The Tokyo High Court on Sept. 29 overturned an April 9, 2010, ruling by the Tokyo District Court that not only had determined that Japan and the United States had secret pacts over the 1972 reversion of Okinawa but also had ordered the state to disclose related diplomatic documents.

The high court turned down the plaintiffs’ demand for disclosure of the documents, based on its determination that there was no evidence to show that such documents existed when the Foreign and Finance ministries decided in October 2008 not to disclose them. The ministries’ decision had been in response to a disclosure request filed under the freedom of information law.

The district court had decided to award ¥100,000 in damages to each plaintiff on the grounds that the state neglected people’s right to know through its insistence that the documents did not exist. The high court erased this decision. The lawsuit had been filed in March 2009 by 25 journalists and academics.

At issue were diplomatic documents related to the following three points: $4 million paid by Japan to restore land used by the U.S. for military purposes to its original state; $16 million paid by Japan to move a Voice of America relay station abroad; and Japan’s financial obligation above the publicly acknowledged $320 million.

In March 2010, the ministries issued reports saying that although the secret pacts existed, some important documents were missing. The appellate trial focused on whether the documents whose disclosure was demanded by the plaintiffs existed.

The high court ruling, although unfavorable to the plaintiffs, is harsh to the state. It said that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Foreign Ministry secretly got rid of the documents in question under its jurisdiction to prevent its explanation — that such documents did not exist — from being shown to be false. It added that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Finance Ministry abandoned the documents in question under its jurisdiction before the freedom of information law took force.

It pointed out that while the documents had first-class historical value, there were problems in the government’s management of them in its custody. The government must not forget that it has the duty to properly keep documents so that it can fulfill its obligation of upholding people’s right to know.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.