August 21, at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) commented that Okinawan people's will should be respected regarding U.S. military policies.
August 22, 2014 Tsuyoshi Arakaki of Ryukyu Shimpo
On August 20 and 21, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) investigated on racial discrimination in Japan. They also discussed policies on the U.S. military bases in Okinawa. One of the committee members pointed out that it is important to discuss with the local people and get their agreement on the planned construction of a new base in the Henoko district of Nago City for replacement of U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station. Another said that local residents should be involved in the decision making. The committee will announce its final remarks and release an advisory report by the end of the month. One of the committee members stressed that the rights of Okinawan people to access traditional land and resources should be recognized and guaranteed. Another claimed that residents should be included in the decision-making process for policies that might affect their rights. They agreed that there should be local participation at the early stages of decision-making, especially regarding the U.S. military base issues.
Meanwhile at the opening of the meeting, a representative of the Japanese government said, “The residents of Okinawa and natives of Okinawa Prefecture are given and protected by legal equality with Japanese nationals under the Japanese Constitution.” The Japanese government presented their view that the economic gap between the mainland Japan and Okinawa has reduced, and that Okinawa has steadily developed in industry. They expressed respect for the prefecture’s initiative in implementing measures and policies since the Okinawan Promotion Planning policy, previously led by the state, was handed over to the prefecture.
To the Japanese government which does not recognize Okinawan people as “Indigenous People,” one of the committee members pointed out that it is important to consider how people in the Ryukyus identify and define themselves. Another pointed out UNESCO recognizes that Ryukyu/Okinawa has unique language, culture, and tradition and urges the Japanese government to recognize and protect such uniqueness. There have also been many inquiries about policies to protect Ryukyuan languages (Shimakutuba). A representative of the Japanese government asserted, “Those who live in Okinawa Prefecture or natives of Okinawa are not generally considered to be a group of people who share distinct biological or cultural characteristics. Therefore, they are not considered to be the subject of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”
One of the committee members claimed the Ryukyu Kingdom’s long relationship with Ming and Qing Chinese dynasties, the history of annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879 and assimilation policies promoted by the Japanese government all verify the indigeneity of Okinawans. He said it was wrong that Japan does not recognize this. Another said the Japanese government should respect Okinawan people’s will and guarantee their rights in light of this history.
Anti-U.S. base protesters in canoe are blocked Thursday by a Japan Coast Guard speed boat in Nago, Okinawa. Japanese officials said buoys are being floated off the southernmost island of Okinawa in one of the first steps in the relocation of an American military base. The buoys define the area where the construction will begin on a facility in coastal Henoko that will house the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which will be relocated from a crowded residential area of Okinawa. (AP)
In this aerial photo, workers in boats set up no-go zone Thursday in the sea off Nago, Okinawa. The buoys define the area where the construction will begin on a facility in coastal Henoko that will house the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which will be relocated from a crowded residential area of Okinawa. (AP)
TOKYO — Buoys were being floated off the southernmost island of Okinawa Thursday in one of the first steps in the long-planned but highly contentious relocation of an American military base.
The buoys define the area where preparations for construction will begin on a facility in coastal Henoko that will house the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which will be relocated from a crowded residential area of Okinawa.
Okinawa houses the majority of U.S. troops in Japan. Protests against the bases have been going on for decades. Aircraft noise, crashes and crime are among the frequent complaints.
The Japanese Defense Ministry confirmed the placing of buoys began Thursday but declined to give details, citing security concerns. Public broadcaster NHK showed protesters on boats being blocked by patrol boats, and others holding up signs outside the U.S. base saying “No new base.”
Opponents say majority of people are opposed to the construction, which some say would endanger the coral reef, tropical fish and other ocean life.
Land reclamation is needed for an airstrip to be built over the water from Camp Schwab, a U.S. military base. The buoys mark the location where boring of the seabed will take place for a government study to prepare for construction.
Japanese media reports said the drilling could start as early as this weekend. The Defense Ministry declined comment. The U.S. military also had no immediate comment on the activities Thursday.
Many Okinawans want the U.S. off the island entirely, but public opinion is divided with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima backing the plan.
The Marines’ relocation to Henoko is part of a broader plan to consolidate and reduce the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. Previous efforts to implement the move have stalled. The U.S. and Japan agreed on the plan in 1996.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said the plan is important for the crucial alliance with the U.S. amid territorial disputes with China and the nuclear threat from North Korea.
But Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago, where Henoko is located, noted his reelection earlier this year underlines the people’s opposition to the plan.
He said assessments on environmental damage were not thorough enough, and accused the government of forcing the issue.
“Pushing forward with this tramples on the human rights of the people, and the rich diverse natural life of this region. This is no longer about democracy,” Inamine said in a statement.