Ministry of Environment says disclosure of Yambaru world heritage documents would damage relationship of trust with US military

November 2, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On November 1, it was learned that the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has decided not to disclose any documents detailing communications with the U.S. military from 2013 onward regarding the registration of Amami/Ryukyu as a world natural heritage site. The Amami/Ryukyu area that would be registered includes Yambaru National Park, which is adjacent to the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area. In response to an inquiry about the reason for its decision, the MOE listed concerns that disclosure of the documents would damage Japan’s relationship of trust with the United States, and explained that the documents themselves had been prepared on the condition of confidentiality with the U.S. military. The MOE has also not revealed a list specifying the undisclosed documents, nor the number of such documents that exist.

A request for disclosure of the documents was made by Masami Kawamura, representative of the Informed-Public Project (IPP), an investigative organization. IPP points to lack of accountability on the part of the government toward stakeholders (local residents) in its refusal to disclose the documents. The organization plans to request an examination of the Minister of the Environment on the basis of the Administrative Appeal Act.

In response to an inquiry, on November 1, a representative the MOE acknowledged the existence of the documents and stated, “In consideration of the impact on diplomacy and defense, we will not make any disclosure of the documents, including the names thereof.” The representative said that the decision not to disclose the documents was made by the ministry and explained, “The documents for which disclosure was requested were prepared on the condition that they would not be disclosed.”

IPP’s Kawamura criticized the MOE’s decision, saying, “From the perspective of information disclosure, specifying the existence of the documents while concealing the crucial details is problematic.”

Okinawa International University President Eiken Maetsu, who is well-versed in information disclosure law, pointed out, “The Ministry of the Environment has the duty to at least explain in what way disclosure of the documents would impact the relationship of trust with the U.S. military. Either the Ministry of the Environment is overreacting to the request for disclosure, or the documents contain significant matters that would cause considerable problems if they became known.”

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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