanese Non-Japanese Overseas Japanese prostitutes being exploited by gigolos in Paris
6 Sex Slavery Non-Japanese Non-Japanese Overseas Vary from country to country
7 Domestic Violence/Abuse Japanese Japanese Japan 1) Girls who fell victim to their violently possessive "boyfriends", 2) Kids who fell victim to their abusive fathers, 3) Girls who had to undergo a back-alley abortion all by themselves
8 Abduction Japanese Non-Japanese Japan Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in late-1970s through early-1980s
9 "Reverse Prostitution" Japanese Japanese Japan "Host clubs" where young women are exploited both sexually and financially by male prostitutes
10 Other Human Rights Violation Japanese Japanese Japan Pervasive practice of sexist/ageist discrimination
11 Other Human Rights Violation Non-Japanese Japanese Japan 1) Any form of racial discrimination, 2) Cheap labor imported from Japan's backyard countries
12 Other Human Rights Violation Japanese Non-Japanese Overseas Japanese consulate official in Shanghai who had to kill himself in May 2004 after being blackmailed by Chinese authorities
13 Other Human Rights Violation Non-Japanese Non-Japanese Overseas Hundreds of millions of Chinese victims of servitude who have to work 80 hours per week at an hourly wage of 20-30 cents. (Japanese are not perpetrators but they are among the main beneficiaries)
14 Unsettled Atrocities in Distant Past Non-Japanese Japanese Asia 1) Wartime "comfort women", 2) Forced laborers "recruited" from Korean Peninsula

In response to this part of my questionnaire, she said that as a matter of practice, she cannot but concentrate on Type 1 through 3 of human rights violation due to the acute resource constraint. But she quickly added: It's not that she and her colleagues are not concerned about other types of human rights infringement.

To me this was more than heartening because the indication here was that she is aware any form of modern-slavery should be fought against from a broader perspective and in the total context of what I call "the Chain of Oppression".

On the contrary the Japanese government, the media, and even a good part of local grass-roots organizations always cherry-pick a certain part of human rights issues, arbitrarily or opportunistically, because by doing so they can localize and marginalize the intractable problem deep-seated in this society. Needless to say, their favorite issues are those that fall on Type 2.

As I reported in the above-linked TFP story, the U.S. State Department in 2004 placed Japan in its Tier 2 Watch List for importing tons of sex slaves from Asian countries. Seizing on the favor Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, did to the Koizumi government, Japan readily took the "necessary steps" to curb the transnational human trafficking. As a result, Condoleezza Rice, Powell's successor as Secretary of State, could delist Japan from the Watch List in a matter of a year.

It was a breeze for Japan to pass the makeup exam imposed from the other side of the Pacific. But it's a real shame to see our nation once again sit comfortably among other Tier-B countries such as Ghana and Rwanda, just because of a makeshift legislation, or two, hastily enacted by the Koizumi government. Needless to say mere legislative measures make little difference to the deep-rooted social milieu and overall mechanism for the exploitation of people.

For one thing, yakuza and law enforcement of this nation are so inventive that they can easily circumvent the new restrictions solely intended to cater to the American standards, such as the TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act) of 2005.

Equally discrediting to the U.S. State Department is Germany's placement in Tier 1 despite the fact the situation there is such that President Bush in May had to warn the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though very nicely, to close down the huge brothel the city of Berlin was readying to entertain the World Cup participants.

In this respect Ms. Fujiwara alerted me to the fact that recently there are signs the Condi Rice's shop has started to develop a better-balanced view between transnational human trafficking and domestic TIP. This is certainly a good news. But the bad news is that it's us Japanese people, not the U.S. State Department, that should have changed the way to address TIP issues.

In this context, we should realize human rights issues have nothing to do with diplomacy. This chain of oppression should be broken from within, all by ourselves, without counting too much on the U.S. State Department to identify the real problem, let alone prescribe for it. This is where Ms. Fujiwara and I could share the same way of viewing the current situation and the formidable tasks lying ahead of us.

Just the same, Japanese today still tend to single out one aspect, or two, of the slavery issue as they were doing two years ago simply because otherwise, the first thing they would have to do is to admit they are all part of the Chain themselves.

Then our discussion over the scope/perspective issue brought us to another important point: Ambiguity inherent in modern-day slavery.

Once upon a time, slaves were all put in irons, two and two shackled together, to prevent their mutiny, or swimming ashore, when being transported to the New World across the Atlantic. It was all so obvious then who were the traffickers and who were the victims. But not anymore, today.

The Stockholm Syndrome is "a psychological response sometimes seen in a hostage, in which the hostage exhibits seeming loyalty to the hostage-taker" (Wikipedia). Likewise, the modern-day slave is, more often than not, prone to develop ambivalent feelings (e.g., love and hate) toward the slaver. So the Palermo Protocol, or United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (December 2000), had a good reason to call these victims "willing participants" in TIP.

Here again, I noticed she was fully aware of the ambiguity entailed in every case she handles. I could tell she has acquired, through her first-hand field experience in the last two years, a highly professional set of skills and know-how with which to identify real TIP victims and help them out of the convoluted situation where there is no such thing as slaves put in visible irons. Not once did I hear Ms. Fujiwara utter an oversimplified statement during the informal interviews.

It seemed to me she didn't really care about my classification of human rights violation into 14 types. Neither did she look concerned too much about the tier placements by the U.S. State Department. A down-to-earth grass-roots activist as she is, Ms. Fujiwara impressed me as though she is too well aware of ambiguity and subtlety involved there to bother herself about these typifications. I think the keen awareness of ambiguity and ambivalence she could demonstrate during our meetings is crucially important especially when dealing with Japan's highly institutionalized and subtly legitimatized ways to infringe human rights and dignity.

The only question to which she couldn't give me a convincing answer was this one: "Why do you think has Japan been singled out as the only overseas office location of Polaris Project?". She said that two years ago, the two youngish founders of Polaris handpicked her to set up the Japan branch because outside of the U.S., Japan is the biggest nation in terms of "demand" for the sex industry. She added that she and the co-founders had just come across each other at the right timing. The last part must be true; the project owners encountered the right person at the right timing.

But as for the other part of her answer, my interpretation of the implication of their decision is a little different. The co-founders didn't choose China (Tier 2 Watch List) or South Korea (Tier 1!) instead of, or in addition to, Japan because the situation here is horrible enough, even on the "supply" side, to make it unnecessary to pick the PRC and the ROK. If there are some countries where the human rights situation is worse than in Japan, they are the likes of Iran and North Korea, both placed in Tier 3. But you can't set up an NGO office in those reclusive countries.

This is nothing more than my own speculation. But I, too, would have decided to substitute Japan for these Tier-3 countries because that was the most natural course of action.

Just take our Prime Minister for example. Junichiro Koizumi has stayed in power for five years now, while enjoying approval rating almost twice as high as George W. Bush's. Yet it's been an open secret by now that Koizumi is a perpetual sex offender since his early-20s.

Even so every time my blog touches on his crimes, including the rape incident of 1967, people warn me that I might be sued for defamation because these allegations were unsubstantiated. True, they weren't really substantiated but that's just because his political foes, judges, prosecutors, journalists, and the general public didn't want to substantiate the obvious. Also true, not a single victim has sued Koizumi. Fortunately for him, rape constitutes a crime only when a formal complaint is filed by the victim. But that doesn't make him any less sinful because rape is rape.

And what can I say of the sickening story about the woman in a Shimbashi geisha pool? I don't know how to describe the way I felt when I first heard it. She chose to kill herself, instead of Koizumi, after repeatedly being abused by him.

If you think I just keep dredging up ill-founded accusations against the Prime Minister, ask independent journalists such as Benjamin Fulford, former Asia-Pacific Bureau Chief at Forbes. Or just read the Fulford's most recent book ("Say Good-bye to Zombies"), and you will know for sure Koizumi is a downright criminal. Even Bill Clinton must have blushed, or paled, at the Koizumi's long list of sexual misdeeds.

Notwithstanding all this, the United Nations under the rotten leadership by Secretary General Kofi Annan recently took a misstep when "reforming" the U.N. human rights body, as if to act in concert with the U.S. State Department which was misguided to upgrade Japan to Tier 2.

According to a Yomiuri editorial dated June 26, the membership for the U.N. Human Rights Council that replaced the "discredited Human Rights Commission" has now been limited to 47 countries, including Japan, as a result of ousting such "nations that sought to stifle criticism of their human rights situations." That means Japan, like other 46 member countries, could win more than 96 votes at the General Assembly. But to me, this is a dirty gift given by Annan who wanted to make up for the Koizumi's aborted aspiration for a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.

All in all I am extremely uncomfortable with the series of decisions taken at the State Department and the United Nations. And yet I'm glad that Polaris founders made the right decision two years ago when they chose Japan as its only overseas location and put Ms. Fujiwara in charge.

At the end of our last meeting, I asked her, "What is your major challenge?". She said she had difficulty managing too many things at a time with a limited amount of human and financial resources available to her.

But as I have always maintained on this website, what really counts is the quality of one's work, not the quantity, e.g., how many victims he or she can rescue. This is all the more true with Ms. Fujiwara and her colleagues. I believe she will be able to overcome all this difficulty as long as these admirable people at Polaris Project Japan remain committed and devoted to this cause and are guided by the dim light coming from the polestar across the Pacific Ocean.

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