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Mr Joris Demmink, the Secretary-General of the Netherlands' Ministry of Justice
"A European Perspective on the Relevance of Regional Human Rights Mechanisms"

Speaker Mr. Joris Demmink, the Secretary-General of the Netherlands' Ministry of Justice
Moderator Associate Professor Paul Bacon (School of International Liberal Studies, Waseda Univ.), Deputy Director of the EUIJ at Waseda
Date 31 March 2009
Time 14:30-16:00
Venue Multi-purpose lecture Hall, Bldg.26, Waseda Univ.
Language English

Prof Nakamura made opening remarks after a brief introduction to the event was given by Prof Bacon. In his remarks Professor Nakamura explained that EUIJ Waseda would officially launch on 1st April, and is the only EUIJ organized by a single university. He noted that this event is the first major outreach activity to be hosted by the new Institute.

Oranda_Demmink.jpg Mr. Demmink's speech consisted of three main arguments. The first argument concerned the universality of human rights, the second concerned the importance of regional human rights systems and the third argument was that Japan should take the initiative in an attempt to construct a human rights system in Asia.

Regarding the second argument, Mr.Demmink explained that the European human rights mechanism is based on the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concluded by the European Council, and the Court established by this Convention. He expressed his opinion that the right of individual petition is essential to the successful working of this system, and of other existing regional human rights systems which also have courts, such as those in Africa and Latin America.

Before the Q&A session was held, Ambassador de Heer presented awards to the three winners of the Waseda Human Rights Essay Contest. Students were requested to answer the following question: "What responsibility, if any, do the various members of the international community have for the protection of human rights?" The names of the three winners are as follows:

Winner of First Prize: Wonsuk Kim
Winner of Second Prize: Mio Shindo
Winner of Third Prize: Makoto Seta.

These three winners and seven other students who received Honourable Mentions were kindly invited to dine at the Netherlands' Embassy by the Ambassador.

In the Q&A session, most questions related to Mr. Demmink's first and third arguments, to the issue of the universality of human rights, and to the desire that Japan should take a strong leadership initiative to introduce a regional human rights system.

In relation to the universality of human rights, it was suggested that human rights perspectives could be different according to governance levels such as the international, regional and national levels. Some questioners suggested that the human rights listed in the UN Conventions and the European Conventions reflected the self-understandings and priorities of Western cultures, and are therefore culturally particular. Mr. Demmink recognized that it is true that concrete manifestations of human rights can be different because they are contextualized by time and place, but insisted that the systems and processes are important, and would improve the human rights situation in many regions, and that therefore human rights should still be secured at multiple governance levels, even if this would take a long time.

Mr. Demmink was asked why he thought that Japan should be a regional human rights leader. He replied that Japan has long been committed to human rights, which are enshrined in Article Three of the constitution and that Japan has substantial economic power. It is therefore natural to believe that Japan should take major initiatives to promote human rights, and that it is the role of Europeans to encourage Japan to do so.

Oranda_Bacon.jpg Finally, Prof Bacon closed the Q&A session by thanking Mr. Demmink and Ambassador de Heer for visiting Waseda. He thanked both for the kind offer of prizes, the opportunity to listen to a substantial and thought-provoking speech, and lastly for challenging and stimulating the students to think hard about human rights.

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