Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 27, November 2011
Petrice R. Flowers

Refugees, Women and Weapons:
International Norm Adoption and Compliance in Japan

Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-5973-1 (hbk); x + 196 pp.

reviewed by Kirsti Rawstron

  1. Refugees, Women and Weapons is an examination by Petrice R. Flowers of how international human rights norms are adopted, and complied with, in Japan. It consists of three main case studies addressing the ratification and implementation of the International Treaty Concerning the Status of Refugees and the Optional Protocol (ratified by Japan in 1981), the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (ratified 1985) and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (the Ottawa or Landmine Convention, ratified in 1998). Flowers explores the conflict between domestic norms and the international norms enshrined within these conventions, and how these norms were eventually adopted in Japan. Flowers then assesses the level of domestic compliance which Japan has demonstrated with regard to these international agreements.
  2. The first part of the book addresses the processes of adoption, implementation, and compliance, and includes a significant literature review. This section is relatively broad, and provides strong theoretical information for why states comply with international norms, before discussing why Japan in particular does so. The book is enhanced by a clear methodology: in each case, the state's desire for international legitimacy, the strength of domestic advocates, the degree of conflict between the domestic and the international norms and the level of compliance are all ranked as low, medium, or high. For example, in the case of the Ottawa Convention, Flowers judges that there was a low desire for international legitimacy, that domestic advocates were reasonably strong ('medium') in their calls for the Convention to be ratified, and that there was a high degree of conflict between the international and domestic norm in this case. Overall, however, there has been a high level of compliance by Japan in the case of this Convention.
  3. Of the remaining three sections, each focuses on one of the Conventions, beginning with the Refugee Convention. Flowers provides a detailed history of the target of each Convention in Japan (refugees, working women and landmines) before discussing domestic challenges to the acceptance of the provisions of each Convention in Japan. Each chapter has an intricate discussion of the different parties who encouraged or opposed the adoption of each Convention, drawing on the transcripts of Lower House Committee meetings, the op-ed pages of the Yomiuri and Asahi daily newspapers, and interviews with domestic advocates. The level of detail provided by these discussions is impressive. Some more basic information on each Convention and some of the legal cases discussed in the book would have been useful. However, Refugees, Women and Weapons is aimed at an academic audience, so much of this basic information is expected to already be held by the reader. Though Flowers' argument is complex and detailed, all three of these Conventions are discussed using a very clear methodology. The overall conclusion that Flowers reaches in terms of each of the three Conventions is clear and well argued, providing a persuasive picture of the interaction between domestic and international norms in Japan.
  4. One of the appeals of Refugees, Women and Weapons is where it fits within wider human rights' discourses. Often, these discourses are constructed in universalist versus cultural relativist terms,[1] and those texts which discuss Japan and other East Asian nations are often Orientalist in tone.[2] Flowers avoids employing both of these tropes, which makes this an invaluable text to those who are researching cross-cultural approaches to human rights. Although the areas covered by Refugees, Women and Weapons differ slightly from those discussed in Jennifer Chan-Tiberghien's 2004 Gender and Human Rights Politics in Japan,[3] these texts are complementary. Both provide excellent insights into how domestic advocates work in Japan to transform international norms into domestic law.
  5. The results of Flowers' study have interesting implications for the future acceptance of international norms in Japan. In all cases, there was a high level of conflict between the international and the domestic norms, yet all three of the conventions discussed were eventually ratified and adopted by Japan. Flowers is very clear in discussing why these norms were adopted, and it would have been useful if a contrasting case where an international norm was not adopted had been included. This could have provided additional information for why Japan chooses to adopt some international norms, even when there is a significant amount of conflict with domestic Japanese concerns. Flowers examines the level of compliance within Japan of each of the conventions, and demonstrates why each has differing levels of compliance. Cultural and social expectations, as well as legal restrictions, often restrain the level of compliance within Japan with the Conventions.


    [1] Jack Donnelly, 'Cultural relativism and universal human rights,' in Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 29 (1984): 281–306.

    [2] Daniel A. Bell, 'The East Asian challenge to human rights: reflections on an east west dialogue,' in Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3 (1996): 641–47.

    [3] Jennifer Chan-Tiberghien, Gender and Human Rights Politics in Japan, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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