沖縄「密約」判決 文書管理と原則公開の徹底を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Top court ruling must not impede information disclosure requests
沖縄「密約」判決 文書管理と原則公開の徹底を

Documents on a secret agreement may have existed, but that does not mean they were kept by the Foreign Ministry—this was the opinion expressed by the Supreme Court in a recent ruling regarding the disclosure of documents on a secret Japan-U.S. accord.

Former Mainichi Shimbun reporter Takichi Nishiyama and other plaintiffs have demanded the court order the government to disclose documents confirming the existence of a secret accord tied to the 1972 reversion of Okinawa Prefecture to Japan from U.S. control.

On Monday, the top court upheld a high court ruling which concluded that it was legitimate for the government to turn down an information disclosure request for the documents on the grounds that such documents “do not exist.”

Despite the ruling, the high court acknowledged that the secret agreement did exist between Tokyo and Washington, and referred to the possibility that the documents were secretly destroyed by the Foreign Ministry or other parties.

But Monday’s ruling did not go that far, and we believe the top court was duly careful to avoid making assumptions.

The papers in question include one showing that Japan, during the negotiation process with the United States for the 1972 reversion, has agreed to pay $4 million for the restoration of land occupied by the U.S. military.

Nishiyama obtained a copy of the relevant documents from a Foreign Ministry official. Based on the copy, an opposition party lawmaker questioned the government in the Diet.

Nishiyama was later convicted for violating the National Civil Service Law.

These series of events are now known as the “Nishiyama incident.”

The government denied the existence of the secret accord when suspicions were raised.

The decision was apparently not easy—we assume that the government decided to deny the suspicion so the reversion of Okinawa would smoothly proceed.

There are always secrets in diplomatic negotiations, which have a huge impact on national interests.

Govt’s irresponsible attitude

In 2000, an official document indicating the existence of the secret accord was discovered in the United States.  2000年になって、米国で密約の存在を示す公文書が発見された。

Later, a former director of the Foreign Ministry’s American Bureau who was in charge of negotiations with the United States for the handover admitted Japan’s payment for land restoration during a media interview.

However, the government continued to deny the existence of the secret accord.

There is no way to avoid criticisms that the government had dodged its responsibility to explain the incident.

Examination of the case took place under the Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations from 2009 to 2010, and a Foreign Ministry advisory panel admitted that Tokyo and Washington exchanged “a secret pact in a broad sense.”  民主党政権下の2009~10年に検証作業が行われ、外務省の有識者委員会は、日米間に「広義の密約」があったと認定した。

The ministry also conducted an in-house investigation but failed to find documents of the secret accord itself.

Considering the circumstances, the top court likely decided to cautiously approach the issue.

There is one concern over the ruling, however: The top court ruled that those requesting information disclosures bear the burden of proving the existence of the documents in question.

But it is extremely difficult for an ordinary citizen to know how administrative bodies handle the documents they are seeking.

We are afraid that Monday’s ruling may raise the bar for people wishing to access government documents through the freedom-of-information system.

The system is able to exist on the condition that administrative organs preserve their documents appropriately.

It is impermissible for such organs to arbitrarily destroy their documents to avoid them being disclosed to the public.

The principle must be reasserted once again that diplomatic documents should be disclosed to the public after a certain period of time to let posterity examine them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2014)

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