Saturday, December 21, 2013

Okinawa’s Struggle at Final Juncture - Protect Okinawa Dugong and Biodiversity of Henoko/Oura Bay

Henoko and Oura Bay, Okinawa

Via our colleague and friend, Dr. Masami Mel Kawamura, at the Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa:
October 6, 2013
Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa
(Okinawa, Japan)

Okinawa’s Struggle at Final Juncture 
Protect Okinawa Dugong and Biodiversity of Henoko/Oura Bay 

The 17 year-long saga of the Okinawan people’s struggle against the US and Japanese governments’ plan to construct a US military base at Henoko/Oura Bay in Okinawa, Japan is at its final juncture. The Japanese government has submitted its application for land reclamation of the waters of Henoko/Oura Bay, ready to move on to the phases of reclamation and construction work. At stake are the rich biodiversity of Henoko/Oura Bay, including the endangered and Okinawa’s cultural icon Dugong, and the life of the local people. The Okinawan people are fighting through this final juncture with support from international communities in forms of IUCN recommendations/resolution, “dugong lawsuit” and IIFB statements.

Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan, consisting of some 160 islands with a population of approximately 1.4 million. The Okinawan people are recognized by UN as an indigenous people although the Japanese government has not recognized them as such.
While Okinawa consists of only 0.6% of all the Japanese landmass, 74% of US military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. A UN Special Rapporteur’s report in 2006 concluded the high concentration of US military bases should be regarded as manifestations of the continuing discriminatory policies and practices and human rights violation against Okinawa. By forcing the US base construction at Henoko/Oura Bay, the Japanese and US governments are further militarizing Okinawa.

The area of Henoko/Oura Bay presents a vulnerable ecosystem while being one of the most biodiversity-rich areas in Okinawa. The endangered Okinawa dugong, rare blue corals, and many other wild wonders inhabit the area and the livelihood of local communities is closely connected to the environment...

Update on US military base construction at Henoko/Oura Bay

Since 1997, the US and Japanese governments have been pushing forward their plan to construct a massive US military base at Henoko/Oura Bay, ignoring the Okinawan people’s opposition to the plan and environmental concerns. However, an enduring fight put forth by people from Okinawa, Japan and international community has not allowed actual construction to take place yet.

In March of 2012, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima submitted his comments on the Environment Impact Statement prepared by the Japanese government for the construction plan. Nakaima contended that, even with the Japanese government’s proposed mitigation measures, it would not be possible to conserve the natural and social environments of the Henoko/Oura Bay area.

In March of this year, however, the Japanese government submitted to Governor Nakaima its application for reclamation of waters of Henoko/Oura Bay for the base construction, pressuring Nakaima to approve the application. Governor is expected to make his decision on the application sometime in December this year or in January of next year.

The international environmental community has been supporting the Okinawan people’s struggle against the construction plan. In 2000, 2004 and 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adopted recommendations and resolution regarding the conservation of the Okinawa Dugong in the area of Henoko/Oura Bay. In 2010, in the closing statement of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity(IIFB) at COP10, the IIFB expressed its concern with regard to the plan and the construction plan’s potential impact on the area’s biodiversity. In 2012, the IIFB reiterated its concerns at COP11.

Update on Dugong Lawsuit

In the historical case of the “Dugong vs. US Secretary of Defense” or “dugong lawsuit,” the US federal district court in 2008 ruled that the US Department of Defense (DoD) violated the National Historical Preservation Act(NHPA). The court recognized Dugong as a historical and cultural property, applicable by the NHPA, which protects indigenous people’s culture and life. The court found that the DoD did not take into account the military base construction’s possible adverse effects on the cultural significance of the Okinawa dugong, when it drew the construction plan with the Japanese Government. The court ordered the DoD to comply to the NHPA. It is the first case that NHPA was applied to an undertaking outside US and to a creature as well.

In February of 2012, as the construction plan was deemed stalled, the court questioned the status of the construction plan and ordered the case to be closed. However, as the Japanese government completed its EIA and has submitted its application for land reclamation, the case is expected to be reopened anytime.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit has attracted international attention. Dr. Helen Marsh, renowned Australian marine mammals scientist, mentioned the “Dugong lawsuit” in her plenary speech for the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, which was held on July 9-13, describing Dugong as one of the most powerful political animals.

For details on “Dugong lawsuit,” see Hideki Yoshikawa’s article “Dugong Swimming in Uncharted Waters: US Judicial Intervention to Protect Okinawa's "Natural Monument” and Halt Base Construction“

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