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Implementation of International Law in Japanese Courts

From Their Traditional Reluctance in Invoking International Law to Some Innovative Rulings Based upon International Human Rights Law

Kanami Ishibashi

The Constitution has supremacy in the Japanese legal system and describes its relationship with international law as follows: “The treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed.” (Art. 98(2)) It has been construed that treaty provisions should be treated respectfully – under the Constitution but superior to domestic laws – and can be invoked in the same way as laws, although courts have been reluctant to apply them. Recently, some innovative changes have occurred in the attitude of Japanese courts, especially in human rights issues concerning children, women, disabled peoples, minorities, and foreigners. We can now expect Japanese courts to invoke or use international human rights law directly or indirectly to interpret the less-elaborated parts of the Constitution and other domestic laws since human rights obligations should be internationalized to the same standard, and since the Japanese Constitution cannot be a “self-contained” law separate from international society.