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Supreme court turns down Sobe landowners' appeal

Date Posted: 2003-12-06

An appeal by eight Okinawa Prefecture landowners was rejected this week by the Supreme Court.
The landowners have been in court for years, trying to get their land returned. The landowners had sought damages from the government for forcing them to lease their land to the U.S. Military.
Shoichi Chibana, a 55-year-old Yomitan storeowner and village assemblyman who has spearheaded the land dispute for years, had filed the appeal together with seven others. The plaintiffs argued that the new Special Land Use Law violates the Japanese Constitution that guarantees individual rights to property. The plaintiffs had been seeking Y140 million in compensation from the government.
The lease on Chibana’s land expired on Mar. 31, 1996. The then Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota refused to sign land expropriation papers on behalf of the central government, but as the lease expired, the central government continued to used the land without a legal basis until the new law was enacted.
The seven other plaintiffs had refused to renew their land lease contracts when they expired in May 1997. They sued when the government allowed the U.S. Navy to continue the use of the land after the contract had expired.
Naha District Court ordered the government to pay a Y470,000 compensation to Chibana in Nov. 2001, but dismissed the case of the seven others. The court also ruled that the expropriation of the land was legal.
The plaintiffs then appealed to the high court, which eventually overturned the district court’s decision, and ruled that Chibana had forfeited his right to damages when he rejected the government’s offer. The high court also upheld the lower court’s decision not to pay damages to the seven other landowners. The court also pointed out that the Special Land Use Law had been enacted one month before the land leases expired.
The plaintiffs finally filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in Nov. 2002. In his ruling, Presiding Justice Tokuji Izumi cited a 1996 ruling by the Supreme Court's Grand Bench that stated that the Special Land Use Law, prior to its amendment in April 1997, is constitutional. “Provisional use does not violate the Constitution because Article 29 of the supreme code stipulates that private property may be taken for public use,” the justice said.
He also noted that the central government is obliged to fulfill its obligations under the Japan-U.S. security pact and other agreements. “It is necessary for the fulfillment of those obligations to continue making the land available for use until the completion of the leasing procedure,” he stated.
“The only thing I feel right now is anger,” Chibana told a news conference after the ruling was made public.

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