GENEVA – A prominent Okinawan activist told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday that the Japanese government has committed “clear human rights violations” against those opposed to the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Base Futenma.
“Civilians are protesting the militarization every day. The government of Japan dispatched large police forces in Okinawa to oppress and violently remove those civilians,” Hiroji Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, said in a speech to the council in Geneva.
Yamashiro, who was detained for five months starting last October for what he and his supporters call minor offenses during base protest activities on Okinawa, said he was forced “to confess and give up the protest activity.”
“These are clear human rights violations by the authorities,” he said.
Yamashiro, currently on trial, led a group of protesters who are opposed to the long-delayed Futenma relocation plan, which will shift the base from Ginowan to less populated Henoko, a coastal area of Nago further north.
He was arrested in October for allegedly cutting barbed wire at a U.S. military training area in Higashi and was released on bail in March. During his detention, Yamashiro was not allowed to see anyone except lawyers, not even his family, he said.
“However, I and the Okinawan people will never bow to oppression,” he said. “I demand the government of Japan stop human rights violations, and respect the Okinawan people’s will against the construction of new U.S. and Japanese military bases.”
The first arrest was followed by two retroactive arrests that kept him in jail for five months.
Yamashiro and others are suspected of piling some 1,480 blocks in front of the gate to Camp Schwab in January 2016 to prevent the delivery of equipment and materials needed for the relocation work.
He is also suspected of injuring a local defense bureau official by grabbing his shoulder and shaking him last August near the U.S. military training area in Higashi.
The high-profile case prompted human rights groups including Amnesty International Japan to call for Yamashiro’s immediate release.
The bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan are situated in Okinawa.