Editorial: Human rights violations can no longer be tolerated

March 22, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

In protest against the recent rape incident by a member of the U.S. military, Okinawans organized a large-scale rally in front of the gate to Camp Schwab in Henoko, Nago. According to organizer estimates, 2,500 people joined the rally, far exceeding the target of 1,000 participants. This shows the high level of outrage invoked by the incident. The U.S. and Japanese governments must recognize the severity of the situation.

From the time Okinawa’s administrative rights were returned to Japan in 1972 until the end of 2015, criminal offenses perpetrated by people affiliated with the U.S. military in Okinawa totaled 5,896 incidents and involved 5,815 perpetrators. Cases of rape, including the most recent one, reached 130 incidents, involving 148 perpetrators. These numbers can be seen as a scar representing the violation of Okinawans’ human rights due to the excessive concentration of U.S. military bases located here.

The sidewalk in front of Camp Schwab, where the rally was held, was densely packed with protesters coming from all over Okinawa. The presence of female protesters was particularly notable. Young mothers carrying babies and small children listened closely to each speaker’s words with serious expressions on their faces. Groups of mothers with children raised banners reading, “We won’t let anyone’s children be killed” in the direction of the base. Each and every participant at the rally viewed the incident as something deeply significant to his or her own life.

An act of sexual violence is an immoral act that tramples on the victim’s rights, silencing and insulting the victim with brute force. The recent crime is not the only example of this—in Okinawa, brute force is being used in other ways to trample on people’s rights and silence them. The plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago is one such example.

Despite strong opposition to the plan by the mayor of Nago, the governor of Okinawa, and all four of Okinawa’s elected representatives in the lower house of the Diet, as well as 70 percent to 80 percent opposition by the Okinawan people as shown in public opinion polls, the Japanese government has continually trampled on the will of the Okinawan people by forcefully pushing forward with the plan.

In 2011, the director of the Okinawa Defense Bureau explained the reason for not publicly releasing the date on which it would submit the environmental impact assessment for the Henoko relocation as follows: “When you’re going to rape someone, you don’t tell them beforehand, ‘I’m about to rape you,’ do you?” His comments provide a glimpse of the trend of thought within the Japanese government. The new base construction is itself a form of assault against the Okinawan people.

At the rally, participants adopted a resolution demanding the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Okinawa. Their demand was not just for the new base construction plan to be cancelled, but for all U.S. bases to be closed. As the rally drew to a close, the participants joined in chorus to sing the protest song, “Okinawa wo kaese (Return Okinawa).” The song entreats, “Give us back a peaceful Okinawa with no military bases.” We can no longer tolerate the violations of human rights that accompany the presence of military bases.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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