Saturday, December 15, 2007

Solidarity with Okinawa

Subject: Call for Action against Henoko Military Base Construction

Over the last several days, examination of the document on procedures for conducting an environmental impact assessment of the new U.S. Marine Corp Air Station constructed by the Japanese government at coastal Henoko has reached a critical stage. The designated location of the base covers Oura Bay, a part of Henoko cape, and U.S. military Camp Shwab, and the base is to have two runways set in a V shape as well as other facilities. The examination committee affiliated with the Okinawa mayor will submit its response to the document by December 17th.

The Japanese government submitted the Henoko document to Okinawa Prefecture on August 9. Initially, the prefectural government and involved local leaders refused to accept the document in rejection of the national government plan on the grounds that the designated area is too close to residential areas. But they have now taken a seat at the negotiation table.

In response to the document, the examination committee sent as many as 76 questions regarding the flight path of military jets, training categories, the construction procedure plan and so on. However, answers from Ministry of Defense were vague as usual. The frustrated committee responded, "the government has clarified nothing" (Okinawa Times, December 11).

According to the World Conservation Union, constructing a new base at the planed area will threaten endangered species such as Dugong, the Okinawa woodpecker, and the Okinawa rail. [Please refer:] Says Yoshikazu Makishi from Okinawa Dugong Network, "The key question is whether or not the committee will urge the government to rework this empty document."

People in Okinawa who wish to stop construction of the new base have fixed their eyes on the debate, and are encouraging Okinawa Mayor Nakaima and the committee to urge the national government to revise the Henoko document.

They are enthusiastically calling on the supporters around world to send a message of encouragement to Mayor Nakaima and the committee office before DECEMBER 17th (MONDAY), Japan time.

Okinawa Mayor Hirokazu Nakaima:

The Okinawa Prefecture Environmental Impact Assessment Committee Office,
Okinawa Prefecture Cultural and Environmental Department, Environmental Policies Branch
tel: +81-98-866-2183
fax: +81-98-866-2240

message examples:

- The document on procedures for conducting an environmental impact assessment of the new U.S. Marine Corp Air Station constructed by the Japanese government at coastal Henoko did not go through a proper public hearing process as required by Japanese environmental laws. I would like to request you to call for a public re-examination of the Henoko document.

- The Okinawa Prefecture Environmental Impact Assessment Committee claimed the national government responded vaguely to its 76 questions regarding the document on procedures for conducting an environmental impact assessment of the new U.S. Marine Corp Air Station constructed by the Japanese government at coastal Henoko. I urge that the national government's response to the committee's 76 questions be made public.

- Accepting the flawed document on procedures for conducting an environmental impact assessment of the new U.S. Marine Corp Air Station constructed by the Japanese government at coastal Henoko will subvert the environmental assessment system, and will threaten Okinawa's environment for years. I would like to request you to urge the Japanese government to revise the Henoko document.

end message examples

Thank you,
Hikaru Kasahara
Asian Peace Alliance [APA] Japan
song/videos on dugong:


A Sharpened Confrontation with the Tokyo Government Features Okinawa in 2007 by Yamaguchi Hibiki September 2007

Anti-base Struggle

The struggle against U.S. military bases is entering another intense phase as the Japanese government has launched aggressive action to build a large U.S. base in Nago City, northern Okinawa. The United States has been eager to establish a new base in Okinawa putatively as a substitute military facility to Futenma U.S. airbase, an outdated base located in the midst of Ginowan city, which anyway had to be closed for technical and political reasons. The original plan agreed on in 1996 was to construct a base off the coast of Henoko, Nago City. But that project met with persistent and tough resistance of the Okinawa people and was slow to progress. The resistance compelled the Japanese and U.S. governments to abandon their initial plan and to shift to a new plan which was agreed on at the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee in 2006. The newly designated location of the base covers Oura Bay, a part of Henoko cape, and U.S. military Camp Shwab, and the base is to have two runways set in a V shape as well as other facilities. This plan is called a coastal plan as distinct from the defunct offshore plan.

At the moment, Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu and Nago City Mayor Shimabukuro Yoshikazu take the position that they do not accept the coastal plan on the grounds that the designated area is too close to residential areas. However, since neither of them is against relocating the Futenma base somewhere in Okinawa, they are only asking for the location of the projected base to be moved by a few hundred meters.

Governor Nakaima accepted with little resistance an application filed by the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau for the execution of what they called a "preliminary survey" of marine life for the purpose of investigating the impact of a military base sitting on corals and dugongs living in the sea area. While regular environmental assessment requires long official procedures, the DFANB has skipped necessary steps and forced the survey on no legal ground. This signaled an extra-legal start of the base construction.

This aggressive act of the government has aroused strong anger among the people in Okinawa. Peace and anti-base people immediately stood up organizing another mass-movement to stop the remodelled base construction plan. This is the third wave of their struggle over the Nago-Henoko base. The first was the Nago citizen's referendum in 1997 that demonstrated their rejection of the base, the second the 2004-2005 struggle involving daily sit-ins and sea battles that aborted the original offshore base plan.

In the current phase, Okinawa people and supporters from all over Japan have again gathered at Henoko Beach. While some held sit-ins, others went into the sea on boats and canoes to stop the survey operation. Some of the protestors were divers who dived to prevent survey equipment from being set at the bottom of the sea.

Faced by this strong resistance, the government behaved tougher than before. The Japan Coast Guard, having cast off its facade of neutrality, openly sided with DFANB-hired divers and other operatives. Furthermore, the Japanese government dispatched the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force minesweeper Bungo to the Henoko sea area obviously to intimidate the protestors. It was also reported that JMSDF divers were directly involved in the placement of survey materials on the sea-bed. Violence wielded against protesting divers was reported frequently. On July 21, Taira Natsume, the best known leader of the struggle, felt his arms locked in a full nelson while he was covering a survey facility with his body at the bottom of the sea to prevent contract drivers from working on it. He felt unable to breathe, managed to slip away from his attacker, and burst to the surface. Then he shuddered finding the air valve had been shut off. There is a strong suspicion that it was done on purpose. "They seem to have crossed the line," Taira told Ryukyu Shinpo, the Okinawa local newspaper.

Simultaneous with the new military base construction in Henoko, the Japanese government is undertaking new U.S. military helipads construction in Takae, in Higashi village, northern Okinawa. Protest actions are organized against this project too but it is not easy for the Okinawa movement to organize simultaneous action over both Henoko and Takae projects.

Anger against Tokyo's Falsification of School Textbooks

The bases are not the only issue that calls for the Okinawa people's legitimate anger. It is the Tokyo government censors' intervention in high school textbooks that has met with categorical refusal by all quarters of Okinawa society.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Tokyo on March 30, 2007 told the media that it had instructed textbook publishers to change the descriptions in high school textbooks about the Japanese Imperial Army's coercion of Okinawa civilians into committing mass suicide during the last days of the Battle of Okinawa. In this fierce battle a quarter of Okinawa's civilians lost their lives. During the battle, Okinawan citizens were directly or indirectly coerced by the Japanese Army to kill themselves rather than survive and surrender to the U.S. military. The Tokyo censors ordered the mention of "the Japanese army" dropped as the body that caused mass suicides.

In Okinawa, both conservatives and liberals strongly opposed the history text rewriting. Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously passed twice a resolution demanding that the Japanese government repeal the MECSST instruction. Moreover, all the 41 municipalities in Okinawa passed similar resolutions. On June 9, 3500 people gathered in a prefecture-wide gathering against the history falsification. Another gathering is planned to be held in September 2007 and the Okinawa governor is attending it.

The Okinawa people have reasons to be seriously concerned with this act of rewriting history to exonerate the Imperial Army, afraid that the new Japanese army, the "Self-Defence Force," may direct their weapons toward them. The dispatch of the navy warship for the Henoko operation may show this fear is not far-fetched.

Victories in Upper House Election

The pent up anger of the Okinawa people found its explosive expressions in the Upper House election held on July 29, 2007. Two progressive candidates won, and one of them achieved an overwhelming victory defeating the Liberal Democratic rival. Itokazu Keiko, supported by a coalition of all opposition parties, defeated the LDP incumbent Nishime Junshiro by garnering over 370,000 votes against 250,000 for Nishime. Also, veteran peace fighter Yamauchi Tokushin was elected in the proportional representation constituency. When Yamauchi was mayor of Yomitan village in Okinawa, he succeeded in taking a part of the U.S. military base there back to the village, and currently he is a strong supporter of the Henoko struggle.

The victory in the Upper House election has brightened the Okinawa progressive people's perspective for the future given the fact that in the past few years the progressive candidates have suffered successive defeats. Itokazu herself, who contested the gubernatorial election in November 2006 lost to Nakaima Hirokazu backed by the ruling coalition.

There are indications that despite all difficulties, the tide has reversed in Okinawa.

Yamaguchi Hibiki(People's Plan Study Group, Asian Peace Alliance[APA] Japan)

Global Women Activists Speak Out Against U.S. Military
>From the Nichi Bei Times Weekly September 20, 2007

Nichi Bei Times Contributor

With the debate over the American military's role in Iraq grabbing so many headlines these days, it might be easy to forget that the United States also occupies parts of well over a hundred other countries across the globe. And while war isn't actively being waged in those places, just the very presence of U.S. armed forces has produced plenty of heated conflict.

In Okinawa, for example, this presence has infuriated many civilians, according to Hiromi Minamoto of Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence. Formed in the aftermath of the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995, Minamoto's group of more than 200 members has been organizing protests against the military while working to educate others about its damaging impact.

As Minamoto explains, 75 percent of the U.S. armed forces in Japan inhabit Okinawa, despite the fact that the prefecture constitutes only one percent of both the nation's land mass and population. This heavy concentration means that her community's schools and residences sit right next to bases with no buffer zones, subjecting Okinawans to awful noise, air and water pollution. The sound of aircraft engines routinely interrupt children's lessons, oil and other industrial waste seeps into local rivers and wells, and accidents that would be unheard of in other places present a very real threat.

"Two years ago, a U.S. military helicopter crashed into a university campus," Minamoto recounted through a translator. "Luckily, it was during the summer break, so there were no casualties, but a building was ruined."

The presence of soldiers themselves creates frequent problems as well, especially in the form of violence against women. Minamoto's group stays particularly vigilant against these sorts of atrocities.

Furthermore, they seek healing and reconciliation for past military indiscretions as well, calling on the Japanese government to issue apologies to women used as sex slaves by its own military during wartime. Minamoto appreciates that U.S. lawmakers have expressed the same demands for accountability.

"When citizens outside Japan speak up about these issues, it puts pressure on the Japanese government, and we are encouraged," she affirmed.

Bay Area Gathering Attracts Women for Peace

Last week, Minamoto was one of several international visitors telling similar tales at the Women of Color Resource Center in downtown Oakland. She and the others came to the Bay Area to attend "Women Resisting Militarism and Creating a Culture of Life," the sixth annual meeting of the International Women's Network against Militarism. A gathering of peace activists from all over the world, it attracted delegates from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Hawaii to engage in dialogue about the challenges they face back home.

Spanning from Sept. 11-15, the meeting entailed four public shows, a series of forums with local grassroots organizations and a closing ceremony featuring "dance, hip-hop, music, poetry, theater, visual art and an anti-military fashion show." Along with 50 foreign delegates, more than half a dozen Bay Area partner groups joined in the proceedings, with Women for Genuine Security and the PANA Institute serving as primary sponsors.

Deborah Lee, program coordinator for PANA's Civil Liberty and Faith Project, spoke about the goals of this gargantuan undertaking which she was helping to organize.

"We're not just focusing on the anti-militarism part," she explained, "but also how are people building and sustaining communities, creating healing and living with the long-term impact. Like in Okinawa, it's 60-plus years, so they've already had to develop many strategies to cope and to live and to survive and try to flourish amidst the situation."

In fact, with such a lengthy history of shouldering this burden, it isn't surprising that the Network formed and began meeting as a result of what people were doing in Okinawa.

"It started with the Okinawans," Lee remarked. "The Okinawan women have said to us repeatedly, 'This is your problem. This is your government. You have a voice with this government - we don't. This is your money, these are your children.'"

That was 1996. Since then, additional groups from various locations have come on board, widening and strengthening the Network. And as it grows, its member communities gain more resources and support in confronting their own specific local challenges - as in the case which Lee described of the newest member.

"This year we have the presence of people from Guam," she said, "specifically because many of these troops are going to be moved from Korea and Okinawa to Guam. And so the women in Okinawa and Korea felt we need to be in dialogue with who was on the ground in Guam, and how are they going to be dealing with the impact of all these troops."

Lee drew another example of this kind of information sharing and joint strategy formation by pointing to the future of Korea, where in less than five years, "they're going to be closing 20 bases - how are we going to deal with the clean up issues? So they need to talk to people in the Philippines, where the bases closed 15 years ago."

In her view, this kind of collaboration is lacking here in America.

"The way we're divided in the United States is: Filipino Americans, work on this; Japanese Americans, work on this... This conversation is not happening in our communities. So we wanted to use their coming as a chance to have some conversation about this - and hear from really dynamic women."


We demand an end to helipad construction in the US Armed Forces Northern Training Area
WWF Japan
(World Wide Fund for Nature Japan)

WWF Japan has identified the forests of Yanbaru in Okinawa, where many endemic and rare species live, as an area whose protection should be prioritized. As one of the most important natural environments in the world, WWF Japan has already begun conservation activities in the area. The construction of new helipads in the US Marine Corps Northern Training Area will destroy Yanbaru’s natural environment and will threaten the peaceful livelihoods of the local residents, and so we strongly demand an end to their construction.

In the Northern Training Area (Jungle Warfare Training Center), there still remains healthy Okinawan sub-tropical evergreen broad-leaved forest. This forest is an important habitat for many endemic species and subspecies at risk of extinction, such as Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii) and Okinawa rail (Gallirallus okinawae). According to an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (2006) produced by the Naha office of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, over 4,000 species have been recorded at the site planned for the construction of the helipads and in the surrounding area. 12 plant species and 11 animal species are endemic and/or subspecies, and between 177 species (Environment Ministry est.) and 188 species (Okinawa Prefecture est.) are threatened with extinction. This fully meets one of the criteria for selection by the World Heritage Committee (to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.). Much forest has been lost due to the development of Okinawa following its return to Japan in 1972. However, the approximately 7500 hectares of forest occupied by the Northern Training Area has been preserved in its natural state, and has become a refuge for wildlife. The building of access roads and six military helipads, which would destroy the rich biological diversity of the natural environment, must not proceed !

At both the 2000 (Amman) and 2004 (Bangkok) meetings of the World Conservation Congress, the IUCN(the World Conservation Union) recommended the conservation of the Okinawa woodpecker and Okinawa rail, and of their habitat. The IUCN made the following recommendations to the Japanese government: that they create a conservation plan for biological diversity and for species threatened with extinction; that they consider nominating Yanbaru as a Natural Heritage site; that they create an action plan for the establishment and protection of a nature reserve; and finally that they carry out an environmental assessment which includes a zero option (i.e. not building the helipad). The IUCN also recommended that the US government confer with the Japanese government with a view to enabling the protection of wildlife based on US forces environmental control and management, and that the US government cooperate with the Japanese government�fs environmental assessment. The Japanese and American governments, both of which are affiliated to the IUCN, should follow these recommendations and not build the military helipads, and instead devote their energies towards the protection of these wildlife habitats.

According to the previously-mentioned Environmental Impact Assessment Report (Defense Facilities Administration Agency, Naha, 2006), if measures are taken to avoid or minimize impact, there should be no particular difficulty in conserving the environment. However, the report itself is not subject to environmental impact assessment law. Furthermore, because it was written on the premise that the helipads would be built, the report and its procedures do not represent a legitimate environmental assessment. The effectiveness of steps to avoid or reduce damage is questionable. It is clear that the report�fs conclusion, namely that there were no environmental protection problems, is mistaken. Rather, if the results of the same report’s survey of current environmental conditions are scientifically examined from a conservation/biological viewpoint, it is clear that helipad construction and military helicopter training will greatly affect the natural environment and its wildlife. The conclusion that should be derived from the report is that this inappropriate construction must be abandoned.

The six American helipads are planned to be built around the district of Takae, in Higashi village. The construction of the 75m diameter helipads and Osprey VTOL (vertical take-off and landing aircraft) military training will seriously affect the living environments of the residents of Takae. This small village has about 150 people, with 20% of its population being of junior high school age or under. The exposure of residents to both the unbearable roar of aircraft engines and the danger of air crashes are acts which ignore fundamental human rights, and infringe the Japanese Constitution’s guarantee of a peaceful, cultivated and healthy life.

At the 2008 G8 summit, held in Japan, the main environmental themes were the prevention of global warming and the conservation of biological diversity. In 2010 the Japanese government wants to hold a meeting of the partner-countries to the biological diversity treaty. At a time such as this the construction of military helipads amidst the rich biological diversity of the forests of Yanbaru can only be seen as greatly lacking in common sense.

Taking all the above into account, WWF Japan demands an end to the construction of the US forces helipads and access roads in the Northern Training Area.

For inquireies please contact:
Shin-ichi Hanawa
WWF Japan, Conservation Division
3-1-14 Shiba Minato-ku Tokyo 105-0014 Japan

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