In June 2003, the Shibayama brothers–Isamu Carlos (also known as “Art”), Kenichi Javier, and Takeshi Jorge–filed the Shibayama, et al. v. USA petition, Case No. 12.545, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) seeking equitable redress for ongoing violations of their rights by the U.S. government under several articles of the American Convention on the Rights and Duties of Man.
Thirteen years after the initial filing of the petition, an expedited hearing was requested due to the Shibayama brothers’ age and failing health. A public hearing was granted in January 2017 and scheduled for March 2017.
On March 21, 2017, the public hearing before the IACHR was held at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. A video of the hearing is available, courtesy of the IACHR (with an introduction in Spanish and the remainder in English):
Those in attendance included:
- IACHR President Francisco José Eguiguren
- IACHR Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay
- IACHR Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi
- IACHR Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed
- Petitioner Art Shibayama and his daughter Bekki
- JPOHP Director Grace Shimizu
- Attorney (for Petitioners) Paul Mills
No attorneys from the U.S. government appeared at the hearing nor other IACHR hearings on March 21st, which raised concerns from the ACLU and other civil and human rights organizations regarding the United States’ commitment to human rights leadership in the Americas.
First to testify was Art Shibayama. Art and his family had been enjoying a life of peace and prosperity in Lima, Peru during WWII when the U.S. government committed war crimes against them. Art was just 13 years old when he and his family were seized from their home, deported to the U.S. and then interned in Crystal City, Texas. The U.S. scheme was to use them for prisoner exchange with Japan.
During their entire two-and-a-half year internment, Art’s father planned to return his family to Peru. However, Peru would not admit them back into the country at the end of their imprisonment. Classified as “illegal aliens” by the U.S. government and having no desire to go to war-devastated Japan, the family fought deportation and was sent to Seabrook Farms, New Jersey to work as laborers. Art worked at the farm to help feed his family; as a result, he was unable to continue his education.
While still classified as an “illegal alien,” Art was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952. When Art was serving during the Korean War, his section leader wanted him to obtain security clearance. He applied for U.S. citizenship on Art’s behalf. However, citizenship was denied due to his “illegal entry” into the country.
Although Art eventually obtained U.S. citizenship in 1970, he still feels vulnerable.
“Since I was classified as an ‘illegal alien’ which I never was, I want the government to erase my illegal alien status from my records. I don’t want the government to use it against me in the future.”
Art shared that his grandparents, who had helped raise him, were living in the port city of Callao during WWII and were one of the first Japanese living in Peru to be seized and deported to the U.S. His grandparents were held in a Department of Justice internment camp in Seagoville, Texas until the U.S. shipped them to war-torn Japan as part of a hostage exchange between the U.S. and Japan. Art never saw his grandparents again.
In response to Commissioner Macaulay’s question about what Art and his brothers were trying to accomplish through their pursuit of reparations, Art shared that they wanted to stop what had happened to them from ever happening again to any group of innocent people.
Bekki Shibayama followed her father’s testimony. She shared how she felt betrayed by her country and fearful for her own safety when she learned about her father’s wartime experiences.
“Suddenly, the words ‘with liberty and justice for all’ that I had recited every morning in my classroom rang hollow… My father and his family had done nothing wrong. Being of Japanese descent was their only ‘supposed crime’.”
She further detailed the impact of the internment on her grandfather, who spent the rest of his life struggling to regain the success, wealth, and stature that he had achieved in Peru. Tragically, he never did.
“To this day, my family and I believe that the U.S. government killed my grandfather’s spirit. From the time of his capitulation forward, he was never the same man… I only knew him as a shell of his former self, and I regret that I had not shown him more love when I had the chance.”
Bekki wants the U.S. government to acknowledge its wrongdoings, provide full disclosure and access to all documents and reports pertaining to the Japanese Latin American internment, and provide educational funds.
Attorney Paul Mills began his argument on behalf of the petitioners by declaring that the U.S. government had not disputed any of the petitioners’ evidence.
Paul later read from the petitioners’ submitted evidence, a report written by the U.S. Congress after its investigation into the wartime relocation and internment of civilians:
“When these people were brought by force from Peru to the United States aboard U.S. flagged vessels, their passports, any kind of proof of citizenship of any nation, was demanded of them and never returned. Then, when they arrived in the U.S., the United States of America put them through sham proceedings in which they were asked to produce citizenship documents and of course they didn’t have them because the USA had already taken them.”
Attorney Mills pleaded for an expedited ruling given that this is an extraordinary case where the evidence is not disputed. Due to the age of the petitioners, they will not benefit from the commission’s ruling unless there is a swift decision. In addition, Paul asked the commission to expedite its decision as it could impact the current administration’s policies and executive orders.
“And in the name of humanity and the petitioners, I beg the commission to add its voice as swiftly as possible to those who urge the United States to respect the principles of international law and use this case which so closely relates to what’s going on today. As you’ve learned in this case, the USA used its power to strip people of their rights of citizenship for its own purposes.”
Grace Shimizu, the Organizational Petitioner, spoke last and implored the commission to rule in favor of the Shibayama brothers.
“Art and his brothers were forced out of their home and their country… They were rendered stateless… They were put in detention indefinitely… This is not what should happen to any human being, and it shouldn’t happen to children.”
With regard to redress, Grace requested that the Commission look to the world scene at human rights violations and the types of justice that people have received. Any that are applicable to the Shibayama brothers should be applied. Grace declared that the standard for redress should not be lowered.
In closing, Commissioner Macaulay stated, “We cannot accept such violations of rights, which are part of the declaration by which we can hold the United States accountable…We assure you that the commission will think very seriously about what we can do and cannot do.”
President Eguiguren, who is from Peru, told Art in Spanish, “I sympathize with you over the unfair treatment and conditions you’ve lived through, and you were brought here from my country. I would like to extend an apology.”
A case ruling is still pending.
Click here to view media coverage of the hearing.
A CFJ community delegation, including 10-year old boys Takumi and Jaden, traveled to Washington, D.C. to provide support at the hearing, to distribute informational packets to the offices of Latin American consulates, and to meet with local organizations and supporters.
The success of our trip to Washington, D.C. was made possible with collective brain power, hard work, and perseverance. Many thanks to our attorneys, our CFJ community delegation, our Washington D.C. supporters, our Bay Area team, our new friends in the Washington D.C. area, Michigan, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Peru who reached out to us and provided needed help, and all those who watched the hearing and supported us.
To view Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s statement of support, Click here