Calling for justice in court: Governor Onaga’s statement counters base-related falsehoods

December 3, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo

It was a moment that will go down in Okinawa’s history. Each and every one of the governor’s words was a perfect expression of Okinawans’ long-held sentiment.

Governor Takeshi Onaga appeared in court for the initial hearing in the execution by proxy lawsuit filed against him by the Japanese government after he nullified a permit needed to build a new U.S. military base in Henoko. The governor argued the legality of his nullification and, describing the modern history of Okinawa, made a direct criticism of the utter injustice of building a new base here. We wish to honor his courage and conviction.

As Governor Onaga declared in his statement, it is doubtful that a country that cannot ensure human rights, peace, and democracy for its own citizens can claim to share universal values with the rest of the world. This is at the heart of the ongoing lawsuit.

History repeats itself

Governor Onaga questioned, “Do local autonomy and democracy really exist in Japan? Can the current U.S.-Japan security arrangement in which the base burden is overwhelmingly borne by Okinawa prefecture really be considered normal?” He called for a verdict from the court that would open up the future for Okinawa and for Japan.

We could not help but be moved by his words. It is like déjà vu: finding ourselves standing once again in the same spot as history is repeated.

“I can only hope for a verdict that fully appreciates the past and present of the Okinawan people who have suffered the oppression of military bases as the principles laid forth in the constitution are neglected. I hope for a verdict that reflects the spirit of ensuring fundamental human rights and local autonomy, and that opens up possibilities for the future of Okinawa, so that young people are able to have hopes and dreams.”

These could easily be mistaken for Governor Onaga’s words. In reality, they are the words of then-governor of Okinawa Masahide Ota, spoken before the grand bench of the Supreme Court in July of 1996.

The suit in 1996 was filed against then-governor Ota by the government of Japan to force him to provide a proxy signature in place of landowners who refused to lease their land to be used for U.S. military bases. Then, as now, Japan’s prime minister took the astonishing step of suing a prefectural governor. We are faced with the fact that nothing has changed as Okinawa is once again forced to demand fundamental human rights, democracy, and local autonomy—the bare minimum rights every democratic nation is obligated to guarantee for its people.

Indeed, not only has the situation not improved, it has worsened. In the past, Japanese society had a deep awareness of Okinawa’s history of suffering. Now, however, when Okinawans make an objection to the Japanese government, we are criticized directly and indirectly of impertinence.

Just a few days ago, a city council member from Sumoto in Hyogo prefecture, supposedly a representative of the people, wrote publicly that citizens joining in protests against the new base construction should be “kicked out of the way” by the police. A respected prefectural official from Gifu prefecture went so far as to write publicly: “Idiotic Okinawan people, shut up. We are going to proceed unfazed with the Henoko relocation.”

The Japanese government’s inconsistencies

Given the above comments, Governor Onaga’s statement was significant.
People who write such things have adopted the notion that Okinawans are only able to get by financially thanks to the bases, and should thus tolerate them in silence; or that Okinawans should keep their mouths shut because they are receiving massive funds from the Japanese government. Governor Onaga, however, used numbers to prove that far from being a boon, the bases are actually the biggest obstacle to economic growth in Okinawa. He proved it is an utter misconception to think that the “Okinawa promotion budget” is a special budget providing Okinawa with 300 billion yen above and beyond what any other prefecture receives. He further corrected the misunderstanding that the U.S. Marines would be unable to function outside of Okinawa, using the words of former and current defense ministers.

In Okinawa, it is common knowledge that the “base economy,” “benefits” from generous fiscal subsidies, and the “deterrent” effect of the Marines are nothing but myths. These myths are still widely believed in the rest of Japan, however. By countering these myths during a court trial that has drawn the attention of the Japanese people, Governor Onaga has conveyed their fictitious nature nationwide.

In response to Okinawa’s argument that the concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa lacks any rationale from a military perspective, the Japanese government countered that “Mr. Onaga is merely a prefectural governor.” In other words, they claim that any decisions related to national security are beyond the competence of a mere governor. On the other hand, in order to file a complaint against the governor’s administrative actions, the Defense Bureau, a government agency, claimed to be a “private person” and a mere “business entity.” The government’s claims are utterly inconsistent.

The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court must take a hard look at who is really on the side of justice. We hope we are right to believe in the fairness of Japan’s judicial system, the alleged “bastion of human rights.”

(Translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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