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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Speech by Prime Minister Abe at the 2014 International Bar Association (IBA) Annual Conference in Tokyo

Sunday, October 19, 2014

[Provisional Translation]


In the presence of Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress, it gives me great pleasure to welcome so many delegates from Japan and from overseas to Tokyo on the occasion of the Annual Conference of the International Bar Association (IBA).

Today, before the members of the prestigious IBA, I would like to share my thoughts concerning the “rule of law.”

(1) Tradition of the “Rule of Law” in Japan

The term “rule of law” has its origins in Western civilization, but the idea is universal. The “rule of law” is by no means limited to the West. From ancient times there were also similar concepts in Asia. The essential nature of the “rule of law” is that power is not absolute. Rather, the law is a moral presence that exists above power; a presence that power must serve and by which power is bound. In Western philosophical thought this presence is referred to as the “general will of the people,” while in Japan and the other countries of Northeast Asia, it is called the “Heavens” or “Providence.”

My hometown is in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a region that was home to many of the patriots of the Meiji era who guided Japan on its path to modernity. Allow me to quote Yoshida Shoin, who was a teacher to these patriots and a man who could well be said to have been the pioneer of the Meiji Restoration:

“To watch the Heavens is to watch the people, to listen to the Heavens is to listen to the people.” This quote clearly equates the voice of the people with the voice of the Heavens. The hearts and minds of the people are as one with the Heavens and the “Heavens” can be said to be the collective hearts and minds of the people.

The young samurai who were inspired by these teachings went on to make history themselves, leading Japan towards the modern era.

Looking back on history, we can see that Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century and it was from this time that Japanese civilization flourished and concepts concerning the “rule of law” came to be held dear. The Golden Light Sutra, which was often read by statesmen of the day, teaches that unless a king rules under the law, he demolishes his own realm, just as an elephant destroys a lotus pond. Prince Shotoku, who was a devout believer in Buddhism, had, by the 7th century, already formulated Japan’s first constitution, consisting of 17 articles.

(2) Tradition of the “Rule of Law” in Asia

The reason why the Western concept of the “rule of law” was able to take root in the countries of Asia and help foster democracy was because from ancient times similar concepts to the “rule of law” were already deeply embedded in the spiritual traditions of these countries, many of which have histories dating back more than a thousand years.

The concept of the “rule of law” is universal. At its root is always the warm and caring human heart. It is imbued with a deep love for humanity. In the case of East Asia these are referred to as “Jin(仁)” and “compassion.” These are essential in order for people to help each other and create a society in which they can all live. The Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda and the Russian writer Tolstoy were also probably referring to the same thing, namely, “God is Love.”

Law represents the morals and norms of society, created through consensus among people who work together, and bound by their shared love of humanity. In all human societies there is always the law, and power is always the servant of the law.

(3) The “Rule of Law” as the Basis for Japanese Diplomacy

The same is also true of the international community. It was in the 20th century that the international community itself was formed on the basis of the “rule of law.” Prior to the 20th century, violence had yet to be universally condemned in the international community. Wars and colonial rule were accepted as part of the norm. It was in the mid-20th century that war came to be condemned and a new international community was created based on the Charter of the United Nations. It was in the same century that former colonies around the world achieved independence.

The international community of the 21st century must create an improved international order, through consensus and in accordance with rules. We live in a world where no one should live in fear of unilateral violence. This is the international community that we have sought to build in the post-war years.

It was 2,300 years ago that the Chinese philosopher Mencius said that when all is well under the Heavens a moral and wise country will rule, but if the world under the Heavens turns to be bad a big and strong nation will prevail. We must never again allow ourselves to fall into the world without justice that Mencius speaks of.

Preserving an international community ruled by law and justice is in the Japanese national interest and is the principle for Japanese diplomacy. Japan is engaged in broad diplomatic efforts that seek to realize the “rule of law” in the international community.

Firstly there is support for the development of legal systems in other countries. To date Japan has worked to provide support for the development of such systems, mainly in Asian countries.

These efforts have not been limited to government ministries and agencies, such as the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan International Cooperation Agency, but have truly been an “all-Japan” effort, benefitting from the cooperation of universities and other educational institutions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, regional bar associations and individual attorneys.

Furthermore, Japan in particular is participating actively in international efforts to aid women in their efforts to gain further skills and to protect and promote women’s rights. On April 1 this year, the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention) entered into force in Japan. Japan is actively involved in efforts to resolve issues of child removal, in accordance with international rules.

(4) The Role of the Legal Profession in Strengthening the “Rule of Law”

It goes without saying that states cannot establish the “rule of law” by acting alone.

It is truly an honor to welcome the Annual Conference of the International Bar Association to Japan, the first time for the conference to be held in East Asia. For more than half a century, the IBA has worked vigorously to fulfil a role as the “United Nations of bar associations” for attorneys worldwide. It will undoubtedly continue to bear an exceptionally important responsibility towards the realization of the “rule of law” in the international community.

Moreover, amid the globalization of the international community, not only do we see legal issues becoming similarly internationalized, such issues are also becoming increasingly complex and diverse. To appropriately resolve such issues, the world needs attorneys equipped with both legal knowledge and an international outlook to apply their expertise throughout the international community, without the constraints of national borders. Japan is currently engaging actively in efforts to develop and utilize skilled attorneys who are capable of playing a leading role on the frontlines of the international community.
With broad cooperation from a great many attorneys and legal professionals, I would like Japan to continue to work to establish and strengthen the “rule of law” in the international community.

(5) Conclusion

Over the 70 years of the post-war period Japan has continued to strive for the stability and prosperity of the international community, as a country that values democracy and basic human rights and as a peaceful nation that respects the “rule of law.” Looking back on the first half of the 20th century we can see that it was an era of almost endless revolution, war and struggle for colonial independence. The abiding lesson we can draw from the experiences of the 20th century is surely the importance of the “rule of law,” which represents the rules for democracy, basic human rights and peaceful conflict resolution. Together with the members of the IBA and together with your respective governments, let us exercise our leadership as we seek to establish universal “rule of law” on this earth.

(Thank you for your kind attention.)

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