Editorial: Expected loss of Henoko lawsuit indicates denial of local autonomy and democracy

December 13, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The courts lose any semblance of justice when they trample on democracy and local autonomy. The Supreme Court is about to make a decision that toes the government line and leaves a scar in history.

Okinawa Prefecture is expected to lose the illegality confirmation lawsuit brought by the national government against Okinawa regarding Governor Takeshi Onaga’s rescission of a permit to reclaim from the ocean in Henoko, Nago City. The Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court will announce their judgement on Okinawa’s appeal on December 20 without listening to any testimony that would have been needed to overturn the initial verdict.

Maintaining equilibrium between the three powers–legislative, administrative, and judicial—is meant to put a check on excessive exercise of power. Can we really allow the court to discard the role it has been tasked with within the system of separation of powers and reaffirm a decision that denies democracy and Okinawa’s self-governance? Such an action invites grave misgivings.

Thrown into a relationship of dominator and dominated

Construction of a new military base in Henoko, Nago City to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma has led to full-on confrontation between Okinawa and the Japanese national government over the issues of local autonomy and the authority of local elected officials.

The revision of the Local Autonomy Law in 1999 gave both national and local governments their own particular authority and put them on equal footing. In this age, local governments build their own arguments to counter those of the national government when it comes to grave issues on which they refuse to back down, and the national government and the courts can no longer ignore these arguments. The Henoko base issue is a perfect example of this.

However, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court made an initial verdict that went against the principle of decentralization of power, and threw the national and prefectural governments back into a relationship of dominator and dominated. Of course, many scholars of administrative law declared it inevitable that the Supreme Court would overturn this decision. The judgement declaring the governor’s decision not to comply with the Minister of Land’s rectification order to be illegal went against the principle of judicial impartiality and merely copied the government’s arguments word for word.

The High Court’s ruling even went so far as to echo the Abe administration’s insistence that “Henoko is the only” possible relocation site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and to repeat the threat that if the Henoko land reclamation were cancelled, “there would be no alternative but for the harm caused by Futenma to continue unabated”.

The verdict also read as follows, presupposing a situation in which all the governors of the forty prefectures in which a U.S. military base could potentially be built on reclaimed land were to refuse such land reclamation: “A decision that cannot be said to be unreasonable by the national government who is in a position in which it must bear the authority and responsibility inherent in defense and diplomacy could be overturned, and a decision by a local public entity could be given priority.”

Such logic dictates that when a national and local government are in conflict regarding issues such as security, the national government is entitled to do whatever it wants without paying any heed to the wishes of the local government. Such logic puts all local governments at risk.

The verdict is full of outrageous logic that ignores public sentiment against the Henoko base, which has been expressed in countless elections, and sides with the Abe administration, which bulldozes forward single-mindedly in its exercise of state power.

We cannot accept the Supreme Court uncritically reaffirming a verdict that paid no mind to Okinawa’s postwar history of suffering under the overwhelming pressure of U.S. bases and contained countless factual errors based on arbitrary assumptions.

Fight back through exercise of available authority

It is expected that after waiting for the verdict on the appeal, the Abe administration will resume construction at Henoko, which had been halted during the trial. It is plain to see that the government will put increased pressure on Governor Onaga and Okinawan public opinion in their eagerness to instill a sense of resignation. Okinawa is facing an even more difficult situation.

However, in view of the civilian sacrifice during the Battle of Okinawa and the accidents and crimes perpetrated by persons affiliated with the U.S. military during the time of U.S. military rule and continuing even after the return to Japan, the legitimacy of Okinawans’ resolute opposition to the new base construction, which contradicts protection of human rights and environmental conservation, will not waver. Resistance will continue to the very end.

Governor Onaga has clearly stated that even after the Supreme Court decision is handed down, he will use every means available to him to prevent the new base construction. Any changes to the design and construction method of the new base will need to be approved by the governor prior to implementation. If Governor Onaga does not approve applications for such changes, the construction will come to a stop each time an application is made.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau still needs to obtain special approval to harvest coral in Oura Bay in order to replant it, and there is a high likelihood that the prefectural government, which says that such harvesting and replanting would have a devastating effect on ecosystems, will not grant such approval. The Nago municipal government also has authority over a number of matters, and there are many elements that will prevent the national government from proceeding with the new base construction at their own free will.

There is one week left before the Supreme Court decision is to be made. Seventy-one years after the end of World War II, and more than twenty years since the agreement was made to return U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the condition of relocating it within Okinawa, the power of the people has prevented the reclamation of the Henoko ocean. We must reaffirm that power and sharpen our unyielding spirit to face the trials that await.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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