This picture taken on 14 February 2021 shows an aerial view of the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (top) undergoing decommissioning work and tanks (bottom) for storing treated water/AFP

JAPAN — A UN expert has urged the Japanese government to give unqualified, human rights and needs-based support to the more than 30,000 people still displaced 11 years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. That approach must also apply to reconstruction in affected areas.

“Many displaced persons are unable or unwilling to return to their areas of origin due to lingering fears regarding radiation levels, or concerns about access to basic services including education, healthcare, and jobs in these areas,” said Cecilia Jiménez-Damary, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The expert emphasised there could be no distinction made between IDPs – also known as “evacuees” in Japan – on the basis of whether their displacement was motivated by fear of the effects of the disaster or due to a mandatory evacuation order.

“Protection and assistance to IDPs must be provided on the basis of their human rights and their needs, and not on the basis of status-based categorisations, which have no justification under international human rights law,” Jiménez-Damary said in a statement presenting her preliminary observations from a 10-day visit to Japan.

“All IDPs have the same rights and entitlements as citizens of Japan, and the practice of allocating support based on whether IDPs are categorised as ‘mandatory’ or ‘voluntary’ must end.”

Since the 2011 disaster, IDPs have faced challenges in accessing basic rights, including housing, health, livelihood, participation, and education for children. “To enable durable solutions, conditions must be in place to ensure their right to an adequate standard of living including housing, access to employment and livelihoods, and effective remedy for displacement-related rights violations, including in places of origin to which they are being asked to return,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Accurate information was essential for the evacuees to make informed decisions on whether to return or settle elsewhere. It was also critical to ensure their right to freely choose the most appropriate durable solution is not impeded by policies that make assistance conditional on return.

“For IDPs who remain in evacuation, there should be continued basic support, especially provision of housing assistance to the most vulnerable households and support for all IDPs achieve sustainable livelihoods,” the Special Rapporteur said.

She urged authorities to adopt an area-based approach to the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture covering the needs and rights of both IDPs and remaining residents. “To rebuild social cohesion, it is essential that both IDPs and the current residents of Fukushima Prefecture engage in dialogue and are provided with full information and are able to freely participate in decisions related to reconstruction,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur visited Tokyo and the prefectures of Fukushima, Kyoto, and Hiroshima and met with executive and legislative officials, civil society organisations, lawyers, and academic researchers. She also heard from internally displaced persons and communities affected by the nuclear disaster.

A comprehensive report on the Special Rapporteur’s visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2023.

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