An open letter to Yukio Hatoyama

As two of our activists in Japan prepare for their day in court

Feature story - 12 February, 2010
Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, writes to Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, urging his Government to live up to its commitment to human rights and ensure a fair trial for anti-whaling activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki.

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

From Dr Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International

February 12th, 2010

Dear Prime Minister Hatoyama,

Your election has presented Japan with a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change. Internationally, your support for ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions has challenged the world to put our climate before corporate profits, the stance of a true leader. At home, your election commitment to build a strong economy and end corruption within the government has given you much support with the people of Japan, but also presents a hard road ahead.

Both of us came to our new roles around the same time last year and I believe we have much common ground on which to build a new relationship between government and non-government organisations in Japan.

Before joining Greenpeace I worked for many years to end corruption in my home country of South Africa, to end poverty worldwide and to ensure that all human rights are respected. When our voices were in the minority, change was hard won. I can imagine that you must have felt the same, fighting to change the political landscape of a generation.  It is an incredible achievement to have turned the tide.

I accepted the role of International Executive Director at Greenpeace, because I believe that ensuring a green and peaceful planet is also a basic human right. For both of us, it is not enough to say we want change, we must ensure it happens and now we are both in a position to do so.  Turning the tide is not enough, a new  course must also be set. 

Greenpeace has operated in Japan for twenty years. In that time our actions stopped the dumping of radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan; we have worked with local communities to stop the expansion of US airbases that risked the habitat of the threatened dugong; developed long term working relationships with the technology industry in Japan to remove dangerous substances from products such as mobile phones and computers. We have contributed to government debates to ensure that corporations promoting genetically engineered food do not gain a foothold in Japan and we have not only raised concerns and debate about the nuclear threat in Japan, but assisted in monitoring for radiation following the 2007 fire at the Kashiwazaki nuclear reactor, after a major earthquake.

We have a long, positive, peaceful history in your country. However, as a new member of Greenpeace, I can say that I suspect all we are recognised for is our opposition to whaling. Greenpeace in Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party have been at loggerheads on this one issue for twenty years.

On February 15th in Aomori, the trial begins of Greenpeace Japan's senior executive Junichi Sato and his colleague Toru Suzuki, following their exposure of large scale corruption within the government whaling programme.

The case has garnered a large amount of international attention and condemnation. More than a quarter of a million people sent emails requesting that the government investigate the allegations of corruption and not prosecute the activists. Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Betty Williams have also signed on to a letter calling on Japan to adhere to strict international standards on human rights. Many international organisations including Transparency International and Amnesty International registered their concern about the manner of detention and prosecution.

Most significantly, just last week, Greenpeace received notification that the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that, in pursuing the detention and prosecution of Junichi and Toru, the previous Administration in Japan had breached numerous articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These are decisions made not on your watch. The many years of claim and counter claim were with another party. The United Nations ruling was against the decisions of the previous Administration. You were swept to power on a wave of hope because the people of Japan were tired of corruption. I believe in the same way that you have shown strength in challenging other governments to reach further in the climate negotiations, that you will also take the lead in showing other governments that the civil and political rights of its citizens are paramount.

The world is watching this trial, I urge you to show that it will both be fair and conducted in full accordance with you international obligations to protecting human rights.

These are rights that I have held in my heart since I was a child growing up in South Africa under Apartheid, and ones that I will always strive for, but in my new life at Greenpeace there is an equally compelling need to act to stop climate change and I believe we can also work together to achieve this.

Climate change is the biggest threat our planet and people face and demands immediate, dramatic action. I know that Japan can go even further if other nations will make similarly strong commitments and I welcome the chance to discuss how we can face this challenge together, and in particular exchange opinion on how Japan can continue to take a leadership role regarding climate finance. I also know that nuclear is not the answer - we have only to look at the dangers of the technology, the needless expense and most tangibly, the radiation leaks at Kashiwazaki after the earthquake to know this.

But there are solutions. Greenpeace has already mapped out and had accepted by scientists a plan for an Energy [R]evolution which outlines a global plan for a sustainable renewable economic future. It shows us how we can get from where we are now, to where we need to be to avoid a climate change disaster. It was developed with specialists from the Institute of Technical Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Centre and more than 30 scientists and engineers from universities, institutes and the renewable energy industry around the world.

I hope that together we can forge a new relationship in Japan. That you will ensure human rights are respected and the environment protected and it is my strongest hope that the opportunities presented to both of us will be realised.


Kumi Naidoo

Executive Director of Greenpeace International


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