Japan: End solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row prisoners

22/08/2022
Statement
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Paris, Tokyo - 22 August 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Center for Prisoners’ Rights (CPR) denounce the use of solitary confinement and intrusive video surveillance of death row prisoners in Japan. Such measures amount to serious human rights violations and are grossly inconsistent with Japan’s obligations under international law.

According to the latest available official figures, at the end of 2021 there were 107 prisoners (99 men and eight women) under death sentence in Japan. Almost half of them (47 men and two women) were in Tokyo Detention House.

CPR research found that prisoners under death sentence in Tokyo Detention House are held in solitary confinement in 5.4-square-meter cells that are monitored 24 hours a day by closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras placed on the ceiling. There are no obstacles in front of the cameras, so everything is videotaped, including prisoners removing their clothes and underwear, as well as their use of toilets.

According to interviews conducted by CPR with five death row prisoners in Tokyo Detention House in May 2022, four of them had been kept in solitary confinement in such cells for periods ranging from three to nearly 15 years. A fifth prisoner was moved after more than 14 years to a cell without a surveillance camera, pursuant to a transfer order dated 1 March 2022. At the time of publication of this statement, the other four prisoners remain in cells monitored by CCTV cameras. Female prisoners under death sentence in Tokyo Detention House are also kept in solitary confinement in cells with CCTV cameras manned by male and female officers.

The use of prolonged solitary confinement and the constant video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence are inconsistent with international human rights treaties to which Japan is a state party, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

Prolonged solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”), [1] is not in line with Articles 2 and 16 of the CAT, which impose on the Japanese government an obligation to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, the UN Committee against Torture has long held that solitary confinement might constitute torture or inhuman treatment and should be prohibited for prisoners sentenced to death. [2] Prolonged solitary confinement is also inconsistent with Articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR. Article 7 stipulates that no one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In its General Comment No. 20, the UN Human Right Committee (CCPR) states that prolonged solitary confinement of detained or imprisoned persons may amount to acts prohibited by Article 7 of the ICCPR. [3] In addition, Article 10 of the ICCPR stipulates that all persons deprived of their liberty should be treated “with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

With regard to the 24-hour video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence, this practice is inconsistent with Articles 10 and 17 of the ICCPR. In its General Comment No. 21, the CCPR states that respect for the dignity of persons deprived of their liberty “must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons” and that such persons enjoy all the rights set forth in the ICCPR, subject to the restrictions that are “unavoidable” in a closed environment. [4] Article 17 prohibits any “arbitrary or unlawful” interference with an individual’s privacy. The criteria of unlawfulness and arbitrariness are clarified by the CCPR in its General Comment No. 16, which states that interference authorized by the state can only take place on the basis of law, [5] and that even interference provided for by law “should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.” [6]

Video surveillance of prisoners under death sentence is not provided by law in Japan and its imposition appears to be arbitrary. The Act on Penal Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees (“2005 Prison Act”) stipulates that prisoners under death sentence shall be subject to solitary confinement, prohibiting any contact with other prisoners. However, the 2005 Prison Act does not include rules related to the use of CCTV surveillance in cells. As a result, each correctional institution issues its own Detailed Regulations on Treatment of Inmates Requiring Special Attention (Detailed Regulations). These regulations designate prisoners under death sentence as “prisoners requiring special attention” who must be monitored through CCTV cameras “when particularly strict surveillance is required.”

According to CPR research, most correctional institutions in Japan have issued their Detailed Regulations. For example, the Detailed Regulations of Tokyo Detention House, Fukuoka Detention House, and Tokushima Prison specifically prescribe that individuals who have been sentenced to death and whose case is under appeal may be detained in cells equipped with video surveillance. Other correctional institutions redacted parts of the designation standards for prisoners requiring special attention, so it is unclear whether prisoners under death sentence in such facilities are designated as persons requiring special attention.

According to the Detailed Regulations of Tokyo Detention House, prisoners who have been sentenced to death and whose sentence is under appeal can be confined in surveillance camera cells only “when particularly strict surveillance is required.” Yet, prisoners under death sentence interviewed by CPR in Tokyo Detention House have not attempted to commit suicide or escape, and no special circumstances would appear to justify their strict surveillance, giving the measure an arbitrary character.

Video surveillance of female prisoners may amount to an additional violation of their right to privacy, whenever CCTV cameras in their cells are operated by male officers, as it can be inferred by the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”) and the CCPR’s General Comment No. 16. [7]

FIDH and CPR call on the Japanese government to end the use of solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row prisoners in all correctional facilities in Japan without undue delay. The two organizations also demand that death row prisoners held in cells equipped with video surveillance be immediately transferred to other cells without CCTV cameras.

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