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Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Okinawa Dugong Lawsuits

Around 1,500 Okinawans gathered in Naha on a rainy Christmas afternoon 
to publicly voice disapproval of Governor Nakaima's last-minute backroom deal.

Norma Field, professor of East Asian studies at the University of Chicago, and author of the 1991 best-seller, In the Realm of the Dying Emperor: A Portrait of Japan at Century's End (an exploration of Japanese grassroots resistance against resurgent militarism), commented below her signature at the Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong's petition to save the Okinawa Dugong:
We have done so much irreparable damage to the earth and its inhabitants. But the harm is not distributed evenly.

Okinawa's nature and people are among those disproportionately, unforgivably impacted. This is something Gov. Nakaima is in the precious position of being able to address!
However, Governor Nakaima did not meet the challenge of his historic opportunity to chart a democratic and healing path for Okinawa.  Instead, he fell back into the postwar pattern of bowing to the "Carrots and Sticks" and "Bayonets and Bulldozers" administration of the war-beleaguered prefecture, by accepting PM Abe's offer of a slight increase in the usual subsidies  from Japanese and Okinawan taxpayers ($24 billion over the next eight years), in exchange for breaking his 2010 campaign promise to protect the last habitat of the Okinawa dugong, by approving destructive military landfill to make way for a new mega-base at Henoko.

Satoko Oka Norimatsu and Gavan McCormack predicted Nakaima's eventual flip-flop in their recent book, Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States: 
In other words, [former PM] Kan and his closest advisors believed that once elected, Nakaima would betray his Okinawan constituents and cooperate with Tokyo. Whether it would be done by buying or threatening was immaterial.
Peter Ennis has detailed the contexts and recent twists of PM Abe and Okinawa Governor Nakaima's last-minute backroom (hospital) deal. The latter has proven his extraordinary skill at (self-described "sneak") hairpin maneuvers.  Recovered from whatever enabled his prolonged hospitalization in Tokyo, he's back in Okinawa, campaigning for a pro-military construction colleague who is challenging Henoko champion Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine in the upcoming January election. Ennis, a seasoned Japan political analyst, highly admired by journalists in Japan, predicts turbulence ahead.

Okinawa's two major dailies, The Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo, have bitterly protested Okinawa Governor Nakaima's betrayal of Okinawan trust. The latter newspaper said that Nakaima's action will reinforce the negative stereotype of some Okinawan politicians as "gold diggers."

Around 1,500 Okinawans gathered in Naha on a rainy Christmas afternoon 
to publicly voice disapproval of Governor Nakaima's last-minute backroom deal.

The majority of Okinawans still oppose the new base project and anticipated protests have begun, starting on a cold, rainy Christmas afternoon in Naha, the prefecture's capital.

Today's Mainichi's analysis even suggests that "the reform faction comprising the majority of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly may make a motion of no-confidence against the governor, throwing the prefectural administration into chaos."

Inside the Okinawa Prefectural Government Building today.
(Photo via Dr. Masami Mel Kawamura) 

The Japanese government's environmental environmental impact assessment for the massive military landfill is riddled with irregularities and omissions.  When he rejected the first report in 2012, Nakaima then said: "It will be impossible to preserve the lives of residents and the natural environment through the measures included in the impact report."

Kunitoshi Sakurai, a member of the Okinawan Environmental Network, and a professor and former president of Okinawa University, detailed the problems in "Japan’s Illegal Environmental Impact Assessment of the Henoko Base," noting that Japanese backroom environmental assessment procedures and laws do not come close to the standards of other developed countries. The founding chairman of the Japan Society for Impact Assessment, Nagoya University professor emeritus Shimazu Yasuo described the Henoko EIA as the "worst in Japanese history."

Even a former Minister of Defense, Satoshi Morimoto, criticized what he described as the "sloppiness" of the Environmental Impact study and the concealment of “'inconvenient facts' of the appearance of the dugong...He emphasized "the Yambaru forest and rivers, whose biodiversity is recognized under both national and prefectural plans, cannot be protected under the planned relocation."

Earthjustice, the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation (JELF) and Okinawan environmental NGOs are meeting in early January to move forward with a new Dugong lawsuit in the US:
The lawsuit aims to make the U.S. government stop the Japanese government from entering the area for the reclamation work. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of the United States requires its government to protect cultural heritage around the world. If the government’s actions could affect cultural assets in other countries it must take that impact into account.

Based on this law, the plaintiffs are taking action against the U.S. Defense Department in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco in order to protect the dugong as an endangered species. They are requesting that the U.S. Defense Department intervene to stop the Japanese government from going into the U.S. military facilities to construct the new air base.

The plaintiffs, including the Okinawa dugong and three Japanese citizens, as well as six Japanese and American environmental associations have brought another action against Secretary of Defense and the United States Department of Defense for violations of the National Historic Preservation Act. They allege that the defendants approved plans for construction of the Futenma replacement facility without taking into account the effect of the construction of the military facility on the Okinawa dugong, which is a marine mammal of cultural and historical significance to the Japanese people...

Lawyer Takaaki Kagohashi, the head of the plaintiff attorneys and representative of the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation, said, “We have to wait to take action until just before the government starts the construction.” He emphasized that because it falls within the authority of the U.S. government, it is possible that the lawsuit in the United States could stop the Japanese government going ahead with the construction by preventing Japanese officials from entering the site.

The plaintiffs are same environmental groups and individuals who filed the Okinawa dugong lawsuit in 2003, which they effectively won. In the interlocutory decision, the judge decided that the dugong is subject to the National Historic Preservation Act, and that the government not evaluating the impact on the dugong was a violation of the law.

Kagohashi said, “We considered protective measures for the dugong in the previous case, but this new lawsuit aims to block the construction involved in the landfill. The American Environmental Law is very strict when it comes to the destruction of the natural environment. Our chances of victory are better in the United States than in Japan.”
The first Okinawa Dugong Lawsuit was filed in 2003. The same federal district court determined in the interlocutory decision of Jan. 2008 that the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) applied to the Okinawa dugong as a protected species.

The new lawsuit will not only take protective measures for the dugong as the original lawsuit did; it will additionally more fully address the issue of military landfill construction. U.S. environmental laws are more comprehensive and impartially administered than Japanese environmental laws. According to legal experts, the issue of whether or not a ban on the construction is in the interests of the general public will be a central issue.

In 1966, Ryukyus postal stamp commemorates the dugong's designation as a natural monument. 
(Image: Save the Dugong Campaign Center) 

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Updates: 

Another (separate) lawsuit will be filed in Naha District Court in mid-January on the grounds that Governor Nakaima's approval does not meet the legal standards and is, therefore, illegitimate; and members of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly plan to demand that Nakaima retract his approval at an extraordinary session expected Jan. 9, 2014. ("Okinawans seek to overturn approval for Futenma relocation work," Asahi, Dec. 30, 2013)
Four Okinawan members (Congressman Kantoku Teruya, Congressman Denny Tamaki, Congressman Seiken Akamine, and Senator Keiko Itokazu) of the Japanese Diet have called for Gov. Nakaima's resignation.  The reason: reneging (in exchange for a "spending spree" and "empty promises") of his 2010 reelection promise to protect Henoko.  (via Ms. Keiko Itokazu, member of the Upper House of the Japanese National Diet, Facebook, Dec. 27. 2013
Gov. Nakaima has rebelled against the will of the overwhelming majority (80%) of Okinawans who oppose military construction at Henoko.

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