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United Nations steps into the Okinawa-Futenma brouhaha

Date Posted: 2012-03-16

Okinawans are discovering a new supporter in Europe: the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is asking Japan’s government to explain how it is protecting the rights of Okinawans as controversy swirls about plans to relocate Futenma Marine Corps Air Station within Okinawa.

The United Nations committee has given Japan until July 31st to respond to its queries, after which it will review Japan’s positions at its August meeting. The CERD wants to know whether the proposed relocation of Futenma from Ginowan City to northern Okinawa infringes on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Observers say the U.N. group could encourage the Tokyo government to reconsider how the relocation plan is structured, in order to protect Okinawan residents’ rights.

Officials say the United Nations organization stepped in last month after the Inernational Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMAD), a non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva, decided to link up with an Okinawan NGO report opposing the relocation to Henoko. Japan and the United States last month modified its position how to structure relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, a plan designed to reduce the burden on Okinawans. In that report, NGOs had urged the united Nations to implement “Early-Warning Measures and Urgent Procedures to prevent violations of the convention.”

The CERD has a working group comprised of five human rights experts to study whether it should accept requests for assistance from the NGOs. Last week, all 18 members of the committee took on the topic and elected to query the Japanese government on its plans, in order to confirm allegations lodged in the NGOs’ appeals. The questionnaire submitted to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government in Tokyo wants information about planned construction of helipads in the Higashison-Takae, all part of a bilateral deal between the U.S. and Japan to return part of a U.S. training area, and whether it could infringe on the racism convention. Specifically, the CERD wants answers on how Japan plans to interact and respond to Okinawan concerns.

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