From WEEKLY MDS No.1029, April 4, 2008 issue

Okinawa Rally against All Crimes and Accidents by US Soldier

Angry 6,000 Protesters Chant, "Remove the Bases!"

As long as the military bases remain, heart-breaking incidents and accidents continue to occur. In protest against the February 10 rape of a girl by a US marine, six thousand residents attended the Okinawa Rally against All Crimes and Accidents by US Soldiers held on March 23 in the town of Chatan, Okinawa.

That day, it started raining in the morning to develop into downpour one hour before the start of the rally. Amid heavy rain, an announcement sounded, "Our rally will be held as planned," to which participants burst into applause.

Among the parties backing the governor, the New Komeito Party decided to join. However, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) refrained from taking part in the rally, giving the reason that they "consider the feelings of the victim." The governor also announced his nonattendance at the last minute.

In his opening speech, Mr. TAMAYOSE Tetsuei, chief of the rally's executive committee and chairperson of the Okinawa Prefectural Liaison Council for Development of Children's Association, declared, "Welfare and social education organizations initiated the move to have this rally, and rank-and-file citizens joined in the efforts to organize it. This marks a huge step of our social movement toward restoration of human rights." Bitterly criticizing the LDP and the governor turning their back to the movement, he continued, "What was that unanimous protest resolution of the prefectural assembly for? Without the consent of the Okinawans, how can the governor visit the US to say nothing about the incident?"

Mr. NOGUCHI Masaharu, town mayor of Chatan, described the suffering of the forced co-existence with US servicepersons residing outside the bases. "The girl has nothing to be blamed for. We must jointly stand by our children. Chatan has the greatest population of servicepersons and paramilitary personnel living outside the bases. US soldiers are not required to register as local residents. Under this circumstance where the public office is refused access to knowledge of the entire local population, we cannot possibly succeed in community building."

In January 2008, another rally was held by residents of the Sunabe neighborhood in the town of Chatan where 500 housing units are offered for foreigners. Mr. MATSUDA Shoji, chairperson of the community, spoke up, "Your tax money is spent for the rents of US troops. You work hard and pay tax, and the tax revenue is threatening our living environment. With this condition continuing, townspeople are doomed to victimization. In order to eliminate military bases, let us speak up together to make our voices of anger heard."

"Mental trauma is everlasting"

Local mayors also took part from ten municipalities in Okinawa. Ms. TOMON Mitsuko, Okinawa City mayor, appealed, "Let us make the heavy burdens on Okinawa associated with military bases cut down. Let us put an end to the situation where our dignity as humans is infringed," and Mr. ONAGA Takeshi, mayor of Naha City, "None of the residents of Okinawa Prefecture agree to the "official discipline enforcement" request. We must give radical review of the Japan-US Status-of-Forces Agreement attached to the Japan-US Security Treaty.

After salutatory speeches from all quarters, a victim of a sexual crime took the podium. Jane (an anonym), wearing a hat low over her eyes as well as sunglasses, is an Australian. Six years ago, she was physically assaulted by a US soldier in Yokosuka. However, the assailant was not prosecuted after all. "My physical injury cured, but my mental trauma is everlasting. A child victim would suffer even more. My wish was to be the last victim. But Okinawa is still a combat zone. I am not responsible. The girl has done nothing wrong, nor has Okinawa. The world is watching us. To this day, I was alone, without protection. But for the first time, as I stand at this podium, you have made me feel that I am not alone. Thank you, Okinawa." At her words uttered from her experiences of acute sufferings, the audience grew silent, making raindrops alone sound across the site as they hit participants' umbrellas. Among the audience, some women were seen quietly wiping tears off. The rally participants became one in the determination to protect victims' human rights.

To conclude the rally, a four-point resolution was adopted as follows.

We demand, (1) radical revision of the Japan-US Status-of-Forces Agreement, (2) responsible action by the Japanese government to eliminate human rights infringements committed by the US military, (3) enforceable, specific measures to prevent recurrences, and (4) reduction of military bases and US forces.

Anger accumulating day after day

A group of three junior high school students came from Ginowan City where the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station is located. They are in the same year of school as the victimized girl, and said, "It's not someone else's disaster," unanimously. "Noise makes my house tremble. Three years ago, when a US military helicopter crashed on the premises of the Okinawa International University, the house of a fiend of mine was got fragments of the helicopter. Actually, it is simply impossible to study. I urge everyone to cooperate for removing the base."

Mr. HIRATA Seiken from southern Okinawa with three other family members listened to speeches from the podium, lulling his child. "I have come as a resident of this prefecture as well as a father of children. This has been repeated since my childhood. Our anger is accumulating through our day-to-day life. We are only asking for just ruling of crimes," he said with a grave expression.

Ms. TOGUCHI Chikako, an activist committed to a movement against the new base construction project in Nago City, expressed her revived resolution, saying, "Jane's appeal struck my heart. I feel anger at the tone blaming the victim. A solution based on 'self-responsibility' would only mean that a victim of any crime must tolerate it in silence. It is a totally wrong direction for seeking a solution. The only solution is to eliminate military bases. How can they ever even think of new base construction?"

Weekly MDS