Better court interpreters needed

The Japan Times 

Better court interpreters needed


Errors committed by a court interpreter found in the recent trial of a former member of the Japanese Red Army extremist group underlines the importance of ensuring the accuracy of translations in trials involving foreign defendants or witnesses. Such errors impinge on the ability of a trial to mete out justice and undermines public trust in the judiciary. People and organizations concerned should consider introduction of some form of uniform qualification for people who serve as court interpreters.

The errors took place during the trial at the Tokyo District Court of Tsutomu Shirosaki, 68, who was eventually found guilty of launching a mortar attack against the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta in May 1986. Around the same time that the embassy was attacked, the U.S. Embassy in the Indonesian capital was also targeted by a mortar attack.

For Shirosaki’s trial, the court summoned 11 Indonesians as witnesses and chose two persons as interpreters. Since some translations by one of the interpreters were extremely short, the court came to doubt their accuracy and had a third interpreter evaluate them. The evaluation found some 200 errors and omissions regarding the testimony of three Indonesians given on Sept. 29 and 30.

For example, the year 1983 mentioned by an Indonesian police officer was found to have been translated as 1985. Another statement by the officer, that “I did not give heed to it,” was found to have been changed into “I do not remember it.” A hotel employee from Jakarta who was asked to describe the conditions of a room at the hotel replied there was usually both an electric pot and a refrigerator in the room, but the statement was translated as “there was a pot for drinking water.” The presiding judge concluded that the interpreter failed to correctly grasp the meaning of some statements and used rough translations that lacked accuracy.

Apparently the translation problems were not serious enough to change the outcome of the trial. The court in late November found Shirosaki guilty of launching two home-made mortar shells at the Japanese Embassy, rejecting his argument that he was in Lebanon at the time of the attack and giving him 12 years in prison. Shirosaki was one of six Japanese Red Army members released by the Japanese government in 1977 in exchange for the lives of passengers of a Japan Airlines plane hijacked and forced to land in Dhaka by the extremist group. He was captured in 1996 in Nepal and given a 30-year prison sentence in the United States for the 1986 mortar attack against the U.S. Embassy. He was released last year and was transferred to Japan, where he was arrested upon his arrival.

The court’s decision to appoint a new interpreter to check the quality of the translation was appropriate. Otherwise, the trustworthiness of the trial could have been questioned. Although the translation errors did not change the course of this particular case, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the public should keep in mind that bad translations can distort decisions by judges on facts at issue and influence their assessment of the case before them, possibly leading them to hand down a false judgment. Even if a translation is technically correct, the choice of words by an interpreter can affect the impression of the defendant held by lay judges who, unlike professional judges, may not be accustomed to looking at facts alone and could be influenced by the nuance of words. Shirosaki had a lay judge trial.

As of April, 3,840 people covering 61 languages were registered as court interpreters in Japan. It is standard practice for courts to select interpreters after interviewing them. While there are many interpreters of major languages such as English, there is an acute shortage of interpreters in languages of Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

About 30 years ago, the Supreme Court created handbooks for interpreting at trials covering major languages. It is also holding workshops for court interpreters specializing in minor languages. The Japan Law Foundation, established in 1998 by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants and several other organizations, held workshops for court interpreters ahead of the introduction the lay judge system in 2009. The Japan Law Interpreter Association, a private organization, began giving a qualification test for court interpreters in 2010.

But currently there is no state examination for court interpreters. Neither is there a standard for the language ability of such people. Some countries have specific laws concerning qualifications for court translators, including the requirement of passing a state exam.

Given the complexity of trial procedures and the diverse nationalities of foreigners living in or visiting Japan, holding workshops isn’t enough to ensure sufficient quality of court interpreters. The Supreme Court, the JFBA, the government and the Diet should discuss introducing a system to publicly certify court interpreters through state examinations or other means. If a false conviction occurs as a result of an incorrect translation, the damage will be irreparable.

Source:  “Better court interpreters needed”, The Japan Times (editorial), 24 December 2016

On Pearl Harbor visit, Abe pledges Japan will never wage war again


PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a symbolic visit to Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, commemorating the victims of Japan’s World War Two attack and promising that his country would never wage war again.

The visit, just weeks before Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office, was meant to highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance amid concerns that Trump could forge a more complicated relationship with Tokyo.

“I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place,” Abe said.

“We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken.”

Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, pounding the U.S. fleet moored there in the hope of destroying U.S. power in the Pacific.

Abe did not apologise for the attack, a step that would have irked his conservative supporters, many of whom say U.S. economic sanctions forced Japan to open hostilities.

“This visit to Pearl Harbor was to console the souls of the war dead, not to apologise,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo, adding the trip had showed that the allies would contribute to world peace and prosperity.

Obama, who earlier this year became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, called Abe’s visit a “historic gesture” that was “a reminder that even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and a lasting peace.”

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, although three others including his grandfather had made quiet stops in Pearl Harbor in the 1950s.

The two leaders stood solemnly in front of a wall inscribed with the names of those who died in the 1941 attack and took part in a brief wreath-laying ceremony, followed by a moment of silence.

“In Remembrance, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan” was written on one wreath and “In Remembrance, Barack Obama, President of the United States” on the other.

They then threw flower petals into the water.

After their remarks, both leaders greeted and Abe embraced U.S. veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

In China, which has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War Two and Japan’s invasion of China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said real reflection was needed, not show.

“Reconciliation between inflictor and victim must and can only be established on the basis of sincere and deep reflection by the inflictor,” Hua told a daily news briefing.


Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China’s expanding military capability.

During a meeting ahead of the Pearl Harbor visit, Abe and Obama agreed to closely monitor moves by China’s aircraft carrier, recently spotted on a routine drill in the Western Pacific for the first time, and to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The leaders’ get-together was also meant to reinforce the U.S.-Japan partnership ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Trump, whose opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and campaign threat to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces raised concerns among allies such as Japan.

Source:  “On Pearl Habor visit, Abe pledges Japan will never wage war again”, Reuters, 28 December 2016

Diet group working to secure child visitation rights for divorced couples

The Japan Times

A nonpartisan group of lawmakers is trying to draft a bill that will ensure visitation rights for divorced parents. | ISTOCK


Diet group working to secure child visitation rights for divorced couples


Dec 23, 2016

It took 3½ years for a 41-year-old mother to be able to meet her 7-year-old daughter on a regular basis after her husband left home with the girl in 2012.

Although she filed a complaint with a local family court, her husband stalled the hearings, saying he was “busy.”

“I was saddened by not being able to watch my daughter grow during the prolonged trial,” said the woman, a company executive who asked not to be named.

In a nation where divorces are increasingly common, cases in which visitation rights aren’t guaranteed are also on the rise. A nonpartisan group of lawmakers is now trying to draft a bill that will ensure such rights.

The bill is aimed at putting in writing a parent’s visitation rights and child support obligations, many of which are now commonly agreed upon verbally. The bill will also include “special consideration” for cases that involve domestic violence, such as denying visitation rights.

“Even if the parents decide to part, they shouldn’t have to part with their child,” said Noboru Sasaki, who heads a group comprised of parents seeking visitation rights, adding that the legislation should stipulate visitation criteria.

But a group supporting victims of domestic violence is worried about how visitation rights could affect the child.

“If visitation rights become the norm, it could be unsettling for the child,” said Keiko Kondo, an executive of a nonprofit organization supporting domestic violence victims.

Even if the child was not the target of violence, he or she could be damaged mentally by witnessing physical or verbal violence between the parents, she said.

When children come to the group’s shelter with the parent with whom they live, and meet the parent from whom they fled, many of them can become mentally and physically unstable at times, suffer from loss of sleep and even harm themselves, she said.

There is also concern that if visitation rights are granted, the abusive parent may learn the whereabouts of the other parent and the child, and try to bring them back home.

Opponents of the legislation are holding meetings and lobbying lawmakers to prevent such a scenario.

According to the health ministry, 225,000 couples divorced while 635,000 tied the knot in 2015. As the number of divorces rises, cases that need mediation for parental and visitation rights are also increasing. But experts point out that family courts are insufficiently staffed to deal with the increase.

The nonpartisan group of lawmakers hopes to submit the bill to the Diet after gaining approval from political parties. But since the situation varies in each case, gaining a consensus won’t be easy.

“I want them to prioritize the feelings of the children,” said Akira Haga, an executive of another group lobbying for visitation rights.

Source:  “Diet group working to secure child visitation rights for divorced couples”, The Japan Times, 23 December 2016

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas, Hugo.

This Christmas marks your 6th in Japan.  I don’t suppose that anyone will take you to a church on Christmas Day  but you should, one day when you are old enough, visit Hiroshima’s best kept secret, the Noboricho Cathedral in Naka-ku.  Known as the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace it is built on the site of a parish church that was destroyed by the the 1945 bomb.  The then priest of the parish, also named Hugo (Lassalle), a German citizen who later became a Japanese (taking the name Enomiya Mabiki), survived the bombing and set about raising funds to build the modernist cathedral that stands on the site today.

Image result for catholic cathedral hiroshima

The Cathedral 

I hope that you have an enjoyable Christmas Day in Japan.  You remain, as always, in my thoughts and prayers.  Please see below for the presents that I sent to you on 7 December.

Pakistan signs convention to prevent parental abductions

President Mamnoon Hussain had on Dec 15 signed the instrument of accession for The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, paving the way for Pakistan’s formal entry into the group.

The convention strives to protect children internationally from harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and establishes procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence. It also secures protection for rights of access.

“The convention will make it easier for families to bring their children to Pakistan or to relocate their children to a foreign domicile,” the embassy said.

The convention received almost unanimous approval from the ministries of law, finance, information and foreign affairs. The relevant ministries of the four provincial governments have also endorsed the convention, which now goes before the federal cabinet for a formal endorsement.

The only dissenting note had come from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which said that the parents had the right to move their children to any location and should not need the state’s approval to do so. The council had also objected to the Women’s Protection Act and the Honour Crimes Bill and as with those two bills, the government decided to ignore the CII’s protests on this issue as well.

The government argued that the convention would help Pakistani children stranded abroad, particularly those whose parents are dual or foreign nationals.

Since Pakistan was a non-signatory state, the United States and some other Western nations carried warnings on their travel sites, stating that children could be detained there against their will.

The Hague convention was concluded in October 1980 and came into force in 1983. Earlier, 95 nations had signed the convention. Pakistan, which becomes the 96th state to join the group, had neither signed nor ratified it.

The Hague convention applies to children below 16 years of age and offers protection to them from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return. The treaty intends to ensure safer return of an abducted child to the country of habitual residence, where the child was born or of which he/she is a national. This means that legal disputes for a child’s custody and access could be decided by the court of the country to which the child belongs.

Under the convention, removal of a child from one country to another is considered a crime of abduction or kidnapping because it is considered “detrimental to the child’s life, wellbeing and best interests”.

The convention recognises that a forcibly removed child may have to face situations that could threaten his or her safety and well-being. These include identity change, health neglect, frequent travel and movement, loss of or unstable education, unstable living conditions, psychological or, emotional distress and cultural shock. Such removals also deprive another legal parent from his/her child.

The forced removal of children became a major issue for Pakistan because of increasing migration of Pakistan to the West where they engaged in multi-cultural and multi-national marriages.

Since divorce rates in marriages are high, separation between couples lead to an increase in trans-national parental child abduction.

Under the existing Pakistani laws, a legal parent can bring in or take a child out of the country without the consent of other legal parent, if the intention is not mala fide. Such disputes are dealt as matters of custody and not abduction.

Most of such disputes involve Pakistanis living in the United Kingdom. In 2008, 11 cases of forced removal to Pakistan were reported in Britain, 24 cases were reported from April 2009 to March 2010, and 55 cases in 2011. Some cases of parental child abduction were also reported between France and Pakistan and between Canada and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn December 21st, 2016

Source:  “Pakistan signs convention to prevent parental abductions”, Dawn website, 21 December 2016