Commissioners: Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, Paulo Vannuchi, Margarette May Macaulay

Petitioners: Isamu Carlos “Art” Shibayama, Kenichi Javier Shibayama, Takeshi Jorge Shibayama, The Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project

State: United States

Topic: Japanese-Peruvian Petitioners seeking redress for their internment during WWII

On March 21, 2017, at a hearing on the merits before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Petitioners argued that they deserve appropriate redress for the acts committed against them and fellow Japanese-Peruvians by the United States during WWII. It was not until 1988, when the U.S. enacted the Civil Liberties Act (CLA) that it acknowledged this injustice, apologized, and provided each person interned with redress payments of $20,000. However, Petitioners, Japanese-Peruvians who were taken from their homes and interned, argue they never received adequate redress.

Many Japanese-Peruvians were taken from their homes and transported to U.S. internment camps or used in hostage exchanges and sent back to Japan. The Petitioners’ grandparents were used in one such hostage exchange, and the Petitioners never saw them again. In early 1944, Petitioners were taken from Peru to the United States, and were subsequently placed in an internment camp until early 1946. Upon arrival in the U.S., their passports and citizenship documents were confiscated. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Redress Administration notified Petitioners they were ineligible for restitution under the CLA because they were not U.S. citizens or permanent resident-aliens at the time of internment. Petitioners joined a class action lawsuit against the U.S., which awarded the Petitioners $5,000; however, the Petitioners refused the settlement. Petitioners then filed a separate lawsuit, which was transferred to the United States Court of Federal Claims. The court found the Petitioners were not eligible for redress under the CLA. Thereafter, they petitioned the IACHR, in 2003, alleging that the U.S. was responsible for violations of their rights under Articles I, II, V, VIII, XII, XIV, XVIII, XXV and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration).

The United States was not present at the IACHR hearing. The State responded to the initial petition by arguing that the petition should be declared inadmissible because the Commission is not competent to hear the matter, ratione temporis, as the facts alleged occurred before the creation of the Commission and the American Declaration. The State also argues that even if the Commission is competent ratione temporis, the Petition would still be inadmissible because the petitioners have failed to pursue all domestic remedies. Namely, because the Petitioners failed to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Commissioners noticed and regretted the absence of the State. The Petitioners addressed the State’s argument of inadmissibility in their petition, citing to Article 23 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.

The Petitioners argued that the U.S. conducted sham proceedings where they asked the Petitioners to produce citizenship documents, and that the U.S. knowingly confiscated that documentation upon arrival at the internment facility in 1944. The State claimed the petitioners had illegal alien status and denied the petitioners citizenship several times. When asked by Commissioner Macaulay what redress Petitioners seek, Petitioner’s daughter, Bekki Shibayama, replied that they want their illegal-alien status removed from their record, the truth of how the government made these decisions to be made public, and for the story of Japanese-Peruvians internment and subsequent treatment to be included in textbooks and taught in schools.

Grace Shimizu, Director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, stated these war crimes committed by the United States left the Petitioners stateless. She implored the Commission to look at all remedies available, and to not limit the Petitioners redress to the redress given to Japanese-Americans under the CLR. She argued that standards of redress should not be lowered in situations such as these. Paul Mills, Petitioner’s attorney, requested the Commission expedite the evaluation under Article 29 of the Rules of Procedure.

Deputy Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed asked the petitioners whether they previously sought redress through any other legal action. Petitioner Shibayama argued that he had been denied redress from the State several times, whether by denying citizenship or by a lack of redress through the CLA. The petition received in 2003 argued that the Petitioners did not appeal their case because the Court of Appeals was subject to the same legislative restrictions as the Claims Court. Petitioners argued they have exhausted all domestic remedies because there is no reasonable prospect of success in U.S. courts.

Author’s Legal Analysis

Article VII of the American Declaration holds that every human has the right not to leave the state in which they are a national except at their own will. Articles XVIII and XXVI protect every human’s right to a fair trial and due process. The facts alleging a violation of the American Declaration are seemingly undisputed. In addition to the American Declaration, the U.S. is also obligated by many treaties to correct these human rights violations. The U.S. has ratified the CAT, the CCPR, and the CERD. According to Article 29 of the Rules of Procedure, the Commission may expedite the petition when the alleged victim is an older person, Art Shibayama is 83. The United States is bound by its obligations under the regional human rights framework and its international legal obligations and should provide appropriate redress for the suffering inflicted on the Petitioners.