NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court on Thursday overturned an earlier ruling that ordered the government to compensate an Okinawa landowner for forcing him to lease land to the U.S. military even after land-use contracts expired in 1996.
The central government “illegally occupied the land of the plaintiff, knowing that the measure would violate his right to the land,” presiding Judge Hitoshi Watanabe said. The state is “liable to pay him compensation.”
But plaintiff Shoichi Chibana gave up his right to seek damages when he refused a government offer of compensation made during attempts to secure the continued lease of the land, the judge said.
Last November, the Naha District Court ordered the government to pay 470,000 yen in damages to Chibana, who owns a lot used by the U.S. Navy, for illegally occupying his land for one year until the law allowing land expropriation for the U.S. military was amended in 1997.
The high court upheld the district court ruling that under the amended Special Land Use Law, it was constitutional to force landowners on Okinawa to continue leasing their land — on the grounds that such measures were necessary to fulfill Japan’s security treaty obligations with the United States.
The district court had dismissed damages demanded by seven other landowners, who had argued that the expropriation of their land by the state violated the Constitution, which guarantees individual property rights. The group of eight had demanded that the state pay a total of 140 million yen in compensation.
Both the plaintiffs and the state had appealed the ruling.
Chibana, a 54-year-old assemblyman from the village of Yomitan, owns 236 sq. meters of land within the Sobe Communications Site in the village.
Chibana’s contract with the state expired in March 1996, when anti-U.S. base sentiment was heightened among Okinawa residents in the wake of the rape of a schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen.
Although Chibana refused to renew the contract, the government continued allowing U.S. forces to use the land for about a year until the Special Land Use Law was amended in 1997.
After the amendment, the law stipulated that the state, under certain conditions, does not have to return land whose leases have expired. The government then applied the clause to the landowners retroactively.
In appealing the case, the plaintiffs argued that the district court ruling did not judge the constitutionality of the law’s retroactive application to their case.
The government argued that leasing land to the U.S. military based on the bilateral security treaty is in the public interest, and called for the appeals court to reject the plaintiffs’ claim.
The Sobe facility has been used for intercepting communications from military aircraft and vessels. The cylindrical-shaped facility ,which stands 28 meters tall and is 200 meters in diameter, has often been referred to as the “elephant’s cage.”
A 1996 agreement between Japan and the U.S. calls for the facility to be relocated to the U.S. military’s Camp Hansen, in the town of Kin in the prefecture. Construction of related roads began in Kin in January, but residents in neighboring municipalities are demanding that the facility be moved to a different location.
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