[Editorial]Mr. President: Do not smother democracy in Okinawa!

President Obama, we extend a hearty welcome to you. We welcome your visit to Japan and place our highest hopes in the outcome of the meeting between you and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

You are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Abe to announce a Japan-US joint statement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and on the deepening of the Japan-US alliance.

However, we think priority on your agenda for that meeting should be given to the closure and removal of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. At this very moment, the residents in the urban areas around the Futenma base are exposed to noise and risk of accidents involving U.S. aircraft. We strongly believe that the United States should return the Futenma base unconditionally in order to provide a dramatic solution to the Okinawa problem. At the same time, the two governments should address Japan-U.S. relations so that they are placed on a sustainable footing and in such a way that the people can repose their trust in them.

pride in and love for one’s home

In January this year, the celebrated American linguist Noam Chomsky and other intellectuals from the United States and Europe criticized the building of a new base in Henoko as part of a deal to deepen and widen the military colonization of Okinawa.

Those people were demanding the unconditional return of the Futenma base. Their statement pointed out that Okinawans have suffered what the U.S. Declaration of Independence denounced as “abuses and usurpations.”
They have voiced support for the Okinawan people’s struggle for peace, dignity, human rights and the protection of their environment.

If you are familiar with the ideals expressed in the founding of the United States, you are able to understand the seriousness of their statement opposing the Henoko relocation plan by their citing of the Declaration of Independence. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima accepted facility relocation to Henoko at the end of last year, but most of our residents are demanding the closure and removal of Futenma regardless of ideological inclinations. That solidarity among Okinawan people is not based on any particular ideology. The people generated that solidarity from universal values such as love of freedom and democracy, i.e. the most basic of human rights. That solidarity also derives from “love for one’s home,” to preserve both the invaluable natural environment and its integrity from any further damage.

Mr. President, it couldn’t be the case that you dismiss democracy in Okinawa, could it? Eighteen years have passed since the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on the return of the entirety of the Futenma base, but on condition that they would relocate its facilities within Okinawa. However, in the meantime, according to public opinion surveys within the entire prefecture, the number of the people who favor the Henoko relocation plan has never accounted for a majority of the adult Okinawan population. In January last year, our representatives, including members of the Prefectural Assembly, mayors and chairmen of all 41 municipalities within the prefecture and others requested Prime Minister Abe to abandon the Futenma relocation plan to somewhere within the prefecture, and to close and remove the base entirely. They have also sought to reverse the deployment here of the U.S. Marines MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft.

Mr. President, you would not enforce such a plan, even if it were national policy, opposed by the majority of the population and the leaders of all local governments, in your own country.

The United States continues to violate human rights

During the Battle of Okinawa, the U.S. armed forces built the Futenma base on land that the U.S. military occupied in order to prepare for their attack on mainland Japan. They acquired Okinawan land with no consent from its owners. For that reason, the existence of the base violates the Convention on the Laws and Customs of Land Warfare. That convention forbids the seizure of property in wartime. Therefore, we think that that also violates Okinawan human rights.

Along the margins of the Futenma base, the U.S. military neglects to designate any clear zones, or buffer areas, on both sides of the runway, which it is duty-bound to do under the Civil Aeronautics Act for the safety of neighboring residents. It is a serious human rights problem that such a situation has persisted for such a long period, and further. Furthermore, the deployment of the Osprey to Okinawa and the noise pollution caused by it and other military aircraft trouble the people of Okinawa.

Okinawan people see both the possible permanence of the Futenma base and the proposed relocation of the base to Henoko as continuing human rights violations.

Article 1 of the International Covenants on Human Rights which were agreed in 1966, states, “All peoples have the right of self-determination.” We clearly understand that Okinawan people have a right to determine for themselves things that have such important impacts on them.

In 2009, the Okinawa Regional System Conference suggested that the Japanese government should designate Okinawa as a special region. According to that suggestion, people who possess sovereignty own the right to establish a new government that works on their behalf, and to set up regional governments.

Having experienced the hideousness of land war and suffering rule imposed by the U.S. military, many Okinawan people have been demanding the recovery and restoration of self-determination.

Dear Mr. President, we would not like you make the mistake of strangling democracy in both Japan and the United States by forcing through the Henoko relocation proposal and thereby violating the dignity of the Okinawan people.

(English translation by T&CT)

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