Japanese Latin American Abductee to Testify Before International Commission

Guest post by Martha Nakagawa

family with carIsamu Carlos Arturo “Art” Shibayama, who was among the more than 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans (JLA) kidnapped from their country during World War II by the United States government to be used in hostage exchanges with Japan, will finally get a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC, on March 21, from 8:30 am, in the Padilha Vidal Room.

Art Shibayama / (c) Tyler Sipe, PRI's The World.
Art Shibayama / (c) Tyler Sipe, PRI’s The World.

“We want to let the people know what happened to us,” said Shibayama. “We’ve been fighting this for 14 years.”

“This is an historic event,” said Grace Shimizu, who has been heading the Campaign for Justice for Japanese Latin Americans for decades. “We are asking for redress because we’re charging the U.S. government with the ongoing failure to provide redress for war crimes against humanity that were perpetuated against the Shibayama brothers during World War II.”

logoAlthough the IACHR hearing comes14 years after Shibayama had submitted the petition, Shimizu said this was not uncommon and that they had, in fact, been given expedited treatment. Had the petition followed chronological order, Shimizu said they may have had to wait another year-and-a-half.

“It just goes to show you that there’s a lot of human rights violations going on,” said Shimizu.

Shibayama and his two brothers, had filed their petition with the IACHR after unsuccessful attempts at the following:

  • the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which issued an apology and a token compensation of $20,000 to Japanese Americans imprisoned in U.S. concentration camps during World War II, excluded JLAs in the bill;
  • the federal class action lawsuit, Mochizuki vs. the United States, which sought redress for JLAs, offered a mere $5,000 and an apology to eligible JLAs;
  • several lawsuits filed by the Shibayama brothers were dismissed on technical grounds similar to the way the National Council for Japanese American Redress was dismissed;
  • two legislations, sponsored by Xavier Becerra, former congressman and current California attorney general, were unsuccessful, largely due to Republican opposition

Shimizu said they are hoping for a favorable ruling by the IACHR, whose mission it is to promote the protection of human rights in the American hemisphere, which includes the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean Island.

However, while the IACHR has no enforcement authority, the Commission’s ruling does set a precedent for international law.

“The body does not have enforcement powers like the criminal courts but their ruling becomes case law or international law,” said Shimizu. “So if the Trump Administration feels that this is an important ruling and they agree with it, they, then, can abide by the ruling. But if they do not, still others in the Americas can point to this ruling and use it as precedent.

“So the final ruling of this case is very important because it can help other people. Plus, later, if there is another administration that is supportive of human rights and recognizes the importance of this ruling, that administration can follow the ruling. It’s not just an empty gesture that we’re going through.”

In addition, Shimizu pointed out that this hearing offers them an opportunity to continue educating the public.

“This is one way to educate the public because this is not really taught in school, and if we don’t keep speaking out, it’s in danger of being lost,” said Shimizu. “So this is an important educational effort that is reaching beyond the United States.”

Shimizu said they have been getting inquires as far away as Brazil and Japan.


During World War II, the U.S. government had considered using Americans of Japanese descent incarcerated in the War Relocation Authority camps in hostage exchanges with Japan for Prisoners of War who were Americans of Western European descent.

However, exchanging an American for an American POW had constitutional violation issues, and instead, the U.S. government corroborated with 13 Latin American governments to round up Japanese living in Latin America to be used in hostage exchanges between the U.S. and Japan.

Shibayama’s maternal grandparents were used in a hostage exchange with Japan during the war, and he never saw them again.

The majority of JLAs were imprisoned at the Department of Justice camp in Crystal City, Texas. Once the war was over, the U.S. government classified the JLAs as “illegal aliens,” and the various Latin American countries refused re-entry of the JLAs.

As a result, some went to Canada and re-entered the U.S.; some were deported to Japan; but many worked at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey after civil rights attorney Wayne Collins negotiated a sponsorship program.

Shibayama, who became an illegal alien, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952. While serving in the military, Shibayama’s commanding officer encouraged him to apply for U.S. citizenship but Shibayama was denied on grounds that he had entered the country illegally.

Shibayama would not be granted U.S. citizenship until 1972.

When the ruling came down on the Mochizuki lawsuit in 1999, Shibayama opted not to accept the settlement and made the decision to continue fighting for equitable redress for JLAs.

Shibayama added that he found the apology letter that the JLAs received under the Mochizuki settlement offensive.

“The letter came on a plain sheet of paper,” said Shibayama. “It’s not even on presidential letterhead like my wife’s (who is a Japanese American). The ones they sent to the Japanese Latin Americans are just on a plain paper and don’t even mention the Peruvians or Japanese Latin Americans. Actually, you can give it to a hakujin and it’ll pass.”

“They really suffered more than us, Japanese Americans,” said Shibayama’s wife, Betty Morita Shibayama, who was incarcerated in the Tule Lake and Minidoka WRA camps during the war. “At least, we were able to stay in our own country. Their countries (JLAs) weren’t even at war and they were taken to a country that was at war. And once they got here, they didn’t speak the language. They only spoke Spanish and Japanese or Portuguese, so they really got a raw deal.”


Currently, the Campaign for Justice: Redress NOW for Japanese Latin Americans!  is collecting signatures on a petition through Change.org, which will be submitted to the IACHR on March 21.

The petition is available in English, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese.

Those who do not have access to the internet are asked to send a letter with their signature to “Campaign for Justice,” PO Box 1384, El Cerrito, CA 94530.

Some points to include in the letter are: the importance of this case, not only for the Shibayama brothers, but for all people who have suffered during wartime from government abuses; and to request a favorable ruling in this case.

The delegation is also raising funds to cover legal and travel expenses. Checks should be made to “Campaign for Justice” and mailed to the El Cerrito address. Those who wish to have a tax deduction should make it out to JPOHP/NJAHS and write in the memo section “DC Trip.”

For more information, send inquiries to [email protected].



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