Editorial: In Henoko lawsuit, court ruling must respect local autonomy and legal principles

March 1, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

Local autonomy, democracy, and human rights are facing a dire situation.

At the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, two trials have drawn to a close between the Japanese government and Okinawa prefecture over the permit to authorize land reclamation in Henoko as part of the construction of a new U.S. military base. We anticipate a verdict that respects local autonomy and legal principles.

Interpretation of the law, when applied to contemporary society, must contribute to the construction of a democratic society in which human rights are respected. That was the point emphasized most strongly by the representatives of Okinawa prefecture in their final testimony on the stand, and that is truly the essence of the issue. The court must not overlook this point.

In the “execution-by-proxy” lawsuit, the Japanese government claims that Governor Takeshi Onaga’s nullification of the land reclamation permit was illegal. The final proceedings focused on the two sides’ positions toward the two compromise proposals offered by the court.

While the Okinawa prefectural government responded positively to the “provisional” proposal, the Japanese government’s response was negative. The provisional proposal suggests that the Japanese government drop the lawsuit, suspend construction work, and enter back into talks with Okinawa.

The Local Autonomy Law indicates that when the national government clashes with a local government body over policy, the national government should first order the local government body to revise its action. If that fails to bring about a solution, the national government is to file a specific type of lawsuit asking the court to verify the illegality of the local government body’s action. This type of lawsuit is less forceful than the current execution-by-proxy lawsuit. However, in the current situation, the government has skipped over those steps and gone straight to the most forceful method available, attempting to wrest authority from the local leader. This is a blatant denial of local autonomy. The court must consider the significance of the government’s wholesale rejection of the “provisional solution” and acknowledge that the government’s forceful methods runs counter to legal principles.

The other proposal offered by the court, a “fundamental” solution, suggests that the Okinawa prefectural government retract the nullification of the land reclamation permit, while the Japanese government renegotiates with the U.S. to either place a 30 year time limit on use of the base or to convert it into a joint military-civilian airport after that time. It is out of the question for Okinawa to accept a proposal premised on construction of the base.
Suggesting that the Japanese government try to negotiate with the U.S. hardly constitutes a condition, since the U.S. would easily be able to reject any demands for a time limit or joint use of the base. It is only natural that the Okinawa prefectural government takes a negative stance toward this proposal.

Meanwhile, the national government has announced its intention to draw up a revised version of this “fundamental” proposal. Openness to revision may appear to imply flexibility, but is actually nothing but a rejection of the proposal offered by the court. It is misleading to act as though this represents any flexibility. If the compromise proposals are up for revision, the Okinawa prefectural government could just as well come up with its own revised proposal stipulating that the government negotiate with the U.S. not for a time limit or joint use condition, but to have the base relocated outside of Okinawa altogether.

The court must not mistake the government’s posturing as a sign of flexibility.

At the final hearing, Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine gave witness testimony. He described the injustice of Okinawa’s situation, having been forced to live with U.S. military bases for seventy years since the end of the war, and now seeing the construction of a new base that will reinforce the base presence in Okinawa for 100 years or more, prolonging Okinawa’s overwhelming burden of accidents and incidents that come with the base presence. He spoke for all Okinawans when he said, “I want us to be freed from a long legacy of being denied our human rights.” The court must take his words to heart.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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