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Ten Days of Peace for the protection
of Japan’s precious world treasure

TOKYO (SE): In launching Ten Days of Peace, which runs from August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in Japan, to August 15, the anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces, the bishops of the nation have released a translation of Pope John XXIII’s landmark encyclical, Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris).

In a message to mark the launch, Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada draws attention to the subtitle of the encyclical, On establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty, saying that it expresses the fundamental idea that the basis of peace is the protection of human dignity and rights.

“It emphasises that peace can only be realised when human development is based on building a society where people can live their lives in a humane manner,” the archbishop of Tokyo writes.

The archbishop says that for those who cherish the development of an atmosphere of peace in Japan, and indeed the whole world, he currently sees the biggest threat as being a move by the administration of the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to abolish the nation’s peace constitution—or Article Nine, which bars Japan from using force in the settling of international disputes.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is seeking to remove part of the limitation of the constitution, so that Japan could participate in international disputes, probably through a coalition like the United Nations and, although it would still renounce the right to declare war, the proposed revision would undermine the basic purpose of Article Nine.

“Article Nine is a world treasure of which Japan is proud. It reflects Jesus Christ’s teaching of love most abundantly,” Archbishop Okada says, adding that, since it was incorporated in the constitution, Japan has never killed anyone in war and, as a result, no Japanese has been killed in war either.

“It is our crucial responsibility to protect and make the most of Article Nine,” he continues. “Article Nine is a world treasure of which Japan is proud.”

However, Archbishop Okada laments that a movement to change this precious treasure of Japan is gaining momentum, especially since the Abe administration aims to further amend the constitution by lowering the requirement for changing legislation to a simple majority in the Diet, instead of the current absolute (two-thirds) majority required.

He says this clearly reflects the intention of the government to revise the constitution.

However, the Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples points out that Abe intends to go much further and redefine human rights.

“The Liberal Democratic Party argues that individualistic, western mores have eroded Japan’s group-orientated traditions and culture and, while there may be some truth in this, it cannot be denied that respect for the rights of individuals has improved under the current constitution,” the centre says in a study paper.

The suggested revision to the constitution would erase the country’s embrace of the United Nations (UN) Charter of Human Rights, which the Asian Centre says would compromise the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and subject it to “the public interest and public order.”

The proposed revision says, “Citizens shall be aware that duties and obligations accompany freedoms, and rights will never violate public order and public interest.”

It also wants to drop the word absolutely from the current prohibition on torture.

The Asian Centre says, “In short, the basic freedoms of speech, assembly and association could be withdrawn when they threaten what the government perceives as the public interest or public order, because they would no longer be recognised as natural, inalienable human rights, but rather as rights given by the government.”

This would constitute a direct break with the basic concept of a human right as recognised by the UN charter.

Opinion surveys carried out by major newspapers in Japan show that there is far more resistance to this revision than there is to Article Nine, but Abe may believe that the more unpopular revision can be rushed through on the back of the more acceptable, when eventually it goes to referendum.

Meanwhile, the archbishop of Tokyo points out that Peace on Earth was written in 1963, within the context of the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany, the Cold War between the United States of America and Russia, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the two sparing partners to the brink of nuclear war.

Archbishop Okada notes, “This encyclical offers teachings about human rights and duties, the state’s authority and the common good. In addition, critical international issues, such as truth, justice, solidarity, refugees, disarmament and economic development are also covered.”

He adds that he believes this teaching is particularly relevant for society 50 years on.

 

He added that especially in view of the current political climate in Japan, is a particularly vital  resource for the Ten Days of Peace this year.

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