Editorial: Nothing short of reducing US stationing in Okinawa will prevent repeated sexual assaults

March 15, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The direct link between the presence of U.S. bases in Okinawa and humans rights violations in Okinawa has been made apparent time and again. Dignity of the women living in and possibly even visiting Okinawa is being inexcusably trampled underfoot.

We will now express our deep resentment toward sexual assault on women by the U.S. military in Okinawa.

As long as the U.S.-Japan security treaty allows some 20,000 and several thousand US military personnel to be stationed in Okinawa, soldiers who cannot control themselves, and attack women in a vulnerable position, will continue to be among the stationed troops.

From a statistical standpoint, it is no longer possible to prevent military personnel in Okinawa from committing sexual assault.

Women’s human rights in Okinawa cannot be protected without large-scale U.S. base reduction and drastic reduction of U.S. military personnel.

U.S. military’s empty promise to strengthen discipline of its personnel

Naha police arrested a U. S. Navy sailor stationed at Camp Schwab under suspicion of raping a woman. This adds to the number of reported cases of sexual assault on sleeping women.

The suspect was staying at a hotel when he allegedly committed the crime. He is believed to have been intoxicated when he brought the victim, a woman unknown to him who had been asleep in the corridor, into his room to rape her. Even in accommodations that are supposed to guarantee safety guests cannot rest with a sense of security. It is hard not to feel deep sympathy for a tourist visiting Okinawa, who was sexually assaulted by an unknown U.S. soldier.

It is likely that this incident, and the harm that has come to the victim, will cast a shadow over the favorable state of Okinawa’s tourism. Leaders in the Okinawa business community have simultaneously cautioned that due to this incident, Okinawa may be viewed as a dangerous destination for tourists.

We have been claiming that the existence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa
is the greatest obstacle to promoting Okinawa economically. This incident, which may damage
the reputation of Okinawan tourism,indirectly validates our claim.

The onus is heavy on the American and Japanese governments for failing to protect against recurring acts of violence. The U.S. military repeatedly promises to strengthen discipline of its personnel and prevent recurrence of such incidents every time these cases occur. We wonder if their claims are considered equivalent to empty promises. We can say that as a matter of course, U.S. forces in Okinawa have proven themselves to Okinawan society as alike to foreign contaminants and uninvited guests.

In December 2014, the U.S. Forces, Japan (USFJ) drastically alleviated the restriction on drinking among military personnel and civilians in military employ within the Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Army throughout Okinawa. With the exception of drinking prohibition between midnight and 5 a.m., restrictions on where drinking is allowed and restrictions on quantity were lifted. Following this change, we have repeatedly pointed out the lack of discipline demonstrated by the frequent occurrences of drunk driving incidents with American military personal as suspects.

The recent rape incident occurred when the suspect and several of his comrades drank during prohibited hours and checked into a hotel. They went under the nose of their supervisors to drink with abandon outside of appropriate hours. This is evidence of the slack rules of the U.S. forces in Okinawa.

Proof of human rights violations

In September 2015 at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Governor Takeshi Onaga said in regards to the heavy burden of hosting US military bases in Okinawa, that Okinawans’ right to self-determination and human rights are neglected.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga criticized Governor Onaga’s statement as misplaced. Suga said that he felt uncomfortable that Onaga talked about Okinawa’s U.S. military base issues at the council, which makes the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms its principal mission.

This conspicuous incident of sexual assault by an American soldier exemplifying human rights violations has occurred within only half a year of Onaga’s speech at the UNHRC. Onaga delivered his message to the international community about the reality of Okinawa as a military base island. What he stated at the UNHRC is indisputable fact, evidenced by history following the Battle of Okinawa.

We wonder what Suga thinks about that? As the Minister in charge of Alleviating the Burden of the Bases in Okinawa, Suga’s primary role is not only to apologize to the U.S., but suggest drastic countermeasures that can eliminate human rights abuses.

This role boils down to stopping construction of the Futenma replacement facility in Henoko, Nago.

The Abe administration has been stifling Okinawans’ popular will, depriving Governor Onaga of his authority through legal methods, and forcing through base construction at Henoko. As such, Okinawan citizens’ pent up rage against the Japanese government burst forth with the recent rape incident.

Okinawan people feel further pain from the rape incident.

The American and Japanese governments’ wishes to quickly quell the backlash from this incident, which could be an impediment to new base construction, are transparent. This kind of attitude reinforces the governments’ current inconsistencies related to base issues in Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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