Editorial: Increasing support from the international community at the UNPFII

April 29, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

At the 16th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) being held at the United Nations headquarters, a representative for the Asia region prepared a statement indicating that the construction of a new base in Okinawa is being pushed forward without the acceptance of Okinawans. This shows that understanding of Okinawa’s base problems is making headway within the United Nations.

The statement has great significance in shaking the Japanese government, which continues taking high-handed measures and ignoring the will of Okinawans. We should continue working to address the international community, thereby increasing empathy with Okinawa.

At an NGO-sponsored event, Okinawa International University professor and forum attendee Masaki Tomochi announced that forceful measures are being used to proceed with construction in Henoko, Nago. It is encouraging that in response to Dr. Tomochi’s criticism of the Japanese and U.S. governments and strong call for a stop to the construction, participants from Asia and South America made comments indicating that they shared his sense of crisis.

Okinawans have expressed opposition to the construction of a new base and the deployment of Osprey aircraft in elections and large-scale demonstrations and by many other methods. However, the Japanese governments continues to push forward forcefully, trampling on the will of Okinawans and using police force to suppress actions of dissent which are a manifestation of freedom of speech and expression. People such as Dr. Tomochi are taking the issue to the UN as part of efforts to overcome this situation.

The aforementioned statement also criticized the fact that despite numerous recommendations by the UN, the Japanese government still does not recognize Okinawans as an indigenous people.

An indigenous people refers to a group of people who originally lived on certain land. The discussion on Okinawans as an indigenous people is premised on the fact that people with Okinawan roots hold such an identity. In view of the history in which Okinawa was annexed by Japan and subjected to assimilation measures, it is natural for Okinawans to assert their right to self-determination as an indigenous people.

According to Dr. Tomochi, a Japanese government representative responded to the statement by saying, “trespassing into restricted areas and other illegal forms or protest are being carried out.” When Governor Takeshi Onaga stated at the UN in 2015 that Okinawa’s right to self-determination is being neglected, the Japanese government stated that Japan’s national security is its top priority and that the Henoko construction plan is proceeding in a lawful manner.

In a space for discussing the violation of Okinawa’s right to self-determination, the Japanese government can do no more than make these kinds of irrelevant assertions, and is thus losing the trust of the international community. The Japanese government should recognize that unless it immediately stops its discriminatory policies toward Okinawa and respects Okinawa’s will and right to self-determination, it will never regain that trust.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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