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Onaga takes base argument to U.N. human rights panel

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Staff Writer

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told a United Nations human rights body on Monday that the central government has closed its ears to local voices in the battle over U.S. military bases in the prefecture.

In a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Onaga said the world must pay attention to the situation at Henoko, where a U.S. base is being expanded against local will.

He said it is part of a pattern of neglect dating back to World War II.

“Our right to self-determination and human rights have been neglected,” Onaga said. “Can a country serve values such as freedom, equality, human rights and democracy with other nations when that country cannot guarantee those values for its own people?”

Onaga opposes plans by the central government to enlarge Camp Schwab at Henoko, creating a new home in a semi-rural part of Okinawa for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The air base is currently located in Ginowan, where residents resent its low-level flights.

In an address that mixed legalese and emotion, he said efforts to reclaim land from “our beautiful ocean” ignores widespread protests by people who want Futenma kicked out of the prefecture altogether.

“I am determined to stop that new base construction using every possible and (legitimate) means,” he said.

Last week Onaga said he would revoke a permit for the central government to conduct landfill work at Henoko, potentially shifting the battle to the courts.

Meanwhile, in a right of reply, Japan’s ambassador to the U.N. body said the central government’s priority is to ensure the security of the country and its people, and that it will press ahead with its plans.

Washington, too, was quick to respond, acknowledging that Okinawa endures a burden in hosting U.S. troops.

“We continue to express our sincere gratitude to Okinawa for its vital contributions to the U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of peace and stability in Asia,” said State Department Spokesman John Kirby. “Our troop presence in Okinawa is fundamental to those treaty commitments to the defense of Japan.”

Kirby said the U.S. military tries to be sensitive to local feelings wherever in the world its troops are based.

“We know that our presence is inside some other community and we take our obligations to the community very seriously, and that is no less true there on Okinawa,” he said.

He said recent measures to lessen the impact include relocating KC-130 tanker aircraft from Futenma to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and the return of some military housing at Futenma to civilian use.

In his speech, Onaga said it was unfair that Okinawa, representing 0.6 percent of Japan’s territory, should shoulder 73.8 percent of the U.S. bases.

“After World War II, the U.S. military took our land by force and constructed military bases in Okinawa. We have never provided our land willingly,” he said.

He spoke for two minutes in a session that offered human rights activists a chance to have their concerns noted by the council.

His slot was secured by the Shimin Gaikou Center (Citizens’ Diplomatic Center for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). It was sandwiched between a Human Rights Watch report on deteriorating conditions in Russia and a lobbyist seeking the disarmament of Colombian paramilitary members.

  • Robert Matsuda

    The problem of Okinawa bases shows us that the demand of the U.S. has been a top priority for the Japanese government. The demand of the Pentagon has priority over that of Okinawa’s people. Prime Minister Abe is following the request of the U.S. to construct a new base in Henoko though the majority of Okinawa’s people are against the plan.
    After inauguration two years ago, the prime minister has struggled to please American politicians not only by Henoko’s case but also by promising at the American parliament to pass security bills by this summer before discussing the bills at Japanese parliaments. For whom is the prime minister working? I can understand the anger of the governor of Okinawa prefecture, Onaga.