Nobel Peace Prize winner hits moves to change Article 9

by Jun Hongo and Akemi Nakamura

CHIBA — Altering the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution could threaten the safety of Asian people and trigger a regional arms race, Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire told a symposium Sunday.

Speaking at the Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War held in Makuhari Messe in the city of Chiba, the winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize expressed distress over recent moves to revise the Constitution.

“Many of us are concerned to know that there are those, both in the government and the wider Japanese society, who wish to endanger such peaceful policies and abandon Article 9 and Japan’s peace Constitution,” Corrigan-Maguire told the packed convention center.

“All peace-loving people must unite to oppose such a backward step,” said the 64-year-old, who was awarded the Nobel for her efforts in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Northern Ireland dispute.

The three-day international conference kicked off a day after the 61st anniversary of the enforcement of the Constitution. It was organized by nongovernmental groups, including Japan-based Peace Boat.

Organizers said the meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the significance of the constitutional article that endorses demilitarization and what people can do to promote its spirit.

While it stipulates that Japan renounces war as a sovereign right and that it will not maintain land, sea and air forces, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been keen to make amendments.

The LDP-led ruling coalition passed a national referendum law last year establishing procedures to revise the Constitution.

“The war in Iraq has shown that even the strongest, biggest army in the world can not keep peace in a single city. It proves that aggression never instates peace,” Tatsuya Yoshioka, director of Peace Boat and a representative of the event’s organizing committee, said during the opening remarks.

“Article 9 is a treasure of all mankind. It must be protected,” he said.

The conference’s organizing committee and more than 100 supporters adopted a declaration urging governments around the world to reduce arms, work on peacemaking and abolish war.

The declaration said Article 9 can work as an international peacemaking mechanism and that other countries can introduce similar ideas into their constitutions. It also called for starting a global movement to promote the spirit of Article 9.

Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, said it is important that people in Japan try to keep the original intention of Article 9 because lawmakers’ interpretations can take out its “heart.”

“That is what I hope we will campaign against and try to keep the true intention, the original intention of Article 9 and not allow interpretation to meet our military appetite,” she said.

The event is being supported by more than 70 groups, and 100 peace activists and legal experts from more than 43 countries. The organizing committee said approximately 10,000 people attended the opening-day sessions.