Opponents of the newest U.S. navy base in Okinawa, Japan, are calling for pressing intervention by the United Nations to halt the development of the brand new base, launch navy groundwater check knowledge on poisonous spills, and shut all 32 U.S. navy bases.The new facility and different navy bases have been linked to poisonous environmental air pollution and building threatening marine species, together with historic land conflicts between native Okinawans and the mainland Japan and U.S. governments.Latest water exams by the Okinawa authorities reveal PFAS ranges as much as 42 occasions increased than Japan’s nationwide water requirements with contamination present in consuming and bathing water for roughly 450,000 folks.Amid rising tensions with China and efforts to counter its affect within the area, Japan and the U.S. cite Okinawa’s proximity to Taiwan and placement within the Indo-Pacific as a strategic purpose for sustaining bases on the island.
This story is revealed as a part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, and Native News Online.
NEW YORK — In April 2020, a barbecue held at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a small Japanese island simply east of Taiwan, by chance triggered the discharge of 60,000 gallons of firefighting foam. There was no hearth, however a lot of the froth unfold all through the close by residential space, sliding via streets and floating right into a stream.
The foam contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, also referred to as “eternally chemical substances.” Used in all kinds of shopper merchandise, PFAS have been present in air, water, and the blood streams of people and animals the world over and might influence well being inflicting low beginning weights, most cancers, and liver injury.
More than 15 % of Okinawa is occupied by American and Japanese navy bases. In 2022, water exams carried out by the federal government of Okinawa revealed PFAS ranges as much as 42 occasions increased than Japan’s nationwide water requirements with contamination present in consuming and bathing water for roughly 450,000 folks, a few third of the island’s inhabitants. Local residents, a lot of whom are Indigenous Ryukyu Uchinaanchus, say the newest firefighting foam incident was one other instance of the hurt brought on by U.S. navy installations on their land.
“What occurred reveals that they don’t care,” stated Masaki Tomochi, who’s Ryukyu Uchinaanchu and a professor at Okinawa International University. “They don’t care about us.”
The United States Department of Defense and the Japanese Government didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
Landfill work underway at Henoko Bay, the proposed new web site of the Futenma Marine base. Image courtesy of the Okinawa Drone Project.
The U.S. navy is constructing a brand new base on Okinawa that marine specialists and the Okinawa prefectural authorities say may threaten marine ecosystems, together with coral reefs and hundreds of marine species, desecrate Ryukyuan ancestor stays, and produce much more air pollution and contamination. This week, a gaggle of Ryukyu Uchinaanchus is on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues calling for pressing intervention, together with the halt of building of the brand new base in Henoko, launch of navy groundwater check knowledge, and the closure of all 32 U.S. navy bases on Okinawa. They are additionally demanding the popularity of their rights as Indigenous peoples, which Japan refuses to grant, regardless of a number of suggestions from U.N. businesses, together with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee to take action.
But with out acknowledgement from the Japanese authorities, Ryukyuans have restricted choices. They say the United Nations is their solely pathway to justice, and request that the Permanent Forum prepare a gathering between Ryukyuan leaders and Japan to speak, for the U.S. to create a chemical clear up plan, and instantly present clear consuming and bathing water to all affected folks.
“Our folks have been combating for thus lengthy,” stated Koutarou Yuuji, Ryukyu Uchinaanchu and a PhD pupil on the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. “The bases are nonetheless there. Nothing occurs.”
Indigenous Ryukyuan delegation on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Image by Jenna Kunze/Native News Online.
The unbiased, Indigenous Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by Japan in 1879, when it grew to become a prefecture in Japan’s empire. After World War Two, the United States took management of Okinawa for over twenty years, lastly returning management to Japan in 1971. The settlement allowed for the U.S. navy to keep up bases on the island and was made regardless of a motion that included violent protests by Ryukyuans for independence quite than a return to Japanese rule. Amid tensions with China, Japan and the U.S. cite Okinawa’s proximity to Taiwan as a key strategic purpose for sustaining bases on the island.
“The lack of session with the Ryukyuan Peoples is a main instance of how neocolonial actions ignoring the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) rules can amplify present destructive circumstances and create new ones,” Permanent Forum member and Standing Rock Sioux descendant Geoffrey Roth stated, referencing the worldwide human rights normal that grants Indigenous peoples management over growth tasks on their land.
In 2019, Japan acknowledged the Ainu as Indigenous peoples, however has continued to withstand Ryukyuan claims. Ryukyuans say that that is largely as a result of acknowledging them as Indigenous would threaten Japan’s ongoing relationship with the U.S. navy. “FPIC has by no means existed in Okinawa, particularly in relation to the U.S.,” Alexyss McClellan-Ufugusuku, a member of the Association of Comprehensive Studies for Independence of the Lew Chewans and a PhD Candidate at U.C. Santa Cruz, stated.
The Ryukyuans allege that U.S. navy bases contribute to a bunch of environmental points, together with water contamination, noise air pollution, erosion, and deforestation. In 2019, 70 % of voters stated they didn’t help the development of the brand new base. Despite the vote, building has proceeded.
Banner picture: A dugong (Dugong dugong) feeding on seagrass in Egypt. Image by Julien Willem by way of Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
“Being capable of come to the Permanent Forum permits us to advocate differently outdoors of Okinawa,” McClellan-Ufugusuku stated. “It additionally permits us to see connections between ourselves and Indigenous peoples all all over the world. We’re not the one ones with water air pollution points. We’re not the one ones with U.S. base points.”
Banner picture: Okinawan protesting towards U.S. navy base. Image by Richard Atrero de Guzman/NurPhoto by way of Getty Images
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: We check out two tales that present the effectiveness of mixing conventional Indigenous ecological data and Western science for conservation and restoration initiatives. Listen right here:
‘Our land, our life’: Okinawans maintain out towards new U.S. base in coastal zone
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Conflict, Conservation, Environment, Indigenous Culture, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Rights, Land Conflict, Marine, Marine Animals, Marine Biodiversity, Marine Conservation, Marine Ecosystems, Marine Mammals, Military, Politics, United Nations
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