From WEEKLY MDS No.876, Feb. 25, 2005 issue logo

Regain Local Autonomy to Residents through Non-Defended Localities Movement

Well over the statutory requirement in Arakawa

Starting on January 14, the signature drive in Arakawa ward, Tokyo, for a non-defended locality ordinance has collected nearly three times as many signatures as the number required under law. This campaign has made its way by conquering crude interferences including the following. First, the Arakawa ward authority tried to interrupt the signature-collecting activities.Second, right-wing elements wearing a mask started collecting counter-signatures while posting hostile articles on their website. Third, an attempt was made to press Arakawa ward assembly members not to cooperate. Meanwhile, active participation of high school and college students have supported signature collectors all the way though, and the extent of public support has reached as far as part of Liberal Democratic Party supporters. The movement has shown that potencies poised to build peaceful and democratic local communities do exist within the communities.

It is also significant that the non-defended locality drive has been developed in Tokyo where power-oriented and nationalistic ISHIHARA Shintaro governs. In June last year, immediately after the Civilian Protection Law was enacted, the Tokyo metropolitan government had a war game meeting named "Simulation Program concerning Civilian Protection" in a setup of an imaginary gunfight between an armed group of unknown nationality and the police force.This meeting was held as a joint training for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the Fire Defense Agency and the Ground Self-Defense Force (Japanese troops). As many prefectural governments are still having difficulty to come up with concrete visualization of such steps, Ishihara is rushing to establish a "security" system that is actually a warfare system. The non-defended locality drive in Arakawa ward has been a big blow to the Ishihara metropolitan administration.

Residents-initiated autonomy building

In response to the Basic Policy under the Civilian Protection Law, local governments are developing "civilian protection" plans, with prefectural governments targeting completion within fiscal year 2005, and municipalities within fiscal year 2006. On January 26, in Tottori Prefecture, the prefectural "civilian protection" council announced its plan at its first meeting. The key members of the council include high-ranking officers of the Self-Defense Forces and the police department. The plan requests residents to participate in drills and to prepare emergency family communications plans. On the other hand, problems include transport of those who need assistance such as the elderly and the handicapped. In Osaka Prefecture, debate has emerged whether foreigners residing in Japan should be protected just like other civilians or not. Although "civilian protection" plans are means for coercing support for war, various problems naturally emerge as they use the pretext of "protection of residents."

It is even more important now to extend the Non-Defended Localities movement nationwide. Give this movement a positive meaning as a struggle for resident's political freedom and basic human rights to be ensured by local governments. The interference by the Arakawa ward authority under the Ishihara Tokyo metropolitan government is equivalent to negation of the right of petition under the Constitution of Japan. The petition representatives filed an appeal for provisional disposition with the Tokyo District Court for suspension of the interference. That act is also a struggle to regain autonomy in the hands of residents.

An ordinance is possible

It is possible to enact an ordinance as part of prerequisites for a non-defended locality declaration even in the Arakawa ward assembly dominated by conservatives. The Japanese government ratified the First Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, the underlying protocol for non-defended locality declarations. That means the government is obliged to disseminate the text as widely as possible, as set out in Article 47 of the First Convention. And so the Civilian Protection Law in its Article 9 provides for "appropriate enforcement of international humanitarian law." With the achievement of as many as 8,000 signatures, development of discussion over the ordinance open to public and enhancement of residents' rights of participation, it would not be easy to block the enactment of the ordinance.

In the City of Osaka, objections were raised against undemocratic proceedings that would not allow committee discussion and made it possible for residents to observe the assembly via a monitor and to express opinions. In the City of Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, discussion involving legal issues was introduced in an interview with the mayor. These direct petition movements are restoring the substantial contents of resident participation in local autonomy step by step as represented by realization of information disclosure and opportunities of opinion expression.

Also in the City of Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, the number of collected signatures has exceeded the statutory requirement for directly demanding enactment of a non-defended locality ordinance. Follow these initiatives to enhance the Non-defended Localities movement all over Japan. The power developed in the process will support the struggle in Arakawa ward while preparing the way to stop substantiating the Civilian Protection Law and to counterattack the move. (February 14)

Weekly MDS