Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ainu and Okinawan Human Rights- United Nations Forum on indigenous issues

The tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convened at the United Nations Headquarters, New York from the 16th to 27th of May. Shimin Gaikou Centre (Citizens' Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) vice president, Makiko Kimura, on behalf of her organization, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, Forest Peoples’ Programme, Citizens' Network for Biological Diversity in Okinawa, No Helipad Takae Resident Society, and Mo-pet Sanctuary Network, submitted a collective statement to the forum.

These organizations urge the Japanese government to fully realize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and address human rights violations against the Ainu and Okinawan communities. Japan ratified UNDRIP in 2007, and subsequently recognized the Ainu people as the indigenous people of Japan, but does not recognize the indigeneity of the Okinawan people despite UN recommendations.

The report addresses how the government of Japan has violated Articles 29 and 32 of UNDRIP by authorizing projects which affect the lands and/or resources of indigenous peoples (including Okinawans) without "free, prior and informed consent" of the indigenous inhabitants. The report highlights a proposed industrial waste facility project in Monbetsu, Hokkaido, and the (de)construction which will result from the proposal of a new U.S. military base and helipads in Okinawa. The organizations request the direct intervention of the Special Rapporteur to the forum to halt further construction and ensure the establishment of a system by which the Ainu and Okinawans must provide free, prior, and informed consent before such projects are authorized.

Monbetsu City is the site of a sacred river for the Ainu people. Its original name in the Ainu language is Mo-pet, meaning "quiet river." Ainu have sustained themselves from this river and surrounding lands for thousands of years.

"The river used to be naturally winding, with deep pools..the fish breeds naturally here. Once the waste facilities are built and operated, it could bring fatal effects to the wild salmon's habitat."
Despite the historical and intimate relationship between the river and Ainu people, Hokkaido Prefecture, without any consultation with local inhabitants, approved the construction of a dumping site in this natural sanctuary:
First, regarding the Ainu people, the city government of Monbetsu, a municipality in Hokkaido Prefecture (traditional Ainu territory), authorized a plan to build an Industrial Waste Dumping Site near the Monbetsu river on February 26th, 2010. The Monbetsu River is one of the most important places for the co-existence between the Ainu culture and the natural environment, and an important site for autumnal salmon spawning in the Monbetsu area. A traditional ceremony (Kamui Cep Nomi) to thank the deities for providing the Ainu with lots of salmons was revived in 2002, and the ceremony is conducted every autumn by the local Ainu community.

Prior to the authorization, the local Ainu community in Monbetsu, working in collaboration with local Japanese groups supporting environmental conservation, demanded that the city government respect the UNDRIP including land, cultural and environmental rights and the principle of "Free, Prior and Informed Consent" (FPIC) and review the plan from the indigenous peoples’ perspective. However, the city government, unfortunately, has not given any consideration to the Ainu rights and has now authorized this project. As a result, the construction work has been already started, and the local Ainu people have sent application to the Prefectural Pollution Examination Commission (PPEC) to look into the matter.
In 2010, 56 indigenous organizations and 25 supporting NGO and NPOs joined together to gather signatures to a petition calling on Hokkaido prefecture to halt construction plans. One of the petition's signatories, the Ainu Art Project, is producing an animated film entitled The Fox of Shichigoro Stream that describes industrial waste facilities's destructiveness near Hakodate, in southern Hokkaido.

The report also urges the Japanese government to abrogate its proposal to construct a U.S. military base in Henoko and Oura Bay, the ecologically fragile habitat of the Okinawan dugong, and six new helipads in Takae.
Second, regarding the Ryukyuan/Okinawan people, the Government of Japan has not implemented the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which call on the government to recognize Ryukyuan/Okinawan people as an indigenous people. As a result, as reported by UN Special Rapporteur Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Doudou Diene, the heavy presence of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa remains as a form of discrimination against the people of Okinawa. At present, two new military base construction proposalss are being carried out under the agreement between the governments of Japan and the U.S., despite the longtime opposition from local indigenous peoples’ communities.

One massive U.S. military base is being constructed in Henoko and Oura Bay. While the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) expressed its concerns about this plan in the closing statement of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP10) in Nagoya in 2010, the Government of Japan has ignored the concerns raised in the statement and is proceeding with the plan. Another military base, six new helipads, is being constructed in Yambaru forest, Takae district of the Okinawa island. In response to their protest, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the local agency of the Government of Japan, has filed Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) against local indigenous community members.
The SLAPP was filed against the sit-in demonstrators at Takae. SLAPPs are gaining currency by Japanese corporations and governmental bodies. They seek to pressure defendants into acquiescence by overburdening them with the cost of legal defense, not only infringing on human rights, but also intimidating citizens into silence. Chugoku Electric Power Company has also filed a SLAPP against those protesting against the Kaminoseki nuclear plant.

The report recommends the following:
1. We recommend the Government of Japan shall establish national and local systems in conjunction with indigenous peoples to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, in accordance with the UNDRIP.

2. We recommend that the City Government of Monbetsu shall respect Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the local Ainu community concerned, and to reconsider the authorization of the Industrial Waste Dumping Site.

3. We recommend that the Governments of Japan and the U.S. immediately stop the construction of the military bases in Henoko and Oura bay, as well as helipads in Takae and review these proposals.

4. We request the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people shall use his good office to directly intervene in the Government of Japan regarding the construction of the Industrial Waste Dumping Site in Monbetsu city, Hokkaido Prefecture, and the construction of military bases in Henoko and Oura bay and helipads in Takae, Okinawa Prefecture.
Although the Japanese government recognizes the Ainu as indigenous people, this is in name only. Ainu are not guaranteed rights stipulated by UNDRIP. Therefore, Ainu experience rights infringements not only in Monbetsu, but also in Biratori where the government is planning to build another dam upsteam from the defunct Nibutani Dam and in Asahikawa where issues still remain over land promised to the Ainu by law. Furthermore, Hokkaido University refuses to return Ainu remains stolen from gravesites; the Tokyo Ainu have been repeatedly denied the right to build an Ainu community facility in Tokyo; and the Japanese government ignores requests to honor the right for the Ainu to control their own education.

Unless Okinawans are recognized as indigenous people by Japan, it is uncertain whether UNDRIP can be used as a tool to liberate them from the imposition of U.S. military bases. Competing viewpoints among Okinawans complicate this situation: many do not wish to be considered indigenous in the UNDRIP sense. However, growing solidarity in the international indigenous movement support the Ainu and Okinawan struggles and ensure that human and indigenous rights laws will continue to develop in Japan in keeping with global trends.

- Posted by Jen Teeter

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